How to Start your Own Shoe Brand – Meet The Buyer Sessions

Heather: Welcome to
our Meet The Buyer Sessions. I’m Heather,
founder of Sourcing Playground and I’m here today with Susannah Davda
from The Shoe Consultant. We’re going to be talking about
how to start a shoe brand, and what are the things you need to know
and how to go about doing it. So, thanks so much
for joining us today, Susannah. Susannah: Thank you so much
for inviting me. It’s great to be talking to you. Heather: So, basically we’re going to be
talking about how to start a shoe brand and all the different
things you need to know, especially, if you’re
a first-time brand. So, could you tell us a little bit
about your experience and how you got
into the industry? Susannah: Yes, absolutely. To be honest,
footwear is all I’ve ever really done. From working in shoe shops
as a teenager to realising that this is where
I wanted my career to go, so I studied for a degree
in footwear design. When I graduated,
I joined a large retailer, a footwear multiple in the UK
as designer and trainee buyer, so I got to see both sides. Heather: That’s so exciting
as you’re talking. Susannah: Yeah, exactly. It was really insightful.
I got to travel a lot. I got to do the big trade shows and also, I was able to see some factories,
which was really useful. I did some of the technical side
of the drawings and more of the statistical analysis and the things that a buyer
really needs to know as well as– I suppose getting an instinct
for what’s commercial and what is just really, really appealing
and exciting in terms of footwear. Heather: Yeah. Susannah: And then, I started working
for a global footwear brand managing their women’s range,
their women’s global range which was really interesting. Heather: That’s nice, isn’t it? Susannah: Yeah. The tastes for footwear
around the world are quite different. Heather: Yeah, massively.
Susannah: Uh-hum. So, that was my background. I’ve been working in the footwear
industry for over 20 years, three and a half of which
have been running my own consultancy, called The Shoe Consultant. Heather: Tell us a little bit about what
you guys do at The Shoe Consultant, and how you help
buyers and brands and what are the type of
things you offer for them? Susannah: So, we have two sides
of the business. One side is helping people
to start shoe brands. I work with startups
at any stage. The preference is always
to start working with them as soon as they’re even thinking
about starting a shoe brand. Heather: You guide them properly. Susannah: Yeah, because there are
so many mistakes that you can make in terms of being a startup. You can spend money
in so many different ways. When they work with me
from the outset, then I can just drive them
across the clear path where they know that they’re making
the right decisions all the time. It helps their confidence, but it also just helps their business to
grow more quickly or develop more quickly. So, I love working with startups
and that support side of things really makes me happy
when they’re happy. Heather: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And in a start-up, obviously,
the experience and advice you give them is so valuable
and it’s such a small scale, so you can really see the value
that you’re bringing to them. Susannah: Exactly, yes. Working one-to-one is really beneficial,
I think, for both sides. With startups,
they move so quickly. So, you really do see the results
of the input that you’ve contributed really quite quickly,
so that’s great. And then, I also work with established
shoe brands and shoe businesses, so that includes retailers
as well. When they come to me,
they’re looking for– often a different point of view. I have this 20 years of experience
that I can contribute. I have quite a holistic view. I try to be aware of any footwear
developments in terms of technology, in terms of how politics
is affecting footwear. New brands that could be
their potential competitors. So, I can give them
a different viewpoint. I can give them research
and research techniques that they wouldn’t necessarily
have thought of. Because I do find
that more established brands they have particular…
Heather: They play it safe. Susannah: Sorry. They play it safe?
Heather: Yeah. Susannah: Yeah.
They have particular ways of doing things that they’ve been doing
for quite a number of years whereas my thinking is,
as a consultant, I have to be innovative. I have to keep up to date
with what’s changing. The brands and the retailers,
who are thriving at the moment, are the ones who really are
keeping their ear to the ground. Heather: Yeah, definitely. Susannah: Yeah, and concentrating
on what consumers want. Heather: Yeah, definitely. We’ve seen that with like the rise
of online and the decline in retails. It’s the ones that are being the most
innovative are winning, basically. Susannah: Exactly, yeah.
You’re right. Heather: Fantastic.
