K: First up can you tell us ta little bit about the purpose of MR W & Me, what is the concept and ethos behind your brand?
MR W: The idea behind Mr. W & Me was to fill a gap in the Australasian market for good quality, leather shoes at an affordable 'mid' price point. There seemed to be a lot on offer at both the low end and the high end but not much in-between. I wanted something to compete with the UK high street prices but based in the southern hemisphere we could offer quick and easy shipping and returns and also cater for consumers wanting something a little different.Our initial focus was on loafers, as they really hadn't hit the NZ market when we first opened online in 2013.
Many of my readers are young creatives at the start of their journey or people on some kind of creative adventure. Can you tell us some of the most important things you learnt in your first year of Mr W & Me that you wish you had known earlier?
I've learnt so many things along the way with Mr. W & Me. Initially we started out with both leather and synthetic styles but quickly learnt that our customers wanted leather shoes - so we adjusted accordingly and now only offer leather styles. Price was another learning curve - we always try to price as affordably as possible but sometimes this worked to our disadvantage when we were establishing our brand. If we marked styles down to clear them, or even at full price, people would doubt the quality of the shoes because of the reasonable price (basically because we take a smaller cut and work very closely with our suppliers - there's no middle man).
Something that I have always wanted to know from basically all fashion designers is how the hell do you find suppliers and factories to make things? Any tips?
My husband Tom and I spent a long time looking for the right suppliers and factories to make our shoes. I left my job and we spent a full year before launching setting things up. This included traveling to find the right people, investigate their set-ups and build close relationships.
As the world becomes more aware of manufacturing practices, workers rights and sustainability what things are most important to you? Do you have any plans around these subjects?
Manufacturing practices and workers rights are really important to us and because of this we work closely with smaller, family run businesses just like ourselves. This gives us more control over how our shoes are made and means we can visit and communicate regularly to make sure nothing is compromised to produce our collection.
You're based in New Zealand, what are the pros and cons of starting a brand at the bottom of the earth?
One good point is that it's easier to stand out in a smaller population. Especially with shoes, as there aren't lots of brands that start up in this area. However, it can be a bit isolated from what's happening in the rest of the world. Even with the internet, the majority of people take longer to try out a 'new look'. They tend to wait until they see other people wearing something similar. We often find that our styles are more popular the second season we have them available!
I love your flats and wear them all the time, would you describe yourself as a flats or heels gal?
I'm definitely a flats girl! I only started driving last year (I'm 36 - have had my restricted for 20 years but never drove haha).Before taking to the road and even now, I always seem to be walking somewhere and you just can't go past an interesting pair of flats. I love how you can wear something quite dressy but totally transform the look into something more casual by pairing it with flats.
What were you doing before Mr W & Me? Why a shoe brand?
Before Mr. W & Me I was the women's fashion buyer for a major New Zealand footwear chain. I loved my job but always wanted to do something more boutique. I also never understood why it wasn't possible to have shoes at a reasonable price without sacrificing style aspects. It seemed like a lot of reasonably priced shoes had lots of embellishments added to them in an effort to make the shoes look more attractive/expensive! Where as I find the opposite appeals to me - I prefer cleaner lines and minimal/measured embellishment. My husband Tom is also a big shoe fan and we decided that we could either look at putting a deposit on a house in Auckland....or take a risk and start up our brand before we had a lot of other commitments. That was about 3 years ago, we now have more commitments - a physical shop and a baby but still don't own a house!
Did you do any formal training before starting your brand? Do you have any thoughts about the value of tertiary education?
Straight out of school I did a BA in design at Otago University. It was quite a general design degree and I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it. After completion I traveled and lived in Melbourne for a while working in retail and doing a little bit of graphic design work for a clothing production company (badly!). Then I returned to NZ and completed a Graduate Diploma in Fashion Design at Massey University in Wellington. After I finished that, I moved to Auckland to be with Tom and got a job a Buyer's Assistant for a large NZ footwear retailer. I worked there for almost 7 years - working my way up to be the women's footwear buyer, which is the biggest category. I had a gap in the middle of working there where I moved to the London for a year and worked in footwear production. Overall, I would say that I value tertiary education but it's not a golden ticket to your dream job. In most cases to get that you have to put in the time and effort and be prepared to do some boring jobs along the way. Also, sometimes tertiary education doesn't directly relate to what you end up doing but it can give you skills that are transferable. No matter what you study, you have to learn to do things within a set time frame and see them through to completion.
- Do you ever listen to Podcasts (ok if you don't), if you do, what are your favourites?
Sorry! I don't listen to podcasts... will have to look into it though :)
and finally, what can we expect next?
We're working towards more shoes! More styles, even more regularly and faster. We aim to bring customers something new every 8 weeks or less. Also - we always get asked about men's shoes..it's something we're considering for the future.
Check out the cute flats (and pretty damn good prices) here, share your favourites below! Shop matching socks by clicking the crosses above them right here ----->