Saturday, December 16, 2006

Foster & Son: Jermyn St shoemaker

During my summer visit to London, I dropped by Foster & Son (incorporating Henry Maxwell) to take a look at their shoes. I spoke to a friendly gentleman named Peter and we got into a wideranging conversation about Foster & Son's new direction and the shoe market.

Foster went through a recent management change as their chairman recently had passed away. One of the consequences of that unfortunate event is the opportunity for a fresh start. When I spoke with Peter they had recently zeroed out their RTW inventory. The new owner is investing in the business to expand and improve it.

Foster maintains a bespoke production rate of approximately 600 pairs per year. Bespoke starts at £1,500 and takes 4-6 months. There are no US visits currently but this is potentially in the works. I was particularly taken with their sample bespoke loafers and monks. Terry Moore is Foster's principal lastmaker.

We also had an interesting discussion of the current state of the market. Foster works with Barker for most of its RTW, as well as Crockett & Jones and Edward Green. According to Peter, Foster's RTW production partners have been very busy this year due to rising demand. He believes the principal driver of growth is a product shift with shoes increasingly being separated into either high-end or cheaper, low-end products. Consumers in the middle have to choose which way to migrate - up or down the price/quality ladder. Many of them choose to go up the ladder.

Another interesting tidbit - when I visited Foster they had just completed a photo shoot for a Japanese shoe aficionado magazine (probably Last).

For additional information, there are two useful discussion threads at AskAndy and Styleforum on Foster & Son. For photos of a pair of Foster bespoke, it would be difficult not to admire these handsome brogues.

Update: Link to AskAndy thread with photos from Foster's 2007 trunk show and Henry Maxwell thread.

New Alfred Sargent website and retail store

Out of idle curiosity I checked the Alfred Sargent website today and discovered some interesting developments for this well-known English RTW shoemaker.
  • New, improved website with online store coming in 2007
  • New retail store (first in their history) up and running in Bury St. Edmunds, a town in Suffolk, near Cambridge
A move into retail is somewhat unusual for a manufacturer, not least of which are concerns in managing channel disruption with existing retailers. However, from a business perspective, there are good reasons to establish a direct channel with consumers and expand brand awareness. Hopefully this expansion augurs well for the English shoe industry as a whole.

I posted this info on an AskAndy thread as well.