Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

Wade Smith's legacy and how it transformed Liverpool's and then the UK's look

Few clothing shops left such an indelible mark on Liverpool fashion sense as Wade Smith, which launched 40 years ago.

It wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say it did for fashion what The Beatles had done for popular music decades earlier. Over the two decades of its existence, Wade Smith shaped a distinctive Liverpool style which was then adopted nationwide.

The store initially began in 1982 to bring designer wear to shoppers at a time when most of the big labels were staying away from the city. Wade Smith was the brainwave of its founder Robert Wade Smith, who spotted a niche in the market while working as a footwear buyer for Topman.

READ MORE : Lost restaurant chains we loved on Merseyside sold £6 steaks and 'Olympic breakfasts'

Inspired by Liverpool FC's European forays in the 1980s, he saw an opportunity to source rare and expensive trainers from Europe and bring them to the rapidly growing UK market. Legend has it he took a van across Europe and set about loading it up with rare Adidas trainers unavailable in Britain - the same types of trainers football fans were cramming into their holdalls when following their teams across Europe.

Over the next 20 years, Wade Smith had huge success and growth, at its peak employing over 300 staff. In fact, it was such a winning formula it's a mystery why the store didn't enjoy the same exponential growth as others like Sports Direct and JD Sports, which both started up at around the same time.

Starting out, Adidas was Wade Smith's best sellers and the store was key in cementing the brand as the footwear of choice for the terrace casuals. Soon, it was attracting trainer fans from around the UK who travelled to Liverpool to snap up the latest offerings.

Before the advent of Wade Smith, Adidas trainers with their iconic three stripes were still predominantly associated with sports stars and not the omnipresent high street staple they are today.

With the first Wade Smith premises set up on Slater Street, the store built its success on the back of the humble Trimm Trab, an Adidas training shoe that found its true home on the football terraces of England throughout the 1980s. It is said that the store sold 110,000 pairs of the trainers throughout the decade.

By 1989, the shop was an established name and had set up at a more elaborate premises on Mathew Street.

The empty Wade Smith building in Mathew Street in 2011 (Liverpool Echo)

Moving with the times. Wade Smith gravitated towards a new fashion trends with its offer of Nike Air Max and track suits, along with the baggier brands of acid house like Kickers and such quintessential scouse footwear as Timberland.

As the 1990s wore on, Wade Smith leaned further into high fashion and would become something of a celebrity attraction for its imports of high fashion brands like Prada and Gucci.

After changing hands with the Arcadia Group, Wade Smith eventually shut its doors in 2005 - no longer the dominant force in Liverpool fashion and crowded out by rival designer stores. However, the store's legacy still pervades across contemporary Liverpool and its beginnings remain shrouded in legend and romanticism.

Today, sportswear is standard casual wear and trainers are the footwear of choice across the board, even up to Cabinet ministers and PMs on walkabouts. And this is largely thanks to the modest store that opened in Liverpool 40 years ago.