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Pod Heritage Press: Footwear & Fashion Extras Magazine February 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Pod Squad

The surge of interest in all things heritage continues with English footwear brand Pod being the latest to relaunch to a new consumer. And there's quite a team working on it to ensure its successful second coming, as Tom Bottomley discovers.

Looking at the archives and "testing the water" at Moda Footwear with a range of "updated classics" in 2009, Pod licensee Aegis Shoes Limited thought it might be on to something-especially with the recent swathe of interest in any brand that has a bit of history to it.

But, though the shoes shared a similar look to the originals, some essential ingredients were missing - so back to the drawing board they went, and in stepped Andy Magill, a known industry face with a strong sales background, as a creative consultant.

 John Dennis, co-director of Aegis, explains. "As a product development company it's very important for us to listen to the right people. With Andy's creative input, we re-branded the range as Pod Heritage for 2010. And, as we developed the designs, it became apparent that more attention to details was needed, which is where Tony Richardson and Bill Dickenson - the original designers and owners of Pod - came in. After all, who better to ask?"
Dennis says that thankfully they have both been available, especially Richardson, who lives near to the Aegis offices in Olney, Buckinghamshire, and who's been very willing to direct them and give valued input into the range. "He has also given us information that has been instrumental in getting the designs absolutely right. Most of the time it has been about the small details, like the fact that the 1976 Pod shoes were essentially the original 'jean' shoe", comments Dennis.
The original Pod design was indeed created as a reaction against the platform shoes and flares that had become de rigeur in the earlier half of the 1970s. A flatter, more casual look was becoming more desirable for the 18-30 year old market. Says Tony Richardson, " At the time of the launch, other brands were also selling flatter, casual shoes but the Pod shoe looked quite different amoung the other designs and quickly built up its own fan base and became a cult item."

It's slightly unclear where the Pod name actually originated, but it was apparently a term used in the early 70s by kids in Doncaster referring to a type of moccasin as a "pod". Though further research revealed that it probably derived from the Greek word 'podos, which means foot. Bill Dickinson says, "When I started my own business, my first shop in Chiswick was called Pod shoes. That business subsequently changed its name, but when Tony and I got together to set up The California Shoe Company we decided to use Pod as our brand name and we registered the name as a trademark. California Shoe was also based in Chiswick and we began selling the original Pod shoes in 1976. 

The design was a combination of a manufacturing process worked out by Tony and a casual shoe design which I supplied. The combination produced a completely unique looking shoe which went well with Levi 501s and more particularly Lois jeans, which kids had started to wear as a replacement for flares."
Design features (which have also been incorporated in the new version of the shoes) include heavy "mudguard" twin stitching, a crepe sole, round laces and stitch-out design - a method whereby the upper has been lasted, stretched and stitching straight onto the sole. That's what apparently makes them so comfortable to wear".

Though an English brand, and originally made in Northamptonshire (now produced to spec in China), there was a slight confusion as to their origins, no doubt because of the odd brand name, but also due to a tricolour flag stitched on the upper, Bill Dickinson explains, "The flag actually came about purely by accident. We had originally intended to use a woven label with the name Pod on it, but we were unable to get it made on time fo our initial launch.

Consequently, we looked around to see what we could find to use temporarily. We were offered a ribbon which had been produced for the Queen's jubilee. It was red, white and blue, which seemed patriotic, so we used it. The public, however, assumed that because it looked like Ticolor flag, te shoes were made in France. This gave them an added cachet so we decided to keep it!"

Andy Magill, who has drafted in Chris Lee's Liverpool- based Microbrands One Limited agency to handle wholesale sales for Pod Heritage, is buoyant that the reaction to the freshly launched and re-branded Pod Heritage will be very strong. Distribution is being aimed from the middle to the upper sector of the marketplace. "The fashion market has moved towards British heritage in a big way", says Magill. " Consumers are buying into heritage brands that have a good concept and reputation for quality. The recession has also moved brands and consumers back to what they know and trust and consumers are looking to buy higher-end investment pieces as long as they are getting top quality products and that little bit extra."

The new collection is broken down into the Pod Heritage English Soul line, which is the premium, limited edition range, retailing at £100 and using the original designs from the 1970s and 80s Pod archive. They feature the original crepe sole, round laces, perforated uppers, original soft leather and nubucks and the iconic logo. Then there's the Rubber Soul collection, which incorporates the same unique design features, such as the heavy mudguard stitching, but they features genuine rubber soles and different colour combinations - such as the red, white and blue Union Jack shoe. And, another addition to the Pod Heritage range is the Weller wallabe boat shoe, which retails ay £75.

Magill says, "We are considering possible sponsorship of music events in the forthcoming monthsto target the consumer and support stockists in various locations in the UK. The Heritage Tea Party trade shoe will provide a great platform for marketing and possible tie-ins with bands playing at the event." And, with the cool kids tiring of the boat shoe look, perhaps this really is the time for a Pod revival.
© 2010 by A. Richardson