Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Style Salvage Speaks to... Lodger (Part One)

We have previously hinted that we were thinking about launching a series of posts celebrating great British craftsmanship and the more we both thought about it, the more we wanted to do it. There are a number of inspiring brands showcasing great British craftsmanship but we'd like to kickstart the feature with an interview with Nathan Brown of Lodger Footwear.

Nathan Brown and his team at Lodger have an irrational passion for beautiful shoes and we think this should be applauded. The mix of continuous design, in combination with cutting edge technology and traditional craftsmanship makes Lodger a truly unique shoe company. After we posted about the July shoe of the month Nathan dropped us an email to thank us and invited us to the store for a chat over a glass of wine or two. We might just have had a little too much fun which is why we have had to split the interview in to two parts. In part one we discus his love affair with shoes, the catalysts for launching Lodger and his favourite shoes thus far. Come back tomorrow for the concluding part where we will talk about the balance between technology and traditional craftsmanship and Nathan will share his recommendations.

Style Salvage: You are undeniably a shoeist. Was there a particular pair you saw/owned which kicked off your love affair? How did this passion develop over the years?
Nathan Brown: It is quite simple really: two things. One: my father was an accountant so he certainly wasn't a fashion guru but he was old school. He bought quality shoes which he polished every week, as a man is judged by the state of his shoes. So I was taken out to the garage when I was about twelve and taught how to shine my shoes. But then I grew up in Beaverton, Oregan, which is the world headquarters for Nike and US headquarters for Adidas and I've worked for both of these brands. Growing in Beaverton it was a ten minute jog to either of these headquarters, we were right in the middle. I got in to shoes from clothing really. I used to make my own clothes because I couldn't fit in anything, so I'd make my own patterns.

SS: Did you have any formal training?
Nathan Brown: My Mom taught me. Not fashion but mainly for snowboarding. I'm 6ft9, 145 pounds. Back in the day, they just didn't make anything so I had to make my own clothes. So I got in to apparel initially, got in to shoe companies and then it grew.

SS: Did the size of your feet come in to play?
Nathan Brown: Sort of. It is really hard to get hold of good looking shoes in a size thirteen/thirteen and a half UK, size fifteen US. I am a product guy so I'm sure that it had something to do it and I love making things. It would have been a lot cheaper to buy a bunch of bespoke shoes than to start Lodger!

SS: Tell us about your background and how Lodger evolved...
Nathan Brown: I was running Adidas global tennis apparel business in Germany and my drinking buddies were the guys who launched Adidas Originals which went from nothing to about three billion Euros. It was launched by five guys and they've now become the Head of Advanced Design at Nike, Head of Lifestlye for Reebook in Tokyo, Head of Development for Reebok in Boston and one of them is turning around Le Coq Sportif. So, we would just sit around and get drunk on cheap red wine and talk about doing our own thing, "let's come at shoes from taking the design, innovation and technology from sneakers and apply it to classic shoe making and give that a kick up the ass, wouldn't that be fun?!". So we started talking about that in 2000 and I just kept building on it and going back to it, then I just decide to it as a hobby with one of my mates who happened to be working in London at London but he got a great job when Nike bought Reebok so off he went to Boston. So I decided that I was working in a job which I didn't care for much and so I thought "fuck it, I am going to take a punt and try and get some backers, if it didn't work at least I tried". Fortunately I got some great backers and I get to do this!

SS: The store is sandwiched between Bond Street and Savile Row on London's Clifford Street. Having grown in Beaverton, Oregan, what brought you to this great location in the style heart of London?
Nathan Brown: It took about a year to get this shop specifically. It used to be an art gallery run by a crazy Irish artist. The deal fell through three times but I was a like a dog with a bone, I really wanted this shop but it took over nine months of negotiation. I loved the space here but meanwhile I was looking at every other street in the area, I could be an estate agent. I looked at Mount Street which is a great street but it is mainly for women, not nearly enough passing trade. I just loved this neighbourhood but I love this shop, it is only six hundred square feet with a the two floors.

