The Early Days brand of UK manufactured toddler and first walker shoes is steeped in history. The company’s sights, however, are set firmly on the future. CWB reports.
In recent years, infant shoe specialist Early Days has built a strong reputation as the brand of choice for the Royal children. Unsurprisingly, the Royal connection has played a huge part in the company’s success and will continue to do so. However, despite the brand’s honour in having supplied not one, but multiple pairs of shoes to the Royals, the company’s directors and staff have had a lot to be proud of for some time now.
Early Days began back in 1952, established by brothers Tony and Michael Bolton. Tony and Michael were nephews of John Adams Bolton, who founded children’s garment manufacturer Chilprufe in 1906. When Chilprufe wanted a range of soft sole baby shoes to add to its offer, the two brothers stepped up to make them.
After a few years manufacturing for Chilprufe, the brothers began considering a brand of their own. This led to the creation of Baypods, which it supplied to babywear wholesalers. The success of Baypods then led to the launch of the Early Days brand, which the company marketed directly to retailers.
The milestone years
During the 70s, 80s and 90s, Early Days supplied most of the high street chain stores. However, the 90s marked a shift in the market; more and more of those stores began looking to source footwear from cheaper overseas markets. Eventually, Early Days lost the majority of its volume.
At this point the decision was made to retain UK production by moving the product range upmarket with a new leather pre-walker collection. In hindsight, this was a great move for the company. The leather pre-walkers have gone on to become the most successful range in the company’s 70-year history.
Sadly the business went on to face an even bigger hurdle in June 2017; its factory in Leicester suffered a large fire caused by a defective kettle. The destruction was considerable. The factory lost most of its key machinery causing production to cease for almost six months – although it would have been much longer were it not for the efforts of the company’s staff and friends who helped clean up the damage and save some of the firm’s irreplaceable machinery.
Over the decades, this family-run UK manufacturing business, which today is headed up by Michael’s two sons Paul and Chris Bolton, has expanded considerably and now employs a number of skilled shoe operatives.
Whilst Early Days is very fortunate to employ such a skilled UK workforce – many of whom have been with the company for over 30 years – it does have concerns about the growing skills shortage, with many of its current staff now in their 50s and 60s. Having said that, the business is reassured by the fact only one member of staff has retired in the last 20 years.
By continuing to manufacture in the UK, Early Days is able to supply its customers with quality shoes, short lead times and low minimum order quantities.
‘Made in the UK’ has also become a major marketing tool for the business, with many buyers now looking for quality rather than cheaper prices. Ironically, Early Days’ biggest overseas market is China, with the company witnessing staggering sales growth as Chinese consumers increasingly seek to buy UK manufactured products.
The Early Days range comprises of pram shoes, ceremonial shoes, sandals, pre-walkers and first walkers. Ranges are based on classic styling with foot comfort being the main criteria in the shoes’ design. White, blues and pinks have always been the brand’s most popular colours. However, the company has been extending the colour range in recent years to include more fashion options.
The Alex classic T-bar and Emma bar shoe are the company’s top-selling styles in the leather pre-walker range. Equally, the Baypods pram shoe range has numerous bestselling styles and is also available from stock.
For the new season the brand is introducing additional colours as well as some animal print leathers. There will also be new bow designs and the introduction of a pom-pom trimmed range.
A digital upgrade
Early Days is currently working hard to enhance its digital persona, starting with the very recent launch of a new Early Days and Baypods website. Replacing the former site is a new, cleaner and user-friendly platform. The focus is on making the site more visually pleasing, including the use of lifestyle and stylised product imagery. It also offers consumers some new styles as well as bestselling classics.
Simultaneously, the brand is exploring influencer marketing for the first time. Teaming with a select number of strong influencers, mainly UK based, the aim is to get in front of their highly interactive followers whilst also building a stronger social media presence. Helping the company in this department is Emily Beardsworth of May Creative Marketing.
As well as creating the brand’s new photography over recent months, Beardsworth is the brand’s social media content creator. She also led the creative changes for the new website.
Early Days is currently working on the continued development of the Chinese and other overseas markets as well as further extending its range. During 2020, subject to finding more skilled staff, the company also plans to increase production. It will then be able to target other overseas markets that up until now it has been unable to explore due to limited production capacity.
Longer-term, the business wants to continue manufacturing in the UK for at least the next 10 years. There is no question that the company holds its title of UK manufacturer in great esteem. Subsequently, it will do everything it can to expand UK production wherever possible.
However, if the skills shortage in the UK continues, the firm could potentially move some of the pre-walker business over to Spain where it already works with some top Spanish factories for larger sizes.
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, with Early Days’ latest developments in play, the company is well placed to add another successful decade to its history.
For further information on Early Days, please click here.