Thursday, March 7, 2013
A Conversation With Chay Cooper, Product Director at Alfred Sargent (Part Two)
. . .and here is the second half of my interview with Chay Cooper, Product Director at Alfred Sargent.
The Japanese are obviously much more "into" shoes than the average consumer here in the US; with that in mind, would you say that there is a targeted effort at Alfred Sargent to produce shoes that are geared towards one market versus another? As a result, are there models that might be only available in one particular market?
We are lucky to have a great company we distribute via into Japan - they have superb staff who are very talented and know what it best for that market. Sometimes we do make models purely for Japan on their recommendation or at the request of their clients. We do give strong consideration to whichever market we are working with as taste does vary along with Last choice.
How would you characterize the state of the British shoemaking industry today? Where do you see it in 10-15 years? Are the fiscal realities such that a next generation of craftsmen will be able to generate a liveable wage?
There seems to have been an resurgence in recent years. I think people still value items that are hand crafted and made in England. I hope the trend continues. I'm proud to be from Northamptonshire where the best shoes in the world are made.
Where Alfred Sargent is based in Rushden, Northamptonshire, there used to be over 60 factories making shoes. Our town is small with an population of roughly 35,000 people so at one stage almost everyone worked in the shoe trade or at the very least had a family member who did.
With the demise of some of these makers a lot of shoemakers re-trained into other sectors and there is a skill shortage evident in comparison to when I first started working. It is harder now to find skilled shoemakers, so we made the decision to train people under Paul Sargent's guidance and this decision has paid dividends for us. I think training as a shoemaker now, demonstrating a passion for making shoes and becoming multi-skilled would stand someone in good stead for the coming years as all factories would welcome a talented shoemaker to their ranks.
As someone who is keenly interested in the heritage and history behind some of the great English shoemakers, is there a fine line between healthy competition and professional admiration for the product being put out by your "competitors"?
I think competition is a healthy thing, I admire Crockett & Jones for what they have achieved and Edward Green make some beautifully classic shoes too. I believe there is room for us all in the market. If anything competition pushes us to improve on what we offer which shall mean that English shoes keep getting better.
I have to say there are details on the Handgrade models which seem to have a lot in common with Gaziano & Girling's ready to wear shoes. Is there a reason behind the similarities?
The Fiddleback waist done correctly is an unique look and as both feature this it is easy to draw a comparison. We used to make the Gaziano & Girling shoes for them in our factory so that continues the story also I guess. I think they are noticeably different, mainly in terms of design and Lasts, but also that in terms of making when we designed AS Handgrade we incorporated more hand work.
You keep a busy travel schedule here in the US. Can interested customers try on and purchase models from either the Exclusive and Handgrade lines at one of your trunk shows?
Trunk shows are limited only by the client's imagination really, that's what I enjoy about them. Leffot's clients always choose great combinations and we are excited to make them back at the factory. Usually it is only AS Handgrade that can be ordered at trunk shows.
Obviously, Alfred Sargent shoes are also available at retailers here in the US, including Leffot here in NYC, but are there any plans for an Alfred Sargent brick & mortar shop in the US in the near future?
No, we plan to continue supporting the retailers. We have a US representative and hope to be opening more accounts soon.
Many thanks for your time and consideration Chay!