SC Johnson has announced that it will be halting sales of its Kiwi shoe-care products in the UK. The US multinational declared that “after a thorough evaluation” it had “decided to exit the shoe-care business in the UK in order to redirect investments and resources.” Newspaper opinion writers began harrumphing that Britain “no longer cares about shiny shoes” and that “polished shoes are now deemed irrelevant”.
The causes of the decline in buffing one’s brogues were apparently all too obvious: the work-from-home movement and a general decline in how people dress. But, of course, this is nonsense. When I was a child, there was a box of brushes, cloths and tins of Kiwi shoe polish kept in the cupboard under the stairs that were used almost daily, as they were in many households around the world (Kiwi is still believed to have 53 per cent of global market share in shoe polish). Yet even though there has been a slip in the use of tinned polish, this is not an omen of sartorial, let alone social, decline.
Young men, in particular, have become increasingly obsessed with keeping their casual footwear box-fresh, sparking an uptick in the global value of the shoe-care market (estimates place it at about €4.7bn). And there is also a return to more formal footwear that SC Johnson will miss out on. If Kiwi’s exit from the UK turns out to be true then they also have themselves to blame – for too long they have been flogging nasty wipes and moist sponges as a supposed shortcut to us becoming shiny happy people and have left the market open for specialist, quality shoe-polish makers. So take heart; Britain has little to fear – although one still weeps over the demise in popularity of the bowler hat.
Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor-in-chief.