UK footwear firm J Shoes prides itself on quirkiness and individualism, and has spent over a decade building celebrity associations with stars like Sienna Miller, Kate Moss and Oasis. But as the brand pushes into the US, Europe and Australia, J Shoes is hoping to build cult status by "never following the mainstream". Joe Ayling interviewed Nick Drury, the company's creative director, and Adam Ford, its European operations manager, to find out more.

What is the idea behind the J Shoes image and what do you have in mind when designing a new collection?

ND: "The 'Do the Jaywalk' concept has been the driving force behind the brand, the idea that life should be lived creatively and to the full, that individuals should do nothing but their own thing, and walk their own way. We see our brand as quirky, confident and creative. This ideology is behind everything we do; for the product we combine this with a strong sense of fashion, as well as a casual style and crafted feel."

How do you plan to continue inspiring consumers and celebrities to wear your shoes?

ND: "We plan to continue developing and designing interesting and engaging products which reflect our brand concept as well as working on special projects, like our Lost & Found concept, which we will launch in SS08. This will give one of a kind footwear [every shoe produced in each individual size will be truly unique]."

How has J Shoes handled the difficult trading conditions brought about by the poor weather in the UK?

AF: "We have worked very closely with our retail network ensuring they have the right product mix for the season. The weather has been challenging, but by their nature independent retailers can adopt and react to seasonal changes." 

How many different retail outlets do you use in the UK? Is the domestic market quite saturated and if so who are your main competitors?

AF: "We have a network of independent retailers up and down the country from St Ives to Orkney and work closely with them all. Our account managers have close relationships and regular communication with their accounts; not only do we offer in season stock replenishment, but also a comprehensive point-of-sale package and co-operative advertising. Yes we have competition, but as a brand we have always been a little quirky, never following the mainstream and always going our own way, so to a point we fly in the eye of our competition."

How has the company performed in the past few years, in terms of like-for-like sales and profit?

AF: "Sales have grown nicely over the last few years. The development of a ladies' collection has added to our bottom line. We are trying to be more proactive and like many businesses have restructured certain departments, but now have a strong and well-focused team, who all have the same goal."

As a percentage, do you sell more men's or women's shoes? What is the age and status of your target consumer?

ND: "We sell more men's than woman's internationally; however over the last couple of seasons we have seen a gain in our women's business especially in the UK, where it now represents a significant portion of our turnover. Our target consumer age is between 25-35, they are individuals who are media savvy, they have an interest in fashion and design and represent the early majority consumer group."

How do you see the company growing in the future? Have investors ever approached you and do you see consolidation in the footwear industry as a good thing?

AF: "We certainly don't want to over distribute our brand, it's a very fine balance. We will be looking for growth from within our existing account base and selected new business in the UK and across Europe. Financially we are in a very strong position with great backing from some very shrewd investors."

How is your relationship with suppliers in Thailand; can you identify any sourcing issues? There have been reports that countries like China and Vietnam are now able to produce footwear more cheaply?

AF: "We always put quality first, the standard of footwear manufacture in Thailand has always been higher than other parts of Asia and we enjoy a good relationship with our supplier. We have our own technicians and design team based in Thailand, so any potential issues are addressed at a local level."

Where is your fastest growing market and where else do you plan to distribute in the future?  

AF: "In a controlled manner our business is growing nicely; we presently distribute our brand across mainland Europe via a network of agents and distributors. In recent seasons we have had some great response from Eastern Europe and have build some great relationships and business in Croatia, Serbia and Romania. People everywhere appreciate a quality product.

"Where next? I would love to crack Russia and have a J Shoes store in Moscow."

Have you encountered any counterfeiting, and if so what action did you take? Do you see this as a large-scale problem in the footwear industry?

ND: "No not really, we are a niche fashion brand, so counterfeiting is less of a problem for us. What we do see is similar product hitting the market that has obviously been directly influenced by us and is very close. I think counterfeiting is a big problem especially for the large players in the sports and luxury end of the business."

What percentage of your earnings is spent on advertising and do you advertise outside the UK?

ND: "We do advertise on a small scale in both the UK and the US, and through our distributors in various other markets. In the past our marketing focus has been at point of sale, and through other activities such as supporting various PR initiatives."

Have you ever considered releasing a J Clothes line, or are you focused on footwear?

ND: "We have considered clothing and its definitely something we see happening in the future. However right now we are concentrating on strengthening and developing our footwear business."