So, let’s start from the beginning. So, let’s say
you’re a first-time buyer or if you are someone
that’s looking to start a new brand and they are right
at the very beginning. What would you say is the process
and how would they go about it? What is the things
that they need to be focused on? Susannah: So, the first thing always
is looking at the consumer. Okay, so we could say
that the consumer doesn’t necessarily know
what they want until they see it. Heather: Yes. So true. Susannah: You have to be quite clever. I think in terms
of a consumer research that you do and that’s something I can help with
in terms of asking the questions that are going to get you
the useful information. So, always talking with a consumer,
but also knowing the context in which you’re going to be operating. So, if you want to start a high-heeled shoe brand, or you’re a retailer
who wants to get into footwear. So, perhaps, there’s a new buyer who is going to be
focusing in the footwear. Heather: Uh-hum. Susannah: Then you would want to see
who else is making footwear in at that market level,
high heels. What are they offering
to their consumers? I always recommend
looking at consumer reviews. Heather: Uh-hum, yeah.
Susannah: Because they… Heather: Even things online, for example? Susannah: Yeah.
They can be really insightful, I think. You can see
a company’s products online, but you don’t really know
if they’re… if they’re suiting the customer,
if they’re selling any of them unless you look at reviews. Another trick I always say
is to look at what’s in the sale. Heather: Yeah. That’s so true. What hasn’t sold? Susannah: This is it. Okay, so maybe it’s particular sizes
which also can be quite useful to know or maybe it’s why are there
so many sizes of this product, it just didn’t work,
and you try and figure out how. So, understanding the context. So the consumer, the competitor in the country or in the areas that
you are looking to operate in. And so, with startups,
often they come to me and they have designs in their head
and that’s sort of their starting point. Whereas, I tend to be the voice
of reason and say, “Hold on, can we backtrack because
is there an opportunity for this? Who’s going to buy it? Who else is making
similar products? How much are they
selling them for? What’s their distribution model? Are they online only? Are they wholesaling? Have they got their own stores?” You have to understand
who you’re up against. Heather: So, basically, it is understanding
first your consumer and what they want, and then you basically, you tailor make the product around
then your consumer as opposed to, “I have a great idea,
let’s try and fit this into a customer and try and make it match
for them.” So, start first with the customer. Susannah: Absolutely. Because the thing is,
if you jump ahead and you end up making
a four-inch heel, and you’ve spent a load of money
on heel molds because it’s this really interesting
heel design that you created, and then you realise
that actually your customer only wears a maximum
of three inches. Then you’ve wasted a load of money. So, you have to do it,
I think, the methodical way. So, together we would look
at pricing strategy. We would also look at product strategy. So, what are the consistent things that you’re going to have
in your products or what can a customer
always expect from your product? That can be branding and logos,
but it can also be– would they always expect
them to be leather? Are there particular colours
that your brand is going to be all about? Then, that kind of feeds
into the branding elements as well. Heather: So then, from there then,
would you fit the brand around the customer or would you already
have a brand in mind and how would the brand
then fit with the shoe? How would you explain
that process? Susannah: So, often I think
the branding side of it links quite closely to the purpose of
the brand, like, “What is driving this brand? What’s the reason why it exists?” And linking that to the consumer,
what they already like? So, not necessarily the shoe brands
that they are into already, but thinking about
your ideal consumer and– “What Instagram accounts
do they follow?” All of those sorts of things. “What’s their aesthetic, and how does that link
with your brand and your goals and your personal kind of thoughts
and taste around that?” Heather: When you’re researching this,
do you have a specific method like, literally,
how you pop this down? Is this you sort of,
gather lots of online resources, put it all in a Word doc
and a PDF. Like, how do you go
through that process? Susannah: So, I don’t have at the moment. I have specific templates for particular
areas in terms of competitor analysis and I will always
send them out to my clients. And I do produce reports
for particular clients and I have templates that I use, but everything I do really
is bespoke. When I’m helping startups, sometimes the startups
are so creative. Heather: They’ve done it all for you.
Susannah: Yeah. This is it. It’s sort of I tell them
what they need to put in, what they need to research and sometimes they come up
with these amazing design document, like in InDesign. Heather: Oh, wow. Okay. Susannah: And I’m like,
“Okay this is cool.” Susannah: You know like Indesign and ok, this is cool
Heather: This is good! Susannah: You’ve got this amazing
aesthetic eye and also, that you know
the business side of things, so it comes across really nicely. So, it’s a bit of a mix, if they need templates
and things from me, then I’ll provide them. And often, it’s kind of
building it in Excel and putting it into PowerPoint,
and then saving it as PDF. And PDF seems to be kind of a universal
business plan format at the moment. Heather: Once you’ve done the research,
then you would go on to, I would guess, the branding,
and then designs. So, how would you– walk us through
the design process. So, you would, obviously,
get a designer to do this. Where would you recommend someone
going to find a shoe designer or someone to help with the technical
drawings of creating the shoe? Susannah: Yeah. So I’ve got a network
of shoe designers who I recommend. They all have different
areas of expertise. They’ve all got years and years
of experience and are also just really nice people
to work with. Susannah: And so,… Susannah: Yeah.
