A Brief History of Skellerup Footwear
Skellerup's footwear business grew out of Marathon Rubber Footwear Ltd., a publicly listed company formed in Christchurch, New Zealand by George W Skellerup in 1939. The manufacture of tennis footwear commenced a few days before the Second World War began.
During the early years, production was designed to help the war effort; footwear for the armed forces and civilian gas masks were made in tremendous quantities. In 1943, the company secured the services of a Canadian footwear expert, who extended the plant to enable waterproof footwear to be produced. From this point the factory expanded rapidly to meet the growing demand for other product lines such as slippers, casuals and many others. By 1965 the factory covered 130,000 square feet, employed 540 New Zealanders and had produced 21 million pairs of high quality footwear in the 26 years since opening.
During this halcyon period many styles of footwear were produced but in particular, canvas sports shoes. Of the tens of million of pairs manufactured there was one notable brand, sadly no longer available, but likely to have been worn by most sportsmen of the time, the "Skellerup All Star". The most famous of these sports people was four-time World Squash Champion, Dame Susan Devoy.
On 21 October 1958 the first Red Band gumboot was made and has gone on to become a New Zealand icon among the likes of other items of "kiwiana" like the Buzzy Bee, the Jandal and Edmonds Baking Powder.
From 1968 until the late 1980's the business grew rapidly in size and personnel through the adoption of new footwear technologies. Skellerup footwear embraced these changes and commissioned direct rubber vulcanising of footwear soles to shoes, which was then joined by PVC injection moulding in the 1970's, and then finally the injection moulding of twin density polyurethane soles onto shoes in the early 1980’s.
With the advent of the new automated footwear-manufacturing processes the raw materials from which the boots and shoes were made from also changed, from typically canvas, leather and rubber to synthetic polymers such as PVC and polyurethane. At its peak, Skellerup footwear was manufacturing 25,000 pairs daily in the late 1980's, employing close on 700 people and the factory operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is estimated that Skellerup was supplying in the order of 60% of New Zealand’s total footwear requirements.
The late eighties saw major and rapid changes in the New Zealand economy that was to eventually see the closure of the Skellerup footwear factory in Christchurch and the forcing of gumboot manufacture offshore. Today Skellerup owns and operates its own gumboot manufacturing plant in Jiangsu, China.