The love story of Dancehall and Clarks shoes is an old and winding one with its beginning rooted in the early development of Reggae music in Jamaica. Throughout the musical eras that originated in Jamaica and swelled internationally, the bond between Reggae, Dancehall and Clarks has fluctuated with each new genre of music birthed in the country, and has created recurrent waves of frenzy, trend and ultimately a definition of persona in Dancehall.
Clarks shoes, made by England-based shoe manufacturer and retailer C. & J. Clark International Limited, made its trek from Britain to the early Reggae industry in Jamaica in the mid to late 1900s where it became increasingly common as the footwear of choice among popular Reggae musicians like Dillinger. Dillinger’s 1976 hit CB 200, recorded under the Island Records label, is possibly the first Reggae song to specifically mention Clarks shoes in its chronicle of a rastaman’s journey to the then well-known store Baracatt’s in Downtown Kingston to purchase a pair of Clarks.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as Reggae quickly became an iconic genre of music worldwide, the relationship between Reggae and Clarks shoes grew stronger with the shoes becoming the statement piece of the Reggae “rude boy” look. The shoes became a part of the art of Reggae, being featured on the covers of several Reggae albums and singles like Reggae musicians General Smiley and Papa Michigan’s album Rub a Dub Style in 1969, Reggae producer Dennis Alcapone’s Gun’s Don’t Argue in 1971 and the renowned “Clarks Booty” by Little John in 1985.
The love for Clarks shoes never wavered, even during a ban on foreign-made footwear imposed by Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Michael Manley, in 1973, which resulted in Jamaicans from the United Kingdom bringing in suitcases filled with Clarks shoes for their families.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, after two decades of a roller coaster love affair with the Jamaican music scene, Clarks remained a staple in the image of a rude boy or “badman” in the thriving Dancehall arena that emerged in the country’s capital of Kingston in the 1990s.
In March 2010, a new wave of frenzy enveloped Jamaica with the releases of the hit singles “Clarks” and “Clarks Again” by world-renowned Dancehall entertainer Vybz Kartel during the prime of his Dancehall career. The hits quickly captured the Dancehall scene for the rest of the year and sparked the highest demand for Clarks shoes in Jamaican history, propelling Clarks’ profit past 100 million pounds and sending stocks continuously flying off shelves and onto the feet of many Dancehall fans. Clarks has since remained Dancehall’s “baddest” shoe worn by popular international Dancehall entertainers like Buju Banton, Popcaan and Agent Sasco.
The unbreakable and unmistakable bond between Jamaicans and Clarks is now internationally known and has been captured and chronicled by various media including the book Clarks in Jamaica by British musician and author Al “Al Fingers” Newman in 2012. The book explored, through interviews and photographs, how “footwear made by a Quaker firm in the quiet English village of Street, Somerset came to be the “baddest” shoes in Jamaica”, propelled by its prevalence in Dancehall. Jamaica’s love affair with Clarks shoes has also been explored by American fashion and lifestyle magazine, Vogue, in the 2015 article, How Jamaica Fell for the Desert Boot: The Story of Reggae’s Love Affair With Clarks, which examines the fashion-fueled reasons behind Clarks being the shoe of choice in Reggae and Jamaica generally.
Clarks continues to enjoy its fame and dependency among Jamaicans and in the local music industry. New Dancehall and Reggae artistes continue to embrace the footwear as integral to their image and profess their love for it in their music.
Dancehall entertainer Jahvillani, who released the popular single Clarks Pon Foot in 2019, had been endorsed by Clarks in a post uploaded to their official Instagram page of the song’s music video, dubbing it the summer anthem for that year. He released the official video for another Clarks anthem this month, titled ‘Suede Clarks‘.
Similarly, Reggae artiste Lila Iké was also featured on the company’s Instagram page in photos that showed her sporting a pair of lavender-colored Wallabees at a performance in France during the European Sound System Tour.
Now synonymous with Jamaicans and Jamaican music, the world-renowned love affair between Jamaica and Clarks shoes has seen Clarks groomed into a “timeless, endlessly re-inventable” signifier of status and style in Dancehall.