So, if they’re working with me, then I will easily
give them a list of a few designers who I think
would be really good for them. Also, there are courses. If somebody wants to learn
how to do it themselves, there are some really good courses,
particularly at LCF, London College of Fashion. Heather: Okay. Susannah: They do some
really great short courses if you want to kind of learn
those sorts of things. Heather: Yeah, exactly. Some people are really sort of
invested in their brand and they want to get really involved into
the learning and the design process. Yeah. That’s great
if they can have that course for that. Susannah: Actually, I’d recommend that even
if they are working with a designer as well because it just helps with your thought
processes when you’re designing something. That you have to be designing
something that can be made. It’s quite easy to draw a shoe,
that is an impossible shoe. Heather: Anything else square,
that will do and it does not even be
as constructible. Susannah: That’s boring. Shoe people are kind of saying,
“Okay, where are the seams?” Heather: Yeah. Susannah: It’s all useful.
The more knowledge, the better I would say. Heather: I guess as well as the terminology
is really good because I will go later on into the process
of when we start working with suppliers, the more you know
at the beginning, and that’s what we always say
to our buyers and our users is you need to have
product research. How can you go and brief suppliers
if you don’t know yourself. How things are made? Because then when things go wrong, then you’re able to best advise
on things. If you have a better understanding
of your product, it wins all-round basically. Susannah: Absolutely, yes.
Completely agree. It can be a hard learning
process otherwise, Heather: Massively. When you start learning about a product,
they’re quite technical terms like regardless of what
all product you’re dealing with then it’s shoes, especially,
because it’s quite a construction, and there’s lots of different
elements on shoes. Yeah, as much as possible
research product. Susannah: Yes.
Heather: Okay. So, after you’ve done that,
so you’ve got your design, you’ve researched your branding
and you’ve got your idea of the shoe and your customer profiling;
you go into the design. Then, what is the next stage
after you’ve got your shoe design? Where would you go next? Susannah: So, I think at this point
or potentially slightly earlier, you would want to be starting
to think about investors if that’s something that you need. Okay, some people
will have personal savings or they will already know people
who want to invest in them, but many people
will need some outside investment. So, this is a good time to be talking
to investors and trying to get them
on board. Then it’s the sourcing element. So, finding a manufacturer
who you want to work with and who fits with your brand values
and also with your product type because there are many,
many shoe manufacturers in different countries,
and they all have different specialties. Also, within that, there are companies who are willing
to work with smaller companies or companies who are just developing
a new range and don’t want to risk… Heather: Too much investment.
Yeah, upfront. Susannah: …massive quantity. Heather: So, would you say,
as a small to medium size brand, what would you say
is the minimum amount of investment? I know it varies on different products, how many styles you have,
how many quantities? You’re experienced, how much would you say is
a good starting point? Susannah: Also, yeah, it’s also about
how much uniqueness you want in terms of your shapes, so your last shapes or your heel shapes,
those things as well. They add a lot of money. So, as a bare minimum,
I mean, we used to say 10 000. I mean, that’ll get you somewhere, but thinking about
because you’ve got to have a website. Susannah: Yeah, of course. Then, that doesn’t cover
everything around the business. That’s literally just stock, isn’t it? Susannah: Well, to be honest, I always recommend starting
small in terms of stock. I think this 10 000 to 15 000 should
cover you’re sort of first season stock, your website
and your consultancy fees. Got to work with me. And the other sort of incidental fees,
some travel as well. Heather: If something comes up
along the way, just to have a sort of a buffer
just in case anything goes wrong. Susannah: Yeah, and a bit of training. You do have to spend it
in the right way, I think– I’ve spoken to brands
who, one in particular, she got – it was– she actually given a prize,
I think, of 10 000 pounds. A couple of years down the line,
she’s like, “I don’t really know where it went.” Heather: Wow.
