In conversation with Mathieu Cleon of Kleman Footwear

The French know their way around footwear. Well-made shoes are in the DNA, whether from a wearer’s perspective or the ingrained artisan sensibilities of the nation.

Kleman is a brand with more than 75 years of heritage in this regard, though much of that time has been spent just outside our own radar. With a desire to get the inside track, we got in touch and asked them to tell us their story.

Who is behind the Kleman shoe brand and how old is it?

Kleman is part of the wider Cleon Manufacturing business which was founded by our grandfather.

René Cléon in 1945. Myself and my brother Alex head up the Kleman brand from the factory, where we make and design the shoes on the outskirts of Nantes in North West France.

You have just launched a flagship store in Paris. How’s it going and what has been the reception from locals and international visitors?

Yes, it was really exciting for us to launch the flagship store in June. It’s situated in the busy Marais district of the city on Rue Du Temple, which means there is a lot of footfall from both local shoppers and international visitors, so we are very pleased with the reception we have had so far. We also held a launch party during Paris fashion week, which coincided with the trade shows, so we were able to showcase the store to media and people within the industry as well, which was great for us.

How strong is the area as a shopping destination?

It is a popular destination for shoppers. It’s a well-known street with brands including the likes of K-way, Pyrenex, Colorful Standard, MOSCOT, American Vintage and Carhartt WIP.

You were not originally a ‘fashion shoe’ brand, what changed and what is the heritage of the Kleman brand?

We were predominantly a brand worn by industry workers including the postal service, rail workers and the military to name a few, but the turnaround in terms of fashion came around 13 years ago when a Japanese agent bought a pair in vintage store in Paris, loved them and decided to buy them into the Japanese market, really as an extension of the workwear/streetwear aesthetic that has become so popular. 

Your Padror is a favourite and is available across many iterations. Can you tell us about it and also what else do you do well?

The Padror is our core piece and we have developed something like 50 versions of the shoe during the last 10 years. The Padror is a retro-style shoe that inspires a youthful nostalgia and perhaps for those who have never really had to wear a lot of classic shoes. It’s original with a thick rubber sole and like I said, was originally produced for agents of the French rail company SNCF among others. However, we do have many other models that you can see online or in store including the popular Ballast sandal and the Froden shoe, as well as newly introduced loafers, sneakers and boots for the colder months – all presented in a mixture of alternative upper fabrics.

What are the bestsellers today and why do you think they are successful?

Our bestsellers change seasonally. Obviously, the Padror as our signature shoe is always up there, but last year for example the Ballast topped the list during the summer months.

Are there plans to open more stores. If so, where would you do it?

I think eventually yes, we would love to look at adding further stores. London would be great as would New York and Japan, but right now we are focusing on making a success of Paris and we can take it from there.

What are your strongest territories?

For us we have an obvious popularity in Japan where we kind of developed the fashion arm of the business, but we also sell well here in France, in the United States and of course the United Kingdom as well as other countries in Europe.

There is an obvious comparison to Paraboot, but what makes Kleman different from them? Especially considering the Padror model?

The biggest difference I guess would be price, as we are perhaps around third of the retail price of Paraboot, but I think we maintain a premium quality for that price. We have a very rich heritage of shoemaking here in France through three generations and it continues, so we are no flash-in-the-pan offer, we have a solid history in craftsmanship.

Stockists included Old Town General Store in Stockport; Curated Man, London and Epitome, Edinburgh.

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Mark Smith

I had pizza for tea.

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