We caught up with Marc Hare in his London store to find out more about what’s going on in the world of Mr Hare. We talk manufacturing shoes in England, not being able to wear his shoes outside of his house, the advantages of having a physical store and much more. Take a leap to read the Q&A.
Photography: Ivan Oglivie/Selectism.com
I noticed you sent an email today about the Deacon and the Beacons.
Right at the beginning, all the shoes were proper evening, sparkling, extravagant shoes. And then it snowed and I spent a whole year not being able to wear my own shoes out of my house. And I thought, “I’m never gonna let that happen again.” So that’s how the Idolescent collection where I used lots of vibram soles happened. Although they’re nice shoes and I do wear them a lot, it didn’t resonate with what I was trying to do in the first place, which is why these heavier British commando shoes do the job.
They bridge the gap for you.
It’s a learning process. You realize why the big shoe companies are so big. When you’ve got 60 to 100 years worth of experience behind you, you know what you’re doing. You make a shoe, it takes a good year and a half before you know whether that shoe works properly or not because you’ve gotta wear it out. And then you improve it and it takes another year. You’ve got these rounds of two years before you can make real improvements to something.
You’ve improved the Genet with the elastic side panel.
That was more to do with the shoe fits of different people. If you had a high arch there was a tendency that you could split the Genet by just jamming your feet into it. It didn’t happen to everyone, but the more of the things we sell, the more people are gonna be jamming the wrong size foot into it. So we had to find a solution where it kept its shape and it was still tight. And it could stretch more for people with higher arches.
What’s happened with the made-in-England stuff?
I don’t want to start a controversial argument here but it’s quite difficult to manufacture shoes in the UK unless you own your own factory. It just is. It’s not anyone’s fault, the industry’s gone a certain way, Northampton’s had it quite rough. Some players in Northampton have worked things out and are turning it around so that the UK shoe industry fits back into the global shoe industry but it’s still a long way to go. There’s a lot of great design talent, and I’m not even putting myself in that category, there’s a lot of great design talent in this country and some of the greatest shoe manufacture in the world. And the two things might as well be on other sides of the planet for the amount of collaborative effort that comes out of those two places. So that’s what happened to our English shoes. I want it to happen. I want to make a Mr Hare English shoe.
Is it a price thing?
It’s finding the right manufacturer to work with. In Italy we work with factories who are set up to do third-party manufacture. So they don’t have branding, they’re purely to make shoes for whoever comes in and wants to make shoes. That isn’t how it’s set up here in the UK. Most of the factories are [their] own brand factories, so the primary focus is on manufacturing their own brand. Then you have a price situation where you’re kinda getting charged what they’d charge to make their own shoe. Where we have to operate on a strict margin system. We manufacture something, we have a wholesale price and that price turns into a retail price. That’s not always the case here. Making a shoe in England, it’s hard to find a margin to make the whole thing work for everyone. That’s the biggest problem. We all need to get together and have a chat. We have a bitty shoe industry. We don’t really have an industry, we have a legend.
How do you go about something like that, or is that too big a question to ask?
It takes a lot of involvement. It’d be good if the British fashion council got involved, or London Collections: Men. You look at the fashion industry before Topshop got involved; Before Burberry turned it around; The biggest fashion entity was Marks & Spencers. And in those days, if you talked about British fashion, you’d go Galliano, McQueen and then the other side was M&S. And that’s exactly the same situation we have now in the British shoe industry. And they turned it around. So the format’s there, it can happen. There’s manufacturing, there’s design and there’s marketing. If we put all those things together we can rule the world.
How has having a store helped showcase the brand?
The thing that’s nice is having direct feedback from customers. Actually seeing the stuff go on people’s feet. When we were wholesaling, we getting a lot of feedback from around the world but it was never direct. It’s a help and a hindrance because the customer’s always right. They come in and tell you exactly what they want so you’d have to be a fool not to listen to them. But at the same time it does dilute what you set out to do. You’re in that dilemma of “Do I chase the commerciality or do I continue to strive forward with what I wanted to do?” When you find the balance between those two it can really help.
Python; is that the luxe ceiling for you?
It caught my eye. It’s such a beautiful skin that I thought I’d make some shoes out of it. I’d never say never to anything; things take your fancy and things resonate with you at different times. We’ve made a 100 pairs of python shoes and that’ll be it.
So you’re testing the waters?
No, just trying to make something that you think will be beautiful. It’s not about making massive hits, you just wanna make something that looks beautiful and uses that material. I like using things like that because they do what I want shoes to do, which is just give you that thing which is so stooshe, and so understatedly brilliant and wonderful and beautiful. I’m not gonna go and start using things that are massively endangered or a threat to that species. Most of what we use in the shoe industry is byproduct or farmed materials.
You had that Scarpe Nero thing.
Scarpe Nero is still a good idea and something we’re going to work on. The whole point of Scarpe Nero was to get a better price point and once again the economics of the thing, it takes volume to bring the prices down. So help me out world! Next time I bring out some Scarpe Neros, buy lots of them. You buy them, we’ll make them cheaper.
Do you want to do more of that kind of thing?
They’re only just coming into store now. We did four; we’ve only released 3 and 4 as they were the heavier winter ones and then 1 one and 2 come out in spring. Sort of Star Wars prequel order. The reaction’s been good because they are a little bit cheaper that what we do. And that’s just because of using one color all the way through, using standardized materials. It’s just me learning how to do things. I’m still making very high quality Italian shoes but at a better price point. But the only true way to do that is volume. The original idea was to have a £300 Italian made shoe. If someone else says they’ve done that then guarantee the top half was made in India and it was sewn together in Italy. It’s something I’m desperate to work towards, I didn’t set out to have high prices. I had certain principles about what I wanted to make and how I wanted to make them. And that dictates the price.
Is showing at fashion week a permanent thing?
Yes, I wanna do that. Because London is the first day of the calendar. Last year we did that and then shot off to Pitti. You get to Pitti and you’re reading about all the things that happened in London, so in terms of grand “this is our intention for the season”-kinda thing, it’s perfect. What I found is that you show in London it all makes sense. The next day you’re in Pitti and you’re this sore thumb. And then two weeks later you’re in Paris and the whole equation changes because it gets super glamourous and big fashion companies are out there wielding their cash. I didn’t even bother going to Milan. That’s where money happened. It wasn’t set up for little guys, whereas Paris is set up for little guys.
Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.