Susannah: Yeah. Actually, that amount of money could get you really, really far
with your brands if you’re getting the right advice,
if you’re doing–… …it’s not even thinking
about the logical things, it’s having someone with some insight
who can advise you on the right ways. So, it can get you really far
or it can get you almost nowhere. Heather: Yes. So, back to the manufacturers
and the sourcing process, obviously, that’s where
Sourcing Playground would come in. We would help you
with manufacturers. In your experience, what are the countries
or the places that you’ve worked with and the types of manufacturers
you’ve worked with? Susannah: So, when I work
with startups in the UK, they tend to be
premium or luxury. That tends to be their kind
of business model. So, we look at Italy if it’s luxury,
or Spain or Portugal if it’s premium. It’s quite useful, I think,
for brands based in the UK to be able to source relatively locally,
so that they can travel out. Heather: Yeah. It’s much easier
when you can just, you know, when it’s even just a few hours
on the plane, a lot of people work with Far East manufacturers and that’s quite difficult. Even the time zones working with them,
emailing that adds time into the process. Susannah: Exactly. Often their quantities can be
higher in the far east as well. So, that means, it’s more of if you’re looking
to make larger quantities, then the far east
would make sense, but if you want to start out
and you want to be really hands-on which a lot of people do,
then starting closer to home is better. Then, when I work with people
in the US, we will look at Europe
because I know Europe well, and I know the areas of expertise
and I have contacts here, but also Mexico and Brazil
makes some sense as well over there. Heather: Would you say
they all have their specialities? What would you say– obviously, you say Italy
is from the luxury end and there are Portuguese
and Spanish. So, what would you say is their
differentiation between the three? Susannah: Okay, between those three. Yes, it’s interesting actually. Italy has the name. So, lots of people think,
made in Italy automatically means, it’s… Heather: Quality.
Susannah: Yes. I would say that the very best quality
shoes do tend to come from Italy. But they’re also capable
of making not quite as premium. Heather: Yeah, of course.
Susannah: Well, it does. Heather: All end of the spectrum
can be found, I guess, but it’s just finding the right one. Susannah: Yes. This is it. Some luxury brands are starting
to make the uppers elsewhere, and then the final products
are finished in Italy. Things have changed a bit
in that respect. With Spain,
the areas around Alicante, so, Elda and Elche are kind of renowned
for women’s footwear in particular and, actually, they do make
for some luxury labels as well. They make some really beautiful
sort of handcrafted footwear. I wouldn’t say
it’s less finesse than Italy, but it’s more like you can see
the work that has gone into it, I think. So, that’s Spain. And Portugal had been like there’s slightly more
affordable end of premium, but, actually, they do make
some really lovely shoes. It’s quite a mix of
different footwear types that they make over there. They make some really good
men’s footwear as well as women’s and sneakers,
and, yes, it’s quite a blend. Heather: When you are working
with their factories, would you recommend having
one manufacturer for the whole brand or from a risk point of view, would you spread that
across different factories, and how would you go about managing
the factory element with the products? Susannah: It depends on the sorts
of products that you’re making. If you’re making quite
diverse product types, for example, if you’re making trainers
and you’re making high heels, and that’s all part
of your business model, then you’re going to need
two different factories, because it’s pretty rare
to find an expert in trainers. Heather: Both fields.
Susannah: Yeah. Who’s also an expert
in high heels. So, I would say differentiate
your factories by product type, yes. To start out, the best way
to get a consistent aesthetic is to work with one factory,
but, of course, there is that risk. Heather: It is a risk,
anything can happens. Susannah: But, if you’re
literally just starting out and it is quite small quantity, Heather: You don’t really have the choice.
Susannah: No. This is it. Heather: Two investments
on the different molds, styles, the heel type and it’s just duplicating
costs, I guess, in the beginning. Susannah: Exactly. So, I would say if you are thinking
of adding a factory to the mix, then do it with a different product. A different kit, a different last,
a different sole, so that you’re not actually
duplicating at all. Heather: Yeah, of course. So, there, obviously, you can,
depending on what you’re looking for, you can have like completely
custom-made, which is your own or how much can you already use
the supplier’s styles and products and then tweak it yourself? Have you yet,
the experience of doing that? Susannah: Yeah. So, it really
depends on what you’re looking for, and I suppose, how extreme
your designs are, how much innovation,
where the innovation is. Heather: Yes. Susannah: Yes, it’s much
more cost-effective to use existing lasts and heels. Heather: Just for anyone
who doesn’t know, can you explain a last
and all of the different parts of the shoe, just so we all know
what we’re talking about. Susannah: Okay, sorry. Yes. So, the last is, basically,
it’s normally a plastic shape, which is sort of roughly
the shape of a foot that the shoe is formed around. So, if you had a pointed toe shoe,
then the last would be pointed and the shoe is formed around that. If you had a round toe shoe,
it would it all comes from the last, that’s the sort of basic shape. Heather: It basically helps to give shape
to the shoe and make it all consistent, I guess. Susannah: Exactly, yes. Do you want to know lots
of different shoe parts? Heather: Just the last, I think probably be
fine just want to be on board with that. So, working with your suppliers
on the different products if you either- if you want to, for example, like, private label
or customise something. What would you say
if someone’s starting out, let’s say, they wanted to have
slightly different unique elements, but didn’t want to create a complete
custom shoe from the beginning. How much do we adapt to one
of the suppliers shoe to fit a design? Susannah: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think with lasts attempt
to adapt them vary in their success. Generally, if you want a last
that is quite different, you need to put down new lasts. So, you need to invest in new lasts
and that can be quite expensive. Heather: Roughly, how much we’re talking? Susannah: Depending on where
you’re sourcing them from and how many sizes
you’re looking for. Heather: One size, one product
just as a first base. Susannah: And also, it depends
on the amount of pairs that you want to make, because if a factory can work
with just one pair of each size– because you’re just making
really, really small quantities, then you only need to make
one size roll of lasts. If you’re starting to make
quite large quantities, then you need multiples of each size. A new size run can run
into the thousands. Heather: Uh-hum.
