Kiwi Shoe Polish Going the Way of Shinola

An institution is shuttering thanks to changing societal norms.

Generations of soldiers spent long hours shining their shoes and boots with Kiwi brand wax polish. The company is apparently going out of business, as not enough people are shining their shoes anymore. Unbeknownst to me, it left the UK market last year.

Kiwi polish was invented by an Australian called William Ramsay. (His wife, Annie, was a New Zealander, hence the product’s name.) He sold his first tin of polish in 1906 and it took off when soldiers in the British and US armies adopted it during the first world war. In 1984, the brand was acquired by the Sara Lee Corporation, the consumer goods company best known for its frozen food. Yet despite Kiwi’s ubiquity, sales were sluggish and the company attempted a $2mn marketing blitz in 2004 with questionable lines such as “Unpolished shoes are the open fly of footwear”. The brand was sold on to SC Johnson, the Wisconsin-based company that also owns cleaning, pest control and storage brands Mr Muscle, Raid and Ziploc, in 2011. In Britain today, Kiwi is practically synonymous with shoe polish.

I contacted a customer service rep for SC Johnson to find out what was going on. “After a thorough evaluation, SC Johnson (SCJ) has decided to exit the Shoe Care business in the UK in order to redirect our investments and resources to the company’s strategic businesses and initiatives,” the rep replied over email. “With this decision, Kiwi will no longer be distributed by SCJ in this market.”

A spokesperson later added that the company had seen “a rise in casual shoes that don’t require formal polishing and an overall decrease in consumers polishing their shoes in the UK, but that it would continue to remain active in markets “where formal shoe care remains relevant”.

It was subsequently discontinued in both its native Australia and namesake New Zealand. And it’s going away in the US this month.

Now, it appears that SCJ makes the assessment that such markets don’t exist anymore, since recently American retailers of Kiwi were informed that the company is to discontinue the brand. Shoegazing has received this information from several from each other independent sources. Regarding when this would happen information is not fully clear. However one date stated is June 30 in 2024.

When reaching out to SC Johnson asking for a confirmation that the company will discontinue Kiwi, a spokesperson stated the following in an email: “SC Johnson is exploring our options for the KIWI® shoe care brand including a potential sale of the business in certain regions. KIWI® is an iconic and beloved brand that has been part of the SC Johnson family since 2011.”

So, maybe we’ll see another owner take over the Kiwi brand, at least in some markets. Or maybe SCJ change their minds and decide to continue themselves after all. Only time will tell. But the future certainly doesn’t look bright right now.

Indeed, even the military has given up on shoe shining. Roughout combat boots replaced smooth leather nearly two decades ago, and on the rare occasion when dress uniforms are worn, the footwear is far more likely to be patent leather rather than hand-polished.

Still, this looks more like a case of a massive conglomerate shedding a marginally-profitable holding rather than a true case of a once-popular product simply becoming outmoded. Lots of people still shine their shoes, after all, and Kiwi is the world’s most recognizable brand. (Saphir and other polishes are far superior but also radically more expensive.)

Then again, Shinola brand polish went away back in 1960, relegated nowadays to joke status. My favorite of which is this:

I still wear dress shoes and boots on a pretty regular basis and continue to keep them shined. I’ve got tins of Kiwi black and brown polish, along with a cloth and horsehair brush, in my desk drawer at work for touchups. But even I mostly use cream polishes and conditioners rather than Kiwi most of the time.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Society, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. David Burbach says:

    Wow, I rarely do a true polish with solid wax and cloth but I use the Kiwi quick-shine sponges all the time and do need to wear dressy shoes to work. Even if not true glossy dress shoes, almost any leather shoes benefit from a touch up.

  2. EddIeInCA says:

    I still shine my shoes every time I wear a suit. Sadly, it’s not nearly as often as I would like because I do enjoy wearing suits, but have little reason to don one these days. I find that most of my suit wearing happens in NYC or London, as wearing one in LA brands you a banker or, gasp, an agent. And we can’t have that.

    And like you, Dr. Joyner, I have tins of Kiwi in black and two shades of brown with all the sponges and cloths that go along with them.

    Oh, and I polish my Doc Martens about once a year.

