Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is James Di Mambro and our company is WALK London Shoes. We are a family-run footwear brand that sells fashionable men’s footwear; such as shoes, boots, loafers, sandals, trainers, etc.
We started the brand in 2013 and today we sell over 100,000 pairs a year which for us is an amazing achievement.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Our dad started the business over 30 years ago, supplying the UK high street multiples with men’s own label fashion footwear. Customers such as TOPMAN, RIVER ISLAND, KURT GEIGER, ASOS, OFFICE, SOLE TRADER, etc.
Once we had decided to hire extra staff and knowingly make a loss for a few years, everything started to go in the right direction. We could all focus on our strengths and let the expert in marketing handle marketing, the expert in design handle design, etc.
Over the years my brother and I both joined the company and almost instantly we all knew as a family that we wanted to start our own brand. For years we had been developing collections for other labels and it was time for us to start our own journey. We wanted to start something truly special that we could be proud of and have as our own – and in 2013 our dream became a reality when we launched WALK London.
For us we wanted WALK London to be a go-to source for men who want to look fashionable and feel great. We never wanted to be known for just being a loafer brand, or a boot brand, etc – we aim to produce fashionable collections every season so men can always look their best, whatever the trend. We were also always keen to ensure this was an accessible brand. A lot of the brands we grew up loving have set the retail so high it’s unattainable for a lot of men. We want to create high-quality, fashionable products at affordable prices.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our business started somewhat different from most in the sense that we were already designing and manufacturing shoes for 30 years before launching WALK London, so we already had all of the tools in place to be able to launch in terms of suppliers and manufacturing, etc.
However, to take a step back, it all started with our dad alone in the office back in 1991. He started with a dream to design fashionable men’s collections for the high street and the first step was to head out to trade shows looking for potential factories to use. After a long day not finding anything, he came across a small stand at the end of the hall displaying great-looking shoes that simply needed help on the design. The factory exhibiting were also family-run and were looking to launch footwear in the UK and so the partnership started from there.
After a lot of hard work, they began to show their collections to buyers which eventually turned into a successful business. We still work with the same factory today which we couldn't be happier about.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I actually joined the company a year after the launch of the brand - however my mum, dad, and brother all knew they wanted to start their own brand, it was simply a matter of finding a name and getting to work on what they believed would be a great collection.
After a lot of discussion about whether to include our family name in the brand, my brother said “let's take it back to basics” which was followed by “how about WALK London”?
We then got to work designing a collection. After years of designing for the high street, seeing our shoes being tweaked or replaced with more economical leathers for the price, it was a chance where we could put everything back into the product.
Once the collection was ready, it was then shown to customers such as OFFICE, ASOS, and Zalando who luckily all loved the idea of our family brand, and more importantly the products, so we got picked up fairly early on with a wholesale model.
Since then, we have worked extremely hard and have steadily grown year on year. We also launched our own online store in 2019 walklondonshoes.com. We now have customers all over the world wearing WALK’s which is truly unbelievable for us to see.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
It’s definitely worth noting here that it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The initial price point of the products was between £115-£150 and whilst we had some success, it was clear early on that with today’s trend and the growth of online retailers, customers expected high-quality shoes but at the fraction of the price.
As such we had a transition period of around 2 years where we looked at how we could still put everything into the product and not compromise on quality, but also offer great prices. We did this by working with specific factories that could offer exactly what we needed and in turn. We were able to bring our products into a range of £55-95 where we found our sweet spot.
Marketing and social media have also played a big part in retaining customers and trying to raise awareness of the brand. We realized from day 1 the need to have an online and social presence so we have worked hard to ensure we are in constant communication with our customers.
Initially, my brother and I were trying to run the brand, whilst also creating the website from scratch, taking the photos ourselves, editing them, merchandising the website, producing video content, processing orders, etc. We never shy away from hard work and It really was a hands-on approach for the first five years. Only now after 6 years have we finally been in a position to bring onboard staff to work in Marketing/Website, Social Media, etc.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We can’t say the last 18 months hasn’t been difficult with everything going on in the world, however luckily due to our presence online, we have still seen growth in sales with our wholesale partners and our own website.
Around 90% of our sales currently come from our wholesale partners (ASOS, ZALANDO, OFFICE, THE HUT GROUP, ZAPPOS) and the remaining 10% from our website.
We are currently focusing our efforts on continual growth on wholesale but we also have a key focus on driving our website sales.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The best piece of advice we could give is to know when to bring people on board. We were stretching ourselves too thin trying to do everything on our own and you can’t grow like that. You will always hit a ceiling that will be impossible to break through.
Once we had decided to hire extra staff and knowingly make a loss for a few years, everything started to go in the right direction. We could all focus on our strengths and let the expert in marketing handle marketing, the expert in design handle design, etc. Soon we were growing much faster and steadier to where we are now.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify for our website. We started out using Squarespace which was brilliant at the beginning. It was so easy to use for people who don’t know anything about website design and really helped us to get underway. However, we made the switch to Shopify in 2019; as the online sales grew we found that Shopify offered more in terms of growth and scale. However, for anyone starting I can’t recommend Squarespace enough.
We also use Mailchimp for sending marketing emails, along with all social media apps. We tend to shy away from any “post-planning” apps for Instagram and simply do everything in-house. For us, we are a fashion brand that needs to have our finger on the pulse so we can’t plan content a month ahead, it changes weekly for us.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For us, our biggest inspiration and well of knowledge has been our dad. He’s been in the footwear industry for over 40 years, 30 of which have been from a business he built up from the ground. He still loves working and although we don't like to admit it, he’s definitely the most fashionable in the office haha
Other than that, we constantly use the internet for inspiration and love to travel to find new sparks of inspiration.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Our best advice would be to just start. Once you have your idea, START! We’re all guilty of putting things off or spending time designing business cards rather than starting the actual business. Believe in yourself, and simply start now, life is too short to waste!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’ve recently taken on a social media manager and ladies footwear designer so we’re not currently looking to hire. However, as you may have guessed, we are extremely excited to be launching our first full ladies collection this Autumn for WALK London so watch this space.
Where can we go to learn more?
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