Words by Jesse Serwer, Photo by Beth Lesser—
In the spring of 2010, with Vybz Kartel’s “Clarks” reaching peak rotation levels, I published a story in The Guardian tracing the long-running connection between the iconic British footwear brand and Jamaican music. With reports of Clarks-driven robberies and rampant bootlegging coming in from Jamaica, the company’s spokespeople admitted to me that a surge in sales of Clarks Originals seen at the time might have had something to do with the popularity of Kartel’s tune. The next step seemed obvious. Clarks, which has been active in forging connections to other music scenes, sponsoring live events and other partnerships, would tap Vybz Kartel and Popcaan, and launch a big campaign around its base in Jamaica.
As he diplomatically noted to me an interview last year, Kartel never really got his credit from the company. But it seems Clarks is finally ready to embrace the culture responsible for keeping the Desert Boot, Wallys and Trek perpetually in fashion. The 187-year-old shoemaker has announced that it will team with reggae label Trojan Records for a campaign this summer celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Desert Trek—or “Bank Robbers,” as they’re known in Jamaica—with the ’60s ska classic “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” by the Pioneers is the campaign’s official song.
A quartet of DJs and producers, Tokimonsta, Mighty Crown, Riva Starr and Toddla T, have been tapped to create remixes that will be available as free downloads on the Originals site in July, along with video shorts documenting their efforts. As none of these four are Jamaican, we hope Clarks will expand the campaign to include some producers and remixers from yard.
Further, in October, an exclusive Trojan Desert Trek shoe will be issued, along with a coffee table book, Clarks in Jamaica, by Al Fingers. With a particular focus on Jamaican musicians who have worn and sung about Clarks Originals shoes, the book will explore “how footwear made by a Quaker firm in the English village of Street, Somerset, came to be the ‘baddest’ shoes in Jamaica.” Wonder where they got that idea?
Photo: Mark Read