Susannah: Yeah. Also it depends who’s kind
of developing the lasts for you. If you’ve got somebody
in addition to the last manufacturer who is making those specifications,
then you need to pay them as well, so it can get quite expensive. Heather: And when it comes to the materials
and sourcing that, how far into the process
would a buyer get or does the supplier
source all of the materials for you or would you recommend
you, yourself, the buyer doing their own research
and sourcing the fabrics and materials? How does this process go
from the construction of the shoe plus sourcing the materials? Susannah: So, some factories
are more geared up to that side of things than others. I would recommend that most people look
into it themselves. The more information
you provide to the factory, the more likely you are
to get what you want. Susannah: Yes. So, even if you’ve sent them
a swatch of a leather and they’ve got something similar from a
supplier that they prefer to work with, they’ll send you a swatch
of what they have and you can say
whether it’s right or not. It’s good to know
what you want. So, there’s a leather fair, which I would recommend,
everyone goes to, anyway, if they’re looking to–
if they’re a buyer for footwear or if they’re looking
to start a shoe brand and it’s called Lineapelle. They have a small version in London
every season, every six months. They have a massive version in Milan. Also, they do a mini one in… Heather: Sure, in Milan.
Looking at lots of different leathers. Susannah: Yeah. It’s quite exciting
because they also- they do a really good
trend presentation. Which I always find quite insightful
and looks at bigger picture. Heather: Yeah, of course. It helps to give you an idea
of what other people are doing and what’s going to be on trend
of the next couple of seasons. It’s really inspiring. I’ve been to a few trade shows
when you go and you see
all the different products out there. Really helps the creative juices go
as you get back to the drawing board and cut that to some new products. Susannah: Exactly, yeah.
Without a doubt. Heather: Are there any other
trade shows you would recommend people go into here in the UK or if there’s any else
a bit further afield? Susannah: So, the main ones in the UK
are Pure London. There are several
footwear brands there. There are more footwear brands
at Moda UK, which is in Birmingham. And they’re both
every six months. They’re definitely
worth going to see. When thinking about a little bit
further afield, Micam in Milan is an enormous footwear for–
have you ever been? Heather: No, I’ve not been to that one. Susannah: It’s the kind of trade show
where you need roller skates. Heather: Oh, wow, they’re huge. Literally, just thousands and thousands of
suppliers and it’s just you need a map. Susannah: Yes, so…
Heather: You need a map Susannah: Yes, exactly. You need a map, you need a goal,
you need to focus, you need to know
which holes you want to go to and which can go by the wayside
if you run out time. Heather: I think it’s really important
as well for people to go because when I’ve had experience
of going to a trade show, you set up meetings beforehand. I do research beforehand
and see what suppliers or products or brands
are going to be there and see if you can set up meetings
because they’ve always got little areas and you can have little meetings
and presentations work. I find you’re a lot more structured
when you go to trade shows rather than just aimlessly
walking around and you can leave and feel in a bit
did I get enough out of that. Whereas when you go,
set up meetings, and you have a clear goal
in what you’re doing, and you feel like you’ve really got out
of the whole point of going there, really. Susannah: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I would highly
recommend that and some of those meetings
can be successful and some maybe… Heather: You just want to decide.
Susannah: decide. Yeah, you decide that the relationship
isn’t going to work or they think
maybe it’s not going to work, but you’ve learned something
from that interaction. Heather: And obviously, rather than going
and starting the process with them, you’ve learned now,
rather than waiting a year, six months of wasting time
with someone or a company that’s probably not the best
fit for you. Susannah: Exactly, yeah, and there’s
nothing like face-to-face interaction Susannah: to sort of start a relationship.
