Article by Lawrence John, Northampton Herald & Post
When Mark Jeffery and Guy West started selling shoes 25 years ago they were not thinking about the future – only looking ahead to their next tank of petrol.
Now their business Jeffery ~ West has five shops, employs 30 members of staff and produces up to 20,000 pairs of shoes a year from factories in Northamptonshire, Italy and Spain.
To cap it all, their home town is staging an exhibition to celebrate the company’s silver jubilee.
The then 16-year-old lads started their business on November 12, 1987, selling reject shoes from their market stalls in Northamptonshire and London.
The duo quickly moved to make their own designs but Guy said they were so young nobody would take them seriously and they had to get a friend to buy them the leather.
What they created was a 12-piece Jeffery~West sample range which they took around shops before approaching a bank to get finance.
Now they make shoes worn by a variety of people, including the ex-lead singer of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, and former England football captain, David Beckham.
Guy said: “I think coming from Northampton has a lot to do with reason I make shoes.
“It was unique at the time, especially what we were doing, but I am not saying you could not do similar today. We develop the designs ourselves and as far as possible the shoes are made in one factory.
“When we first started we didn’t think about whether it would last – we were only thinking about our next tank of petrol.
“We took our collection of shoes to shops to sell and they told us what they wanted, like two in brown or two in blue.
“Colour is more interesting – you would not want all shoes being black or brown. We try and do interesting things with materials.
“Most of our shoes are made in the county but we do have some produced in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
“No one uses British leather for shoes – ours comes from Italy, Belgium or France.” As a designer Guy wants to create shoes which are as individual as their owners and which stir emotion.
He said Jeffery ~ West footwear could be described as ‘rockstar shoes’ as they are certainly different from more traditional styles.
The range of shoes are given different names, such as Peter O’Toole, Keith Moon, Lemmy from Motorhead and Gary Oldman.
Guy, who has owned 110 pairs of shoes in the past 25 years, said: “The emotion we want to create is around a style, a look and colour.
“What influences me are the places I have visited and what I have listened to.
“We have the heritage and tradition of shoemaking in Northampton but what we do is create individuality and that is why we chose the people we did.
“Our main age range is 35 to 55- year-olds but we sell to men outside this age range, which is great.
“It is fantastic to see young lads in a band wearing our shoes as well as the older gent. I am glad we sell across the board. Take the Brilleaux wing Gibson shoes in aubergine, which are now one of our best sellers.
“We made 12 to begin with as we weren’t sure people would like them, but they did.”
Jeffery West’s 25 years in business is being celebrated with an exhibition entitled ‘If we could be heroes’ at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. It runs until February 9, and will on one hand be a retrospective of the company’s first 25 years as well as looking forward to its future.
Admission is free and the opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 2pm to 5pm.