Last managing director Ray Walters tells Laura Weir about the challenges of creating a casual footwear brand from scratch.
How was Last created?
I was given a brief to develop a new brand by footwear supplier OPS, which was primarily an own-label business. We wanted to move into the branded market either through acquisition or development. At that time, everything in the footwear market was over-styled and there was a gap for casual product for confident adults. So we actively pursued the middle market and that is where Last began.
What has been your biggest challenge in launching the brand?
Starting off a small business was very difficult because we didn’t have the economy of scale or the critical mass. However, we did have an advantage – we sourced large quantities of product through the supply business, so the factories were willing to give us a lot of support.
What is the most innovative thing you have done with Last?
Other than the product, which I think is both individual and commercial, I have developed something called the ‘brand police’. They are a group of friends that we respect, trust and admire; they are non-footwear people. Once a season we invite them over to check out the collection, to make sure they don’t think we are contravening any brand principles.
What is the Last ethos?
Our shoes and boots are designed with one foot in the past, and one in the 21st century. We’ve taken designs and craftsmanship of previous eras and woven in eye-catching modern details. It is footwear made from the best quality leather and created with comfort in mind.
What projects do you have planned for Last this year?
For autumn 08, Last is upgrading its men’s and women’s collections with a combination of leather and rubber soles, which will improve the product quality. The collection will be available in a variety of colours and materials.
What do you think of the current state of the footwear market, and how is that affecting your business?
It’s tough, but I hope people are attracted to Last despite the difficult market. It seems people are seduced by low-cost product, but I hope they see the quality of our product and that will help us through this difficult market.
Why did you choose a career working in footwear?
Shoes are my weakness. I love the materials and the construction. I’m not a trainer man unless I’m in the gym. I will only wear leather-soled shoes that are well constructed using enduring elements. I’m going to be one of those typical British guys that wears the same pair of brogues for 30 years and just keeps getting them resoled.
If you hadn’t chosen a career in footwear, what would have done?
Probably something involving furniture, whether it be buying or selling. I love furniture and interior design.
Ray Walters is managing director of Last and brand director at footwear supplier OPS