Heather: Absolutely. Susannah: Especially, I would say,
I don’t know, I think in mainland Europe,
but particularly in Italy, but also Spain and Portugal,
it is about relationships. Yes, it’s business,
but it’s also about coffee. Heather: Yeah, definitely. You talk about shoes, you do have
to have coffee with it on the side. Susannah: Yeah. You have to have this
sort of meeting in the middle, you have to sort of come
to an understanding of where each other is coming from to have that kind of mutual respect
that you need to start a working relationship. Heather: I think as well it’s really nice
when you come and meet another business owner. So,if you’re a brand, you’re really
passionate about what you’re doing. You’re starting a new brand,
is a very creative process and then you come and meet. I don’t know a factory owner
or a business owner or another brand and it’s really nice
when you come together and you’re both talking about something
you’re really passionate about and you can share that experience
with someone else. It’s not just okay,
this is about business, we make products
and then that’s that. It’s that, okay, we’re both,
we really like what we’re doing and it’s really nice to have
that experience with both of you. So, I think relationships are so key
to when you’re starting a brand. Susannah: Absolutely, and that they
understand where you’re coming from in terms of the purpose
of your business. Because I think, there are people
who start brands and they just want
to make pretty things and they’re not really good
about the context. Heather: And the actual purpose
of why they’re doing it. Susannah: Yeah. With factory owners,
then they do want to know is this going to be a success? Susannah: They need to know…
Heather: Yeah of course Susannah: …that you have
a really good understanding of who’s going to buy it
and how much for? And that’s what gets them excited
because they think, “Okay, this could be
a really good business.” Heather: Yeah, definitely.
We explained this. We always, always,
advise our buyers, as much as possible,
go and speak to factory owners and go and do–
always pitch it to them. I think that’s the best way
of seeing things. They’re investing in you,
yourself, as well as much as you’re investing in them
as a supplier. When you first start the relationship,
is it going to do well? And I think,
suppliers that believe in you and believe in your product
and believe in your brand, are more likely to invest
into the relationship and offer better things
at the beginning. So, are they able to lower the quantities
to help you in your long-term goals? If you just go there and expect, “Okay, I want this,
this, this and this, and I want lower quantities
and this is what I want to do,” and you haven’t really got
to understand each other from a business point of view,
then they’re less likely, I think, it’s my experience
is to help you in that process. You need to pitch the idea to them and for them to believe
in what you’re doing. Susannah: Yes. You’re absolutely right. I think some startups or buyers
would go to a factory and just expect them to jump. Heather: Jump!
Susannah: Jump Susannah: But they only want
good business. They don’t want any business,
they want good business. So, it is up to
you, as you said, to persuade them
to pitch to them. Heather: I think to look at a supplier, I think, it should be
as a business partnership. Suppliers are so important
to the whole process when you’re dealing
with a product. If you have a supplier
that is not right for you or isn’t great
or it can be bad quality or is late, there can be so many different things
that can go wrong and you really need to know
before you start working with them. Are they the right ones?
It’s like, I say, it’s like dating. You need to make sure
they tick all the boxes and you’re happy with them because for a product or a business
that is all product-based and that is so heavily dependent
on customer satisfaction, product quality,
delivery times and your supplier is like 80% of that
and is result of 80% of that. So, I think if you get the right one,
then you’re halfway there. Susannah: Exactly, yes. These people
you will be working with them and you will be communicating
with them frequently so it’s very important
that you do see eye to eye. Like any relationship, it works when you have
that mutual understanding. I would say with clients
who are trying to choose between a couple of factories
or maybe a couple of agents and they’re like, “Well, you know
their pricing is about the same. Their products look nice.
I don’t know how to choose,” and I’m like,
“Well, who do you like?” Heather: Yeah. Who do you like?
Which one’s the best?” Susannah: Yeah. Because the person who is
a little bit keener to work with you, then you’ll get better
communication from them and you won’t feel like
you’re constantly chasing. Yeah, it makes such a difference. Heather: Yeah, definitely. I think from any point of view,
especially, from when you’re starting a brand, you’re starting things,
I should say, move fast. You need someone that’s reactive.
