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Richard Kottler

The chief executive of the British Footwear Association tells Laura Weir why the UK footwear industry deserves a big round of applause

How did you get your current job and what is your connection to the footwear industry?
I started my career in clothing, at brands including Aquascutum and Viyella, before I became involved in footwear. Initially this was through owning and running footwear design and manufacturing firm H&M Rayne and latterly as a result of setting up Berkeley Search & Selection, a recruitment agency specialising in the footwear industry. After selling the company I was approached by the British Footwear Association (BFA). The question I had to ask myself before I took
the job was whether the footwear sector is sufficiently different from the clothing industry to warrant a separate trade body. The answer then, as now, is a resounding yes.

What is the BFA’s role in the industry?
The BFA’s mission is to be the eyes and ears of the industry and the link between the sector and the relevant government, EU and training bodies. We are constantly trying to match our services to the changing face of the industry.

Which BFA members are doing a great job for UK footwear?
We are not very good at shouting about our successes. We all know the great achievements of brands like Clarks, Church’s, Loake, Rupert Sanderson, Emma Hope, Jeffery-West and Start-rite, but less visible companies are also doing a fantastic job in their specific areas. These include Hotter Comfort Concept, The Jacobson Group, DB Shoes, the Florida Group, Padders and Shubiz. Brands like John Lobb and Gina continue to show show the death of the UK manufacturing industry is a myth, and exciting new brands such as Harrys of London, Fin’s, FitFlop, Rocket Dog and the Terra Plana family of labels prove that the industry is
constantly innovating.

What are the biggest challenges facing footwear brands?
The supply side of the industry covering manufacturing, imports and design is very dependant on the success of its retail customers here and elsewhere in the
world. Economic pressures automatically translate to suppliers who, in addition, have to contend with a rapidly rising cost base in the Far East, currency swings and anti-dumping duties.

Why does the welted menswear market seem to be having a revival among fashion fans?
Exporting continues to be crucial, with the industry responsible for more than £500 million of sales. Central to this is the success of the traditional high-grade men’s manufacturers. The likes of Church’s, Barker, Crockett & Jones, Grenson, Tricker’s and Loake combine superb craftsmanship with new design angles and a professional approach to marketing.

What does 2009 have in store for the footwear market?
Exporting will be a priority given the currency position and we hope to build on the record numbers of UK exhibitors at overseas shows. Companies supplying the
UK high street are already suffering from retailers cancelling spring orders and are experiencing big base-cost increases. However, the good businesses will survive and prosper.

  • Richard Kottler is chief executive of the British Footwear Association

My Icon

Who is your fashion icon and why?
When I was working at Viyella, a courageous boss moved me from being HR director to head of womenswear.

One of the licences we were running was Mary Quant. As my introduction to the strange world of fashion, I could not have wished for a more powerful example of someone with brilliant design ideas linked with a commercial understanding.

Mary Quant

Dubbed the high priestess of 1960s fashion, Mary Quant was born in south-east London in 1934 and is often credited with inventing the mini skirt and hotpants. Quant rarely worked on a seasonal basis and reacted to demand by bringing quick-to-market products that gave shoppers the London look they craved.

Keenly priced shift and pinafore dresses complete with androgynous detailing and detachable collars, along with ribbed knits and waxy patent knee-high boots allowed women to experiment and shook the UK out of its conservative attitude towards clothing.

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