It was an ill-fitting pair of second hand Tricker’s that ended my love affair with the brogue. I’d taken a chance on these beautiful looking shoes on eBay – despite them being a narrow fitting and half a size down from my normal size – and how I wish I hadn’t. One morning on my way to work (late as usual) they’d really started to hurt, and by the time I’d got off the tube and started my usual walk/run to the office, the searing pain meant I’d had to take them off and walk half a mile in my socks. Numb toes and a painful tarsal bridge led me to see my GP, who diagnosed peripheral neuropathy. Since then, I’ve pretty much lived in my suede loafers and Sperry Topsiders, too scared to wear another pair of Goodyear-welted shoes. First world problems, huh?
However, when I recently covered the launch of a new limited edition Jamie Oliver sneaker collection for Dapper Confidential, I got talking to the guys at St Albans-based shoemakers Seven Feet Apart, who’ve made a hybrid brogue that sounds like it could make me fall in love with proper shoes once more. I spoke to Matt Bagwell, Co-founder of the brand, to tell me a little bit more about this unique, direct-to-consumer shoemaker.
First of all, what’s an ad exec doing designing shoes?! Please tell us how SFA was born…
I have no idea! Ian and I met and shared a love of footwear. We also shared a belief that there were exciting new ways to do ‘retail’ and that these new models – like Direct-to-Consumer – might be both efficient and arguably ‘better’ for everyone involved. The desire to build a better type of business overwhelmed us, so we threw caution to the wind and began.
I have been a graphic designer since I was 16 and there are many common approaches between what I’ve designed in the past, and footwear. I also love the nuances of ‘new mediums’ and a physical product as an output. We design together and clearly, Ian brings many years of direct expertise to the table, balancing my enthusiasm!
Where do you get your inspiration?
We’re really inspired by our customers and what they tell us. Obviously we look at trends – not just in fashion but design and culture more generally. We also keep an eye on new business models and how you can disrupt the market.
A pair of the Jamie Oliver hi tops
What makes a pair of your sneakers stand out from a pair of Nikes or Adidas?
First of all, quality – we don’t mass-produce our sneakers. They are made to last far longer than ‘cheaper’ shoes. The way we price them means that our sneakers have materials and processes ‘engineered in’ that these brands can’t provide at our price points. We’d estimate a pair of Stan Smiths would cost about £15. A pair of our 172s cost £65 – its Comfort Forever footbed alone would cost £25 at retail. Don’t get us wrong, we admire the brands you mention, but we are a very different business.
Second is comfort – plain and simple. Our sneakers are significantly more comfortable than cheaply made big brand alternatives.
You’re online only, why did you make that decision?
We also do some physical retail at pop ups and consumer shows but we are a digital business, and this has afforded us entering the market without the cost of renting a space. We’re actively not a wholesaler because of the overheads that retailers have to offload onto the customer.
Your Pioneer 396 ‘hybrid’ brogues particularly intrigue me. Could you tell us more about them and in particular the production techniques you use?
When we started the company, we wanted to make ‘the ultimate shoe’ and for many, the Goodyear Welted Brogue is the highest echelon of our craft. Ian and I both love brogues. It was also intended as the test bed for our Comfort Bridge Systems – the tarsal padding and footbed – it’s like the inside of a premium spots trainer. To remove the pressure lesser brogues put on the top of your foot, we developed this unique system. Made of neoprene, it crosses the area where your laces sit, creating a fit like a glove and outstanding comfort performance. However, the production techniques are very traditional; the shoes are handmade in Portugal by very experienced craftspeople.
The pioneer 396 brogue – rather lovely, no?
What can we expect from the brand in 2019?
We expect to launch multiple products across the wardrobe of our customers, each one serving a specific need. We want to continue to innovate, and increase the amount of effort – and output – we make towards sustainability as a business. We make physical products, so they must have a positive footprint on the world we live in.
Finally, what’s the best piece of parenting advice you can share?
Wow, what a great question. Get off your phones and actually engage with your children. Before you know it, they won’t have time to spend with you, so don’t waste it on Instagram!
So have a look out the brand’s sneaker and shoe range, it’s small but perfectly formed, plus you can grab a pair of premium brogues for about half the price of some well known Northampton-based makes. Here are couple more pics of the Pioneer 396 to get your juices flowing!