SS: The size of the store combined with the split levels, fits well with the two Lodger offerings...
Nathan Brown: We tried really hard to find a store with two levels or at least two clearly defined rooms where we could segment the ready to wear and then have an area where we could have a drink and relax because this experience is so important to our other offering.

SS: How do you balance the two experiences?
Nathan Brown: It is quite organic really. Usually the guys sitting down on the couch with wine or an espresso are the customers who keep coming back. That being said there is a certain kind of new customer who is up for sitting down and talking. So if people are up for it we could be sitting down here for a couple of hours with a new customer but it tends to happen over time when customers get a little more comfortable... but we want it to be a relationship with all our customers.

SS: You've been open now for nine months, how are the relationships building?
Nathan Brown: It has been great. My thoughts were on building relationships with guys and bringing them back. I did a quick analysis when we were six months old and 30% of our customers had already come back for a second pair of shoes or more. At that point we had one customer who had bought seven pairs of shoes! Now we have one customer who has got about a dozen pairs in nine months. Having such a high repeat hit rate is, I think a testament that people are liking what we do. It feels great that people are beginning to collect our shoes.

SS: Did your sneaker background inspire the shoe of the month, the desire to consistently release new models while the rest of the shoe industry moves with the seasons?
Nathan Brown: The whole shoe of the month thing was a calculated thing. Number one, I think seasons are artificial for shoes, black suede is not a six month thing but brogues should be around for ten years. So the shoe of the month addresses this, shoes are released for exactly the right month. Secondly, the biggest assets Nike and Adidas have are their back catalogues, the old school models they can release. It was a calculated idea that we wanted to generate a catalogue that we can mine in an intelligent way quickly. It is exhausting to do but it allows us to test new ideas before we put them out on our ready to wear collections and gives us a lot more information, we get immediate feedback. In nine months we have done around a dozen models which would take around six years if we did it the standard seasonal way.

SS: Out of the twelve have you got any personal favourites? I know it must be like choosing your favourite child...
Nathan Brown: You want me to pick favourites from my babies? Well, there a couple of pairs I just couldn't get; I can't justify having every model but kind of wish I could. I loved the Spectator but couldn't get a pair. They are beautiful shoes. I have a pair of the Oxford George boot but I just can't bring myself to christen them yet. Those are a couple of my favourites and I have to say that the white tennis shoes are spectacular, I've worn them so many times and they are still white and something else. None of those were our best sellers but they are my favourites, although the tennis shoe was our second biggest seller.

SS: Are there any which you just can't wait to release?
Nathan Brown: The thing with the shoe of the month is we can be very quick so we've not really thought beyond September but I'm excited by the Kudu work boot, made from the twenty five year old Kudu which is going to be spectacular, lined with purple Velvet- stunning.

SS: And of course you are working on the boat shoe...
Nathan Brown: Yeah. It will hopefully be released for February next year so we can drop it in early Spring and it is going to be gorgeous. We went back to the drawing board because I think it's good but we can completely blow it up, we can make is something else, so it is going to be a fun one to release. I can talk about all of them, it is so hard to narrow them down. Annejkh is the best show designer out there, she understands sneakers but she is obsessed with men's classic shoes so she understands the aesthetic. She is a sneaker head- I think a lot of us have not grown out of that and it affects how we address shoes, how we wear them and how we style them.


Daniel Alec {Fashion Lite} said...

Shoe of the month is such a wonderful idea! Looking forward to part II.

The Big Boot said...

I love the idea of the old world craft and new materials technology.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Daniel Alec: It is a great idea. The continuous drive for design is mind blowing. Wait no more for the second part!
The Big Boot: Me too, when done well the results are beautiful.

Cufflink designer said...

I love brogues!!probably my favaourite type of shoe


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