The Clarks Originals x Jamaica Connection

Posted: 08/02/2023 @ 09:09AM

The connection between Clarks Originals footwear and Jamaica is unique – a tale of an enduring relationship that goes back decades.

It could even be said that Clarks are Jamaica’s national shoe.

Clarks Desert Boots, Wallabees and Desert Trek Shoes have all found a spiritual home in Jamaica, styles that stick to the Clarks mantra of form follows function, the purpose of the shoe being the starting point for the design. This was a philosophy that struck a chord with mods in 1960s Britain and Rude Boys in Kingston, Jamaica alike.

Clarks Desert Boots boasted comfort as well as style, two important traits that make a footwear classic – especially as many Jamaican’s in the 1970’s considered walking their go to form of transportation. Clarks silhouettes were primed with British style and practical military aesthetic, giving the shoes a unique blend of gentility as well as grit, vigour and roughness, facets that resonated with the Jamaican Rudeboy. Dillinger’s 1975 song CB 200 (from his 1976 album of the same name) referenced buying a pair of Clarks shoes from a shop in Kingston called Baracatt’s. By now, Clarks had earned a cool connection with Jamaican fashion, reggae music and the Rudeboy lifestyle.

Clarks shoes were an essential part of Rudeboy style and the establishment formed a perception that those who wore Clarks were rebels, outlaws and ‘gunslingers’, a notion that merely served to boost their popularity. The attempt to censor and demonise the aesthetic made them all the more appealing to the youth of Kingston. When Michael Manley was elected Prime Minister in 1972, he imposed a ban on the import of foreign footwear, opening up what was to be a thriving black market for the brand. Although the ban was short lived, it served to enhance the Clarks reputation as the footwear of choice. Afterall, Clarks as contraband had even more of an edge.

If the Clarks Originals Desert Boot was chapter 1 in the story, The Clarks Originals Wallabee (1967) and Desert Trek (1971) were soon to be Chapter’s 2 and 3 respectively… both styles hot footing it in to the Rudeboy style guide as the story of Jamaica and Clarks gathered pace. Flying off the shelves, the two new styles would not dispense with the rebel look, the Wallbee’s mod silhouette blending comfort and sharp style that underpinned gunslinger fashion and the desert trek earning the affectionate nickname ‘Bankrobbers’ amongst afficionados.

As the 1980s got underway, there was a shift towards the genre known as Dancehall. An all-encompassing culture of music, fashion and art, Dancehall grew out of political turbulence, reaching prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. As the new era of Dancehall dawned, a pair of Clarks was still very much a part of the furniture. Even as the world ventured into the new milennium, still Clarks had a place in Jamaican fashion and culture. In 2010, Dancehall entertainer, Vybz Kartel released the singles ‘Clarks’ and ‘Clarks’ again, sparking a massive resurgence in demand for Clarks footwear.

Above: Extract from the book 'Clarks in Jamaica' by Al Fingers.