Seven feet apart – interview with Matt Bagwell

We featured the awesome McNair mountain shirts in our newsletter back in September. McNair make the best mountain shirts in the world, entirely in Yorkshire. If you haven’t heard of them you really should check them out.

On that back of that, it was very flattering to be asked to participate in McNair’s ‘Made Beautifully Here’ event on 2nd December. TOG knives aren’t made in Yorkshire but McNair saw that we had shared values: of small-scale traditional manufacture, of craft, of making things by hand, of using the best materials available and of building things to last a lifetime. It was a great day and as well as TOG getting a fantastic reception, we discovered another interesting new brand which we think you should know about.

Seven Feet Apart has only been going seven months. They hand make stylish shoes from the finest Italian leather and combine that with some proper engineering. The name refers to the rails of broad gauge railway, invented by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The full story is incredible. I got chatting to co-founder Matt Bagwell and it turns out he is a blood relative of the great man! Wow.

We asked Matt a few questions to find out more….

Tell us a bit about your and Ian’s backgrounds and how you ended up starting a shoe company

Ian has been in the shoe business his entire career. He was one of the first employees of Base London and later, rose through the ranks of Hudson Shoes to become Managing Director. I was a designer then a strategist then consultant. I led global marketing consultancies and advertising agencies. We met at The Academy of Chief Executives – like CEO school. I love shoes so Ian and I got on like a house on fire. We talked about working together and then in Summer 2016, while independently planning our next career steps, we both concluded we should quit our jobs and do a start-up shoe business together. Ian is incredibly numerically literate and details focused. He looks after merchandising and every aspect of operations from shipping to customer service. I’m the brand and experience guy. We’re total opposites with complementary, different skills.

What makes your shoes different?

a. We set out to make a stylish shoe that is extremely comfortable. The inner sole of the shoes is made from a cushioning material that never degrades so we guarantee it for life.

b. They are premium leather handmade shoes at a very fair price. We don’t sell to retailers (who mark up) and we don’t have the overhead of shops (which are expensive) so the shoes are priced at what they are worth. If our shoes were in a bricks and mortar store, they would be twice the price. At least twice.

c. We offer a 30-day try-it-out returns policy on the sneakers. Shoes that come back and cannot be sold are donated to our charitable foundation, This Mile.

It’s about doing things the right way, the common-sense way

What makes your company different?

What’s different about our company? That’s a tough question. I would suggest that we genuinely put customers first. The wonderful thing about being small is that you can do things big cannot. For example, drop shoes to a person’s place of work. Chat on the phone. Rush to an airport with shoes for someone who’s waiting for a flight… It’s about doing things the right way, the common-sense way. I think that’s what people like about independent brands.

Where do you hope to take the brand in the next few years?

Ah, the dream? Well, we want to make shoe shopping a hassle-less pleasure. This is about creating services around our shoes that makes us accessible, convenient, smart and social. For example, one hour delivery slots, where someone from our company turns up with a range of stock. Or having your shoes delivered to a hotel or destination and you only pay if you take them home. Ultimately, I’d like to build an independent community around a workshop here in the UK, where families can all be involved in the process of designing, making and selling shoes. In that environment, I’d like us to employ the people our Foundation sets out to help. Why dream small!?