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The elves and the shoemaker

In the past 10 years, footwear designer Jane Brown's business has grown from a small firm producing handmade product into two international brands, Jane Brown Shoes and Bacarolle. She was inspired as a child while watching her shoes being handmade at a market in Singapore, and her feminine footwear is praised for its comfort and style. Although her Notting Hill store has closed, Brown aims to open more shops in London and grow her stockist base

How did you make the transition from being an artisan cordwainer to being stocked internationally?

Two things happened out of the blue. First, I got a call from an agent in Tokyo who wanted to buy 100 pairs of my shoes. Then US department store Bergdorf Goodman called me to a meeting with former store president Dawn Mello. She told me that once I got my shoes made in an Italian factory they would buy them, which pushed me in that direction. They then bought 1,000 pairs. It was very fairy godmother stuff.

- Are you going to do anything to celebrate reaching the 10-year mark?

We're working on it right now. Maybe a shoe with a 10-carat diamond on it, or a shoe with a 10-inch heel, using 10 pieces of leather and 10 jewels.

- What are your goals for the next decade?

It hasn't been all business, business, business - it has been business and then two children. Now that the kids are a little older, we want to expose ourselves as a brand a bit more and we also want to open more shops. We want to increase our wholesale business and increase our brand awareness. But 10 years is a long time. Over the past 10 years, consumerism has changed so much that it is hard to say what will happen. We just want a strong business.

- What has been your biggest challenge over the past 10 years?

In the past, everyone was copying everyone else. One challenge I deal with all of the time is that when you're manufacturing-based, your team has to trust and understand you and your vision. It's about keeping your team inspired. I've also seen so much competition in the industry - it can seem like everyone in the world is producing shoes! When I read magazines or I walk through footwear stores, I get depressed because all I see is trash. Sometimes I like trash, but there is just so much of it.

- What is the most rewarding aspect of being a designer?

When women tell me that my shoes are the most beautiful they own and ask where they can get more. It's that female satisfaction that I find the most rewarding. It's a wonderful feeling to contribute to someone else's happiness. One other thing I love is that there is a human element to making shoes. You can be in meetings and look at charts and sales all you want but, at the end of the day, it's about you and your shoes.

- If you could change one thing about the shoe industry, what would it be?

I wish there was more luxury out there. Not enough people understand luxury because they're just not being given it. Everyone deserves luxury; it should not be exclusive. I love beautiful, quality shoes. A lot of shoes from the high street last for only a season and that's OK because you only paid £40 for them. I like the fact that they're cheap, cheerful and fun. But luxury is its own thing.


- What is your biggest fashion weakness?

Shoes, perfume and coats. I buy perfume from France and the whole process of buying it is divine. I bought a beautiful Burberry Prorsum coat, which I'll give to my daughter and she'll give it to her daughter... that's what I mean about luxury.

- What was your best fashion moment?

Someone came up to me in a shop and asked 'Are you Jane Brown?' She had tears in her eyes when she thanked me for making her shoes.

- What was your worst fashion moment?

It was my son's sports day. I was wearing a beautiful shirt in the mummy's race. When I won, I raised my arms as I crossed the finish line and my husband took a picture just as my shirt came undone.

- Who is your industry icon?

John Youni, the former director of Kay Shoes. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.

- What would you do if not in fashion?

I would ride horses, read books, plant trees and have an organic farm. But I would still go to Paris for my perfume.

- Who is the best high-street retailer?

I hate saying Topshop because it's a cliche, but it's true. River Island is worth popping into.

- Who are your style icons?

Probably Jane Birkin, Rachel Weiss, Mischa Barton, Eva Green and Charlotte Rampling when she was young.

- Who is your pop idol?

Prince. He's art, style and pleasure all in one little man.

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