You need someone that’s responsive. It doesn’t wait 48, 72 hours
before sending a reply to an email. You want someone
that’s replies to you straightaway, is very good at communication and wants your brand to be a success
as much as you do. Susannah: Exactly. Heather: So, in terms of building
that supplier relationship, would you recommend–
how often should you visit a factory? If it’s feasible for you
to go and visit or any other things
like having meetings, telephone phone calls,
video conferencing, how would you have
that relationship go? Susannah: In terms of how frequently
you would visit them, when there are issues where you’re really struggling
to communicate whether it’s regarding
something visual about the product and you’ve sent a whole load
of drawings and it’s, literally,
it’s not just happening… Heather: They could not
understand it, yeah. Susannah: …then, that can be
an important time. I think at the start of any season
where you’re handing over your technical drawings and the factory is starting
work on the samples that can be a really useful time. Also, well, in the world
of social media now, you need content, and as a brand,
whether you’re small or more established, great content can come
from factory photographs, videos of your actual product
being made. Heather: Absolutely. Or like a USP,
you shot about them. They’ve fantastic to talk about. Susannah: Yes, yes, and it’s so nice
to see the people, I think, people behind the products
that are being made. Heather: Definitely. Susannah: Going over, if you’re
a talented photographer yourself, great, or going over with–sorry. My computer came up
with something annoying. Going over with a video videographer
can be great and you can get
some amazing content you know depending
on the scale of your business and what you want to get out of it. So, potentially, at the time
where they’re manufacturing, your bulk production,
could be a good time as well. It doesn’t have to be that often, but it’s important
to be able to react fairly quickly and be able to get on a plane and just sort out any issues
that arise if you need to. Some things you can have
a telephone conversation and it’s all ironed out
and it’s great. But, sometimes,
you do need to be face to face. Some people I find,
respond better to phone calls. They’re telephone people
and some people are email people. Heather: Yeah, definitely. Susannah: Sometimes,
with language barriers, people can be better verbally rather than
in written or the other way around. So, it’s sort of figuring out
who it is that you’re dealing with and what their strengths are and how you’re going to get
the information you need the best. Heather: Would you say walking through
the process of start to finish, how long
would you usually— what is the usual timeframe for when
you’re starting working with the supplier and you’ve got the designs
to when you actually get the stock? What sort of timeframes
are you giving brands or what would you say
is an average time? Susannah: Okay, so, some of it depends on
when you start working with them. At what point in the season you are because if you are working
to traditional seasons of spring/summer
and autumn/winter, sometimes you might need
to rush things if you’ve started
developing things a bit late. I mean, how long do you need,
six months could be quite good. Heather: If you’re giving some timeframe, to working to the normal springs/summer,
autumn/winter, what would you say, in your advice,
would be the best time for someone to start this process
and when would they launch? Giving themselves enough time because things always go wrong
in development and you need a buffer. So, what time of the year
would you say it’s best to start? Susannah: Okay. So, if you were launching
in January for a spring/summer season, and you were a brand new start-up and you’ve got quite
a lot of development to do. You don’t necessarily know quite
what you want until you’ve seen a round of samples
and can make some decisions. I would say start development
before the factories close in August. So, in Europe, most factories will close
for most of the month of August. So, if you want to launch in spring, then you could start development
in June. That, I would say,
is for a first season. I think, subsequently,
if you know what you want and it’s all quite clear and you’re communicating well
with the factory, you could probably start
in September. Heather: So, on a good time,
you would say it’s a six-month process. But, if you’re someone
that’s really from the beginning, it needs a lot more time
and it’s going through the whole process, it would be a properly around a year? Susannah: Yeah. I mean, I think,
also, it depends on if the person, if the brand is just solely
focusing on making shoes or if they’ve got a
day job as well… Heather: Of course. Susannah: …that is something else because things can be
slowed down on both sides, really. So, yeah, I suppose six to nine months
is about right. Heather: Keep in mind of
the spring/summer, autumn/winter and that August factory closes,
something to always bear in mind. Different places around the world
always have their cutoff point
here in the far east. and in China,
they have Chinese New Year. Susannah: That’s right.
Heather: Chinese New Year, of course, stops everything
for that whole month. So, it’s being mindful of where
you’re manufacturing in that country is, make sure you went
and find their national holidays when you’re not going to have
any contact from your supplier. Really, do your research and finding out
their national holidays in those areas because it can put a massive disrupt
to the whole production process if you’re not aware of those.