  3. just nutha says:

    I have one pair of hiking boots and one expensive (paid $350) for them almost 20 years ago) pair of dress shoes I wear once or twice a year. I use grease-type dressing on both because the dress shoes are a nice color and I don’t want them to darken. I expect I’ve thrown out about 20 or 30 part cans of Kiwi that had dried up over the years, tho. The only place I ever wore dress shoes regularly was in Korea. I got those shoes shined at the shoe repair booth near the gate at school or near my house. (Chun won– about a dollar. A lot of the time the old man repairing shoes was a former soldier and did a better job than I would have.)

  4. Mikey says:

    Then again, Shinola brand went away back in 1960, relegated nowadays to joke status.

    Shinola as shoe polish went away, but Shinola as a brand is going strong.

    As a native Detroiter who appreciates finely-crafted things, I’d love one of their watches, but I’m not yet ready to plunk down upwards of $500. I’ll get one eventually.

  5. Mikey says:

    To the subject of the post: this makes me kind of sad. 20 years in the Air Force meant I went through a lot of tins of Kiwi (I retired just as the move started away from polished leather to roughout combat boots so all mine were polished). It’s a nostalgia feeling, of course, but still.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    I would guess a lot fewer people shine their shoes than you think, and I judge this by the shrinking or absence of the shoe shine section in modern supermarkets. They’ve even shrunk substantially in drug stores. And, now that I think about, I see fewer and fewer shoe shine stations in airports. On the personal anecdote side, my wife and daughter let their dress shoes go unpolished and then replace them when they get worn looking. I think that’s pretty much the norm for most people nowadays, especially since dress shoes are just an occasional thing.

    I still wear dress shoes to work 4 days a week, still shine them, use shoe trees when I’m not wearing them, and put them in individual cloth bags when I have to pack them for travel. But I’m a dying breed and expect those shoes to last me the rest of my life, or at least until old age malforms my feet to the velcro-widebody-marshmallow-shoe stage. In a couple of years when I retire I’ll get rid of all but a pair each of brown and black laces, a casual pair of black ones I can wear with jeans or grey slacks and a polo shirt. Sadly, I realize the black laced pair will be almost exclusively for funerals.

  7. steve says:

    When I was enlisted I had to shine shoes but when I became an officer I discovered and could afford Corfams. Never polished again. Even found corfam combat boots which i had until recently.


  8. Mister Bluster says:
  9. Sleeping Dog says:


    For most, what passes as “dress shoes” today, aren’t intended to last. Soles are often composite and aren’t replaceable, etc, etc.

  10. just nutha says:

    @Sleeping Dog: And unless you live in a pretty large city, you have no place to get them repaired/resoled anyway, let alone a skilled cobbler.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Mister Bluster: Hah! That was the next parish over to me, when I was growing up

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @just nutha:

    I live in a community of about 15,000 and we have a shoe repair, he’s so busy that it takes several months for him to complete your work.

  13. Dutchgirl says:

    I am blessed to live and work somewhere where shoes are mostly optional. I can appreciate a well shined, well made shoe, but don’t make me wear them.

  14. Kathy says:

    Coincidentally, today at the reception area downstairs, someone left an old CRT TV, a VCR, some coaxial cables, and a rewinding tool. No idea whose it was, what it was for (possibly to show some old tapes?), or whether anyone used it. After a few hours, the whole bundle was gone.

  15. Liberal Capitalist says:


    After a few hours, the whole bundle was gone.

    That was a disturbance in the space-time wash. Eddies in the space-time continuum.

    Old technology builds up a certain static that creates an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. VCR technology especially so.

    It was not by happenchance or serendipity that all the tapes in the VCR era were labeled: “Please be kind – REWIND” … as that undid the additional electrons that built up on the oxide-coated mylar tape.

    Clearly this pile of tapes had not yet been rewound (as evident by the rewinding tool) and as such created a wormhole between 1985 and 2024.

    The same phenomenon is observed with small rodents refer colloquially as Tribbles. While many of us know that the trouble with tribbles is that they breed exponentially, but due to that static charge on their fur they also travel in time and relative dimension in space.

  16. The Q says:

    “He can’t tell sh!T from Shinola. I always wondered how the Shinola people felt about that” George Carlin

  17. DrDaveT says:


    I would guess a lot fewer people shine their shoes than you think


    I would not be surprised to learn that I (literally) do not know anyone who still shines their shoes.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Oh, I wish. That would make work interesting.

    Stuff gets left at the reception area all the time. Eventually someone takes it up, gets it to a meeting room, or takes it home, as the case may be.

    There was the case of the disappearing samples. But that was solved after we got new samples, after getting in a nasty fight with the people at the warehouse.


Speak Your Mind