The Clearing

The Clearing is an award-winning, independant London-based brand consultancy. We're a new breed of brand consultancy firmly grounded in commercial reality and delivering clear defendable territories for brands.

London, United Kingdom
Founded: 2010
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Building a brand fit for the future

For the past two years, Cisco, Cranfield School of Management and The Clearing have been working together to create ‘Borough’ – a conceptual footwear brand.

Which begs the question – why is a tech giant working with a university and a brand consultancy (us) on a brand that doesn’t even exist?

The answer lies somewhere in the not-too-distant future. We stand on the cusp of a new industrial revolution – Industrie 4.0 – which is set to change the world as we know it beyond all recognition.

But while we’re still in the conceptual phase, it’s difficult to get a precise sense of how these big ideas will affect the way we live. And until change starts to happen, how does Cisco get people outside of a lab or university excited about terms like Redistributed Manufacturing, Big Data and the Circular Economy? That’s why we created Borough. To show – rather than try to explain – the possibilities tomorrow may bring.

(Incidentally. if you’re interested in big terms like Big Data, Redistributed Manufacturing and Circular Economy – check out Cisco’s White Paper.)

BOROUGH Imagine a world where your new pair of custom trainers are manufactured in the time it takes you to grab a coffee. They’re a perfect fit, help improve your health and athletic performance, and you picked them up from your friendly neighbourhood factory which produces next to no waste.

In the future – shoes aren’t shipped, they’re beamed. New designs walk off the catwalk and on to your feet in a matter of minutes, not months. In fact, scratch that – you’re the designer. You create your own collection and you can change your footwear as often as your underwe… well you get the picture.

But this type of radical change isn’t confined to footwear. New ideas, technologies and materials will soon be disrupting the old ways of doing things at almost every level imaginable.

The future will be fleet footed. And the future starts here.

A MONSTER FOOTPRINT So if this change will happen everywhere, why did we choose footwear – or more specifically – trainers

Well it’s an incredibly wasteful industry and one where these ideas could easily first develop and take root.

– 88% of the world’s shoes are currently produced in large centralised factories in Asia which create long supply chains and large carbon footprints;

– The production process is immensely wasteful and recycling of old shoes is scarce;

– In Europe, footwear contributes to 1.5m tonnes of landfill each year;

– And in 2015 in the UK alone, we consumed 523 million pairs of shoes – an average of 8.1 pairs per person. Imelda Marcos would be proud.

In short, the current model for designing, manufacturing, selling, using and disposing of trainers is fundamentally flawed. So, with Cisco and Cranfield, we decided to design a better way.

CHANGE IS AFOOT Our response to the challenge was to create new footwear brand Borough, and design a modular shoe with embedded technology.

Each module is made from a single material and can be 3D printed to order. When one module begins to wear out, or goes out of fashion, it can simply be repaired or returned, recycled and then replaced with a substitute. Waste is vastly reduced.

The core of the shoe is unique to the wearer – based around a scan of their foot. This will make sizing a thing of the past. And parents no longer need to buy their children a new pair of shoes every time their feet grow. They simply sign up to a service that adjusts, amends, or substitutes modules as the child develops.

The trainers can be designed to look or perform differently. Replacement modules can simply combine with the rest of the shoe when the person’s tastes change or a new activity demands something different.

And these shoes are smart. Sensors embedded in the shoe feed data on performance, location and shoe condition back to the wearer – helping them to track, monitor and improve health and athletic performance, or even to suggest changes to help improve posture or prevent injury. And then, when your trainers need repair, or they’re off trend – you’ll get an alert.


So what could the impact of all this be? As with any radical change, there’ll be winners, losers and a period of upheaval as the old way of doing things begrudgingly makes way for the new.

PEOPLE A pair of trainers can become the ultimate embodiment of a person’s individuality – tweaked to their activity of choice, to match evolving trends, or even just to suit their mood. Data from shoes could be used to improve health or provide rewards for being more active. Fashion will move fast with wearers becoming designers who create their own truly personal shoes. And it’s the same story across any other consumer product – from your phone, to your clothing to your household goods – the future is bright and it’s hyper-individualised.

BUSINESS The impact on businesses will be more disruptive. But with disruption comes great opportunity. If a shoe is simply a string of computer code, barriers to entry will be torn down. Old industries will crumble, but brand new and more efficient ones will rise in their place. Centralised factories creating homogenous goods will disappear as people demand greater customisation. And as supply chains shrink from international to local, people will engage more directly with the manufacturers based in their community who become more agile and responsive to changes in demand.

SOCIETY The real power of this idea lies at a societal level. People will no longer just be consumers buying from shops. Instead, they will become part of a movement – belonging to a community who have shared ambitions and values. Manufacturing will take place locally, helping to build communities. Even trends could emerge at local level. And by focusing on repair and recycling, waste and pollution will be reduced – improving the communities we live in.

That’s why we’ve named the concept ‘Borough’ and designed an experience that rewards participation above consumption. The world of tomorrow will not be dominated by faceless global supply chains characterised by waste and inefficiency. It will achieve more with less. It will be clean, innovative, responsive to change – and above all, personal.


Brand strategy


Cranfield University