Victoria Fitzgerald sauntered up to North East London to Staffa Shoes, manufacturer and partner of British shoe designer, Yull.
It’s incredibly rare that I get to visit manufacturing facilities in London, but in February a colleague and myself were picked up from Shoreditch High Street station on a busy Thursday morning by Yull shoes creator and TM Top 100 2015 Exemplar, Sarah Watkinson-Yull.
The young designer pulled up in her Mini Packman with the most adorable Maltese puppy called Jack perched atop her lap, a puppy named after her Staffa Shoes manufacturing partner, Jack Savva.
Watkinson-Yull zipped us up to the Staffa Shoe factory somewhere between Walthamstow and Leytonstone to meet veteran shoemaker Savva, who greeted all of us with a kiss on each cheek.
Staffa was founded by Savva and his brother George more than 35 years ago and offers shoe making from start to finish whether it’s a sample or mass production, assisting clients in developing, sourcing, sampling and producing their ranges.
Watkinson-Yull and Savva behave more like old friends than business associates, and he remarked that he knew the young designer had the right attributes to go far in the shoe industry, “I realised that Sarah had what it takes. She’s pushy and I like that. She has the drive to succeed and we look forward to her continued growth.”
Savva showed me around the factory, explaining the vast intricacies that compile the making of a single shoe.
What’s clear about Savva is his fervent passion and genuine love for the shoe industry, not to mention his pride at being one of the rare shoe manufacturers producing shoes in the UK.
I asked him about the decline of the textile industry in general during the 90s, particularly focusing on how the business survived through this period, not to mention the impact of 2008’s recession.
The fact is, Savva weathered both storms because he loves making shoes, he downsized, moved factories and did everything he could to stay afloat, “I came very close to opening a café, but in the end, I couldn’t leave the industry.”
The factory was a hub of activity and Savva explained that it was a little busier than usual because of the run up to London Fashion Week, in fact, I had the opportunity to handle a Julien MacDonald boot, destined for the foot of an androgynous male model on a London catwalk.
Watkinson-Yull explained how her and Savva met, “The UK shoe industry is so small and it’s quite difficult not to know everyone that’s involved.”
Since legitimately going full-time on Yull last summer, the business is gaining momentum with every passing moment, “We launched Yull nail varnish in February, which match the colours in the shoe collections, each colour is named after a British tradition, for example: Afternoon tea; Polo in the park; and Punch & Judy.
“We have launched the nail varnish at the same time as Yull’s first sandal. Last summer, I noticed I was wearing the Yull flats but my feet were really hot, so I decided it was time to produce the Scarborough sandal.”
As well as, a new sandal and a range of matching nail varnishes, Watkinson-Yull is spreading the word through the medium of the humble London Taxi, the first of which took to the streets in the City during the last week of February, the young MD said: “This could be the most exciting day in Yull history as the Yull taxis went live today!”
A TM Top 100 Exemplar 2015, Watkinson-Yull’s story is one of determination and inspiration, and the self-confessed workaholic admitted that being separated from a Wi-Fi connection at Christmas while holidaying in the Maldives was particularly difficult.
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The entrepreneur is pushing on with the business regardless of the challenges that surround her, “The industry is dominated by key players and strong high street brands that are manufacturing more cheaply overseas. This is very challenging for independent brands and boutiques to compete with,” she explained.
She started the business in 2011 at the tender age of 21 and was told that it was too expensive to source materials and produce stilettos in Britain.
Against all the odds Yull shoes is flourishing and Watkinson-Yull’s next play professionally is a Yull store, “That’s the next step. We are doing a pop up shop for a week in June at Box Park in Shoreditch.”
The details of which I will be keeping everyone up-to-date with, because that’s something that I definitely will be taking a trip to.
Yull has also released the details of its Autumn/Winter 2016 range, and continues to fly the flag for the ‘Made in Britain’ marque, showing that it is truly fantastic to be manufacturing in Britain.