As we lament the loss of Kiwi’s shoe-care range in the UK, has licensing missed a trick?

WTF? WFH and ‘trainer culture’ sees shoe-care giant Kiwi abandon UK market

A friend of mine once disappeared into the depths of Sainsbury’s saying he was going to buy a lifetime’s supply of shoe polish. When he got to the till, he held just two tins. Not a bad gag, and one that – should you be interested – also works with Marmite.

This came to mind recently when I read – with some horror – that the shoe-care giant Kiwi is pulling its products out of the UK market. They plan to focus their attention on one of the other 179 countries that haven’t seen such a drastic workwear switch to loafers and trainers and crocs. Oh, my!

For those of us that grew up having to polish our school or work shoes every week, though, this could be a disappointment, a relief or a shock depending on your feelings. Personally, I’m in the former camp. I have a deep and truly nostalgic feel for the Kiwi brand… And I don’t really know why!

Indeed, my feeling wistful about this brand makes no sense – for a number of reasons. First, I HATED polishing my shoes! God Almighty, what a smelly, messy, time-consuming chore! Second, I wasn’t crazy about school either. God Almighty, what a smelly, messy, time-consuming place! So it’s not as though I saw a great reward for completing this ugsome Sunday-night ritual. Third – to the best of my recollection – the Kiwi brand has never created an identity that would appeal to the Bash-Street-Kid-like me of yesteryear.

Indeed, the Kiwi brand strikes me as, if anything, rather staid. First sold in 1906, Kiwi got its name from the fact that one of the company’s co-founders, William Ramsay, wanted to pay tribute to his wife’s New Zealand origins. One imagines that the logo followed easily enough even if sales did not. In fact, it wasn’t until Kiwi started selling a wider range of colours that they got a proper foothold on the market – pun acknowledged rather than intended.

Deej Johnson, Kiwi
Later, the brand’s reputation grew when chosen for use by the British Army. Its excellent performance in an environment that takes polished, waterproof and scarce shoes very seriously helped no end. So too did the product’s ongoing use by ex-soldiers when the price of formal footwear dropped dramatically in subsequent years… But again, this part of their branding would’ve meant nothing to me!

Perhaps, then, there’s something about the packaging? Certainly, I appreciate the little butterfly lever on the side of Kiwi’s tins. It makes them a doddle to open! Maybe I also liked the reward of the lever’s irresistible twist: the look of the polish’s smooth surface when the lid first yields with a satisfying pop. The tight-fitting lid also makes it a pleasure to close, and maybe the younger me liked that logo too… Isn’t there something hugely appealing about all these dopey-looking flightless birds?

In any case, with the bird’s shoe-care namesake now starting its flight from the UK, its nearest rival – Britain’s Cherry Blossom – is left with something of an opportunity. I can’t help but wonder what they could do – and what Kiwi could’ve done – to expand the brand into other areas. Given what he’s done with Pan Am and Kelloggs, I’m quite sure Richard Pink, for example, would’ve found something in the archive…

That aside – and despite a lot of people still working from home – plenty of us still scuff our shoes and buff our boots often enough to need the product. So we have a choice… We could switch allegiance to a new brand, or head to the shop for a lifetime’s supply of Kiwi. What’s it to be?!

Deej Johnson, Kiwi

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