Susannah: Exactly. I think also as a start-up,
you should try and work with the factory or if you’re a buyer and you want
to make smaller quantities, trying to work with the factory
actually to let them manufacture your products in quieter periods
is a good idea if you’re able to. If you’re able to maybe
take your stock a bit earlier. Heather: Have you had experience
doing that? How would you go about
discussing that with a factory? I didn’t know they did that. Susannah: Well, it’s interesting. Honestly, trying to kind of get them
to fit it into their peak periods… Heather: An effort. where they’re making everything
for everyone else is pretty difficult but even big brands
will try and balance the production and they’ll think about
taking products earlier or think about fitting different sort
of inter-seasonal products in between because it benefits the factory
to have full capacity all year round. Heather: Yeah, of course. So, then, they’ll have slower periods
of the year when you’re not doing as much. Susannah: So, how you go about it
is really just talking to them about it and saying, “Would it help you
if I took the stock a little bit earlier?” And then, actually, that helps you
because you’ve got a buffer so you know that…
Heather: You won’t be late. Susannah: Yeah. If it’s your first season, you’ve got your website
waiting for the stock, you’ve got all these campaigns
that you’ve shot some samples and maybe you’ve done
a Kickstarter, I don’t know but you’ve got
all the things, these things waiting for your stock, you don’t necessarily want
to just expect the factory to deliver bang on time
with no issues, whatsoever. In some ways, it helps to get them
a bit earlier. Heather: Definitely. It also helps
for your own sanity as well to know that it’s all planned
in advance, you can have it well advanced
because when things are tight deadlines and you have, as you say,
content waiting and marketing waiting for this, then it can get quite stressful
towards the launch and it’s something you want
to spread the risk out of there. Susannah: And, what you don’t want to do
is have a bite taken out of your first season
as in you’re missing a month of sales… Heather: Yeah, definitely. Susannah: …because you didn’t get
your stock in time, and then, your first season
doesn’t look good. So, on the back of that… Heather: That works
negatively on the next. Susannah: Exactly, yeah. Your investors get a bit worried and, yeah, it just doesn’t look good,
so yes. Heather: Finding a timing is key
with footwear. Susannah: Absolutely.
Heather: Key takeaway. Susannah: Yeah. Heather: Where would you
suggest buyers go? Is there any online resources
or is there any place that you would recommend
people to go to find out this type of information
if they would starting out? How can they–a lot of people want
to do their own research or find things out on their own,
where would you tell them to go? Susannah: So, in terms of online,
particularly within the UK, the British Footwear Association,
the BFA is a really good resource. Not only their website
but also getting in touch with them. They can provide a lot of help. You can look at my blog
on Heather: Well, we’ll provide a link
in the video so it’s easy to access. Susannah: Perfect, thank you. I write articles about all of the things
that we’ve discussed really. Also, on LinkedIn,
so if you link in with me, you’ll see lots of articles
that I share about, lots of things that are current. So, news features about footwear
that are current and really relevant to buyers
and also to startups as well. In terms of other online resources,
yeah, there are lots of places in terms of general kind
of startup advice. Not so much in terms of footwear,
specifically, but if you’ve got any questions
just get in touch with me basically. Heather: What would be, on a final note, what would you say
is the one bit of advice you would give anyone starting out,
starting a shoe brand? What would you say would be
the best help that you could give them? Susannah: Always start with
the end customer in mind… Heather: Uh-hum. Susannah: …understand them
as deeply as you possibly can. What drives your ideal consumer?
What is their disposable income? What problem are you solving
for them? Heather: Yeah. When you say about— obviously, when you understand
the customer and you profile them,
what are the key things, what are the things
you should know about your customers as you say about
like disposable income, but what other things would you start
to profile the target customer? Susannah: Well, I have
some quite long lists, really, but I suppose the key element–
Heather: age Susannah: Yeah, I suppose their age, the other brands that they buy, not just footwear
but also clothing and accessories, so that you understand their aesthetic
and what drives them. Think about the sort of income
that they would have, that’s important. Where do they live?
So, do they live in a city? Is it somewhere rural? Are you targeting
one particular country? Are they male or female? I suppose what do they like doing,
I suppose, because, I guess,
where do they hang out online? Heather: Where do they go?
What are the things do they look at? Susannah: Yeah, and also out and about
and that all affect your products and your that sort of strategy
but also your marketing strategy, how do you then reach these people? So, that idea of customer profile
is going to feed into everything you do with your brand. Heather: Know your customers
inside out, basically. Susannah: Yes. And also, yeah, I would say
to anyone who is in that position, who is a footwear buyer,
who’s looking for some advice or a footwear brand who’s just
not quite sure where to go next, how to increase their growth
or if there’s a product type that they could be exploring
that they’re not at the moment or if someone’s looking to start
a shoe brand, just, yeah, just get in touch with me
and I’d love to help. Heather: Absolutely.
Well, thank you so much. You’ve given us
so many great tips and advice. It’s really helpful for people
to start from the beginning. Shoes can be quite a difficult product
to get involved with at the beginning. Yeah, you’ve given
some fantastic insight. Thanks so much. Susannah: Thank you for having me.
It’s been lovely, Heather. Heather: Well, thanks to everyone
for watching Meet The Buyer Sessions.


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