The story of Grasshoppers®
Now in its 150th+ year since it was started by Charles Searle back in 1859 and immensely proud of its South African heritage, Bolton Footwear has ensured that Grasshoppers shoes can stride with purpose and positivity into the 21st Century.
750 000. That’s how many pairs of hand finished Grasshopper Shoes are manufactured at the brand’s original production facility in the Southern Cape community of Great Brak and Oudtshoorn every single year. And to date, since the the brand was established in 1966, an astounding 20 million shoes have left the factory – destined for the feet of grateful South Africans who have trusted the trademark Grasshoppers comfort and quality for over half a century.
Grasshoppers is now one of South Africa’s most recognizable names, “it’s a brand that transcends, age, social and economic divides and it is a 100% proudly local, quality product”, says Head of Group Marketing, Stuart Hopwood who explains that the Grasshoppers factory both directly and indirectly employs some 1000 local craftsmen (some of whom are third generation artisans) living in Great Brak and the surrounding Southern Cape area.
MADE BY HEART & BY HAND
Besides from being a visually iconic shoe, Grasshoppers have stayed the course for South Africans because of a key factor – comfort. Designed to be worn for long stretches of time, be it at work or at play, and crafted in a timehonoured shoemaking tradition, they quite literally are made to last a lifetime. ‘If we can get them onto people’s feet, they will wear them forever’ is a company mantra.
The construction of original Grasshoppers moccasins goes back to a technique used by Native Americans, where handstitched leather is fashioned to form a glove around the foot, “it’s what makes our shoes so comfortable, each and every pair is hand finished”, says Tom Bailey, Head of Group Design, who adds that the distinctive longlasting crepe natural rubber sole is thanks to a technique taught by the original German brand owners.
Each and every Grasshoppers shoe tells a fascinating and feel good tale. The brand is the one of the largest private employers in the Great Brak and Southern Cape area and thanks to its success, is also the catalyst to the forming of thirteen small businesses in the region, each of which makes and sells a key component of the shoe. “Grasshoppers are a feel good buy – not only because they are such a huge part of our cultural history but because they play such a big role in supporting an entire community in a meaningful way”, he says.
While the traditional Grasshoppers moccasin has remained the brand’s most iconic and instantly recogniseable offering, there’s no denying the rise in popularity of the Grasshopper stitch-down styles or veldskoen. Traditionally worn by Platteland locals, in recent years Grasshopper stitch-downs (Vellies) have moved into the mainstream fashion arena “milennials have embraced our vellies, they like the honesty and realness of the brand and I guess the irony of a city kid wearing a hardcore, rugged shoe is also part of the joy”, says Tom.
Like with any brand icon, staying relevant is key. Which is why in the not-too-distant future, there will be a range of stitch-down shoes for female fans. “We’ve seen so many more women buy our Vellies and we want to explore that even more – womens feet are so different to mens, it’s important to us that we design a product that is ergonomically sound and that our customer likes the look of too”, says Tom. Getting things right in a notoriously fickle market is a daunting challenge, but one that Tom and his team are up for. “Being in the Grasshoppers game means we’re in it for the marathon and not the sprint, we plan to be around for many many years to come, so we have to make sure we get it absolutely right and that same commitment to quality and comfort remains the most important factor. It’s the cornerstone of our business and we value our customers’ trust in us implicitly”, he says.
FASHIONS FADE, STYLE IS ETERNAL
Being fitted for a first pair of Grasshoppers is a rite of passage for countless South Africans and for many, the relationship often starts at school. Beyond school days, the longevity of Grasshoppers is that they are still as relevant for someone entering the job market as for the fashion forward urbanite looking for a new pair of on trend shoes to marry with their skinny jeans and button down shirt.
“It’s been exciting to see new generations embracing Grasshoppers as their shoe of choice and its something we’re really proud of – where else in the world will you find a grandfather and grandson proudly wearing the same brand of shoe?”, says Stuart.
Over fifty years of consistent quality
Introduction of the Grasshoppers Fashion Range
Grasshoppers begins exporting to Australia