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Bamboo A

Although just four seasons old, trainer and clothing brand Bamboo A is growing fast by concentrating on the details.

Bamboo A’s promotions and creative marketing director James Balitaan has good reason to boast. “We’ve already done promo deals with EA and Sony BMG”, he says. “We’ve only been going two years and to tie in with such global names has been great.”

He says the promotional agreement with computer games manufacturer EA has now turned into a full licensing deal. Another deal with toy manufacturer Hasbro has also been inked to secure a collaboration that will see Transformers-inspired shoe designs appear in spring 09.

As thrilled as Balitaan is for Bamboo A to be teaming up with such prestigious global businesses, it must be said that the brand’s parent company Ascot Group is not so little itself. It includes men’s fashion footwear brands Azor and Front in its line-up, along with dress shoe brand Aruna Seth; it also distributes Affliction clothing outside the UK. Of the footwear family, Bamboo A is the rebellious youngster.

When Balitaan started working at Ascot after six years promoting music artists at Sony BMG, he chanced upon a logo on an old Ascot tracksuit – three lines woven into an A shape. He says: “I was in the warehouse and saw it, so I asked the boss what it was. ‘That’s the bamboo A’, he told me, and I thought ‘that’s a wicked name for a brand’.”

The tracksuit dated from the period spanning the 1970s and 1980s when the Ascot brand was big on the racket sports scene. Balitaan says that when he saw the tracksuit, the Ascot footwear collection was looking in need of a facelift. “The designs were nice but it needed some life,” he adds.

So he created Bamboo A and, with Ascot no longer selling in the UK, it has usurped its precursor’s place in the footwear market. It now has 100 UK accounts and appeals to “the iPod generation – 15- to 35-year-olds, mostly male”, says Balitaan. “They go to gigs, they’re into computer games. Guys like me, basically.” For the current range he says: “We’ve quirked it up a bit. There’s a bit of formal edge, a bit of smart casual in there.”

The Sigma is a case in point – a simply styled, narrow shoe with leather laces and stitched panels in simple black or white. But in a collection that covers all bases – from sandals and flip-flops to hybrids and boots for men, with pumps and trainers for women – the bestseller is the bulldog, a classic 1980s-inspired men’s tennis shoe. It comes in plain white versions or trimmed with red or green, with perforated panels.

Other versions come in black or brown with herringbone fabric panels, while linings include a customised London tube map with music genres replacing the capital’s tube stations.

It is this devotion to detail that gives the brand its strapline: seriously crafted. “Nike has ‘Just Do It’, we have ‘Seriously Crafted’,” Balitaan says. “It means that everything we do is considered; we really design for details and for people who appreciate details.”

Bamboo A 020 8773 7800
Divided by H&M, 213-219 Camden High Street, London NW1

1972: The year Ascot Group first went into profit
£5 million: Bamboo A’s turnover for the year to April 08
10 million: Number of pairs of shoes that parent company Ascot Group produces each year

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