The co-founder of Jeffery-West tells Stephen Spear why his men’s footwear brand stands out amid today’s boring, middle-of-the road fashion.
Traditional manufacturing values are entrenched in Jeffery-West, aren’t they?
Mark Jeffery [co-founder] and I were childhood friends and his father ran a shoe factory in Northamptonshire, where we grew up. By the time we were 12 or 13, Mark and I were talking about starting something of our own. Later, we started off selling rejects and market gear, selling leather ties, whatever [at local markets]. But the idea of taking traditional Northampton footwear and making it our own eventually led to us starting our own brand in 1987.
How many stockists do you have now?
About 200, mostly in the UK. But we also have a Dutch distributor, so we have about 15 in Holland and Belgium and a few elsewhere.
Will you pursue international growth?
I’d like to. The best way is with a distributor though and the margins involved make it expensive. And with the tough economic and political landscape in Europe, buyers are reluctant to try anything new. Actually we’re not too far off that attitude in this country too. And that’s at least partly why men’s fashion has got so dull.
You think so?
Absolutely. It’s so middle of the road. When we talk to our customers, what do they sell? Polo shirts and jeans, some chinos and a few boat shoes. It’s gone so safe. It’s the same with music. When I was 15 years old, there was punk, the tail end of disco, new romantics, suedeheads, a mod revival. What is there now? Please…
What’s the impact on footwear?
It’s all brogues and Gibsons with brick red micro soles. Everyone is just trying to be Tricker’s.
How does Jeffery-West fit in to that landscape?
We don’t. We’re very formal and I love all that, and fortunately we have a loyal customer base. That said, we have a last named the Hannibal after [fictional character] Hannibal Lecter, which is a round-toed brogue, and sales of it have picked up.
So you stand out from the trends at the moment. Is that a challenge?
It can be better when fashion goes completely the other way. That way you get to stand on your own.
So what is the Jeffery-West look for spring 12?
It’s been quite influenced by Edwardian and Victorian looks. I tend towards that fitted silhouette, it’s very elegant. There is a touch of the Mad Men influence and those boys look really sharp. Music is also a big influence, from the mods and teds, even Pete Doherty.
What’s the most lucrative price point for footwear?
Most of ours retail for between £240 and £400. From what I’m told though, under £100 is where the big money is. But to be honest I’m not bothered about all that. Mark and I really are shoe people and that’s what’s important to us – getting that handwriting correct.
Where do you go to buy shoes?
I only ever wear my own shoes. I’ve got about a hundred pairs now.
How many pairs of shoes should every man own?
At least 15 pairs.
Is it OK for men to wear heels?
If you want. “Do what thou wilt,” as [occultist] Aleister Crowley once said.
What footwear would you wear on your last-ever night out?
It would have to be immaculate Balmoral boots, worn with a vintage military suit and all the trimmings – watches, monocles, the lot.
Who is your style icon?
It’s between Richard Burton and Harold Steptoe from Steptoe and Son.
- Guy West is co-founder and designer of premium men’s footwear brand Jeffery-West