News, Technology

Interview: Matthew Bagwell, Co-founder & Chief Marketing Officer for SEVEN FEET APART

Anna Wall

Amie Haven, Journalist
@uxconnections

UX Connections gets the lowdown from one of the creative minds behind sustainable footwear company SEVEN FEET APART.

Tell us about how you came to start your footwear company SEVEN FEET APART (SFA)?

Ian, my co-founder, and I were members of a peer-to-peer executive leadership group called The Academy for Chief Executives. We had discussed the disruption of retail by forces like ‘direct-to-consumer’ and the value of ‘total brand experience’ design and management. With a shared vision of making a better business, we decided that rather than observe other brands capitalise or fail to capitalise on this opportunity, we would do it ourselves. 

What are your core principles and company mission?

That as a business, we make everyday journeys better by making stylish and comfortable footwear. And in all that SFA do, we follow our values of beautiful, brilliant and better. 

Who makes up your team and how do your skills and personalities work together?

We have two founders, a marketing manager and a content editor, an ecommerce director, an admin and a footwear designer on retainer. We are a small team in constant communication. We are working together – virtually for some – all the time but we also have some more structured and formal practices, like weekly reviews of marketing and sales performance.

There is no hierarchy; we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, play to those and know how to play together. 

How do you go about finding your own niche in a world of big brands like Nike, Adidas, and Converse?

By finding our audience and addressing their needs. Our customer doesn’t necessarily want a big tick down the side of a sneaker; they are more conservative or minimalist, seeking something with understated style and quality. We have spent time finding our audience and discovering how to acquire and retain them as customers. 

When designing your shoes, are you at all influenced by the design and popularity of big brands or do look elsewhere for inspiration? Please give details of your creative process.

We are constantly monitoring trends in the market. Sometimes this is done in a formal way, for example, going to a big international shoe fair where we can see new materials, soles, prototypes, etc. Sometimes it’s just about being observant (say, on social media). However, we have to appreciate what impact a trend will have with our audience. For example, ‘Ugly Dad’ sneakers (big sole units) were a huge fad but we didn’t make any as our customers would never wear them. Inversely, we do look at colour trends two or three sessions out so that we can anticipate what this means to our range.  

We will make a design brief and then prototype a new model or a new colour or material. When we have these, we test them with customers and take feedback into iterations. There are lots of shoes that never make it! 

How challenging is it to honour principles of sustainability and durability and still accrue profits? Exactly what challenges do you face?

It is very difficult. It is obvious to us that a sustainable product will be more expensive and there is only a small elasticity in price sensitivity. It’s also true that a lot is claimed (in manufacturing and marketing) but the reality of having a completely sustainable end-to-end supply chain is a constant effort. 

We are a small company asking for big changes to the traditional way things are made. We represent such a small percentage of any one factories revenue, so our influence is miniscule. We have been blessed to work with people who ‘get it’ and want to see a sustainable future for the industry so are willing to help us to help them. It’s a symbiotic relationship. 

SFA appears to be able to work as an effective business whilst caring for the environment and supporting charities. Do you think ‘capitalism with a conscience’ can become the norm? Please explain the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your answer.

Can it become a norm? Yes. However, a business needs to make a direct connection between its ideal purpose – the why? – to its business model and profit and loss (P&L). 

Similarly, I would suggest companies need to look at total opportunity cost as much as sales and revenue. For example, if a company is purpose-driven, it may be the case that it attracts better talent and retains that talent who work more productively. These costs and benefits can be measured and need to be balanced against the initiative that fuel them, e.g., community activity. 

I’ll add this: we do what we do because we believe it’s right to consider our business as part of a wider community, both local and global. There is much more we could be doing and it’s easy to be distracted by focusing on the short-term imperatives of a business, like weekly sales. My only suggestion here is this; don’t sacrifice your purpose or values easily or quickly – play the longer game. 

What single product innovation would you like to see SFA bring to market?

We did help make Sugarcane sole units commercially available in Europe last year so we should build on that. A ‘closed loop’ subscription-based ownership model perhaps. This is where people essentially ‘rent’ Sevens from us and we take real care of end-of life recycling.

UX Connections would like to thank Matthew Bagwell for taking the time to share his insights. For more information about Matthew, check out his LinkedIn profile and find out more about SEVEN FEET APART on their website.

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