There’s No Business Like Shoe Business: Interview With Sarah Watkinson-Yull of Yull Shoes

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By Jessamy Baldwin

“Shoes have the power to completely transform your mood”, says British shoe designer and 27-year-old Guernsey girl Sarah Watkinson-Yull. The Yull founder believes: “Shoes change how you feel, and that’s why they are so powerful. People love them for that.”

In fact, heels, high-tops, boots, loafers, sandals and platforms (the list goes on) have been special to us long before Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw took the crown for most enthusiastic footwear collector. We may not all have a walk in closet or be able to afford a new pair of Manolos every week, but shoes are a big deal for all of us.

From those new September school shoes you were secretly proud of despite their chunkiness or the skyscraper black heels your wore to your 21st birthday, to your wedding shoes or your favourite pair of trainers that have taken you miles, shoes get us going – literally and physically. They make us feel a certain way; they take us from A to B, ground us on the earth and even let us grow a few inches from time to time.

“Shoes inspire passion and films, are fetishised, cause fights, spark misty-eyed reminiscence, they serve as a drinking vessel, an ashtray, a murder weapon or a piece of art and, above all, can make or break your day, your evening, your heart, your life,” says writer Helen Walmsley-Johnson.

“Any woman (and surely many men) can chart their life in their shoes. From that first pair of ballet shoes to your first pair of heels, from the coup de foudre that hits as you gaze at a shop-window display to the unlikely thrill of finding the perfect welly … nothing, no nothing, exerts quite the power and pull of a perfectly formed shoe in its cardboard shrine.”

I recently sat down with London based Sarah to learn more about the fascinating world of shoes, her own journey in the business world and her plans for the future of Yull.

Always fascinated by design and shoes in particular, Sarah studied foundation at the Fashion Retail Academy in 2008 before going on to complete a Business Management degree at Westminster University, graduating top of her 136 strong class in 2013. Her drive to succeed was well and truly ignited.

“I started the business in my first year at university in 2011 because I really wanted to do something else in my spare time. I thought I could do lots of projects around the business and it would aid my studies too. And then it kind of snowballed from there.”

She says she has learnt so much over the last six years that she could write a book about the trials and tribulations of starting and running a successful business.

“One of the main things I’ve learnt is that the bigger you get, things don’t get any easier. Many people think they’ll get to a certain point with running their own business and then everything will become easier, but that’s just not the case, you’ve got to work harder in fact. It’s also important to know that you don’t have to spend huge amounts of money doing heavy marketing, you can reach your target market across the wold using social media. The world is actually a really small place when you utilise those social networks to access your audience and customers.”

If she had to give one piece of advice?

“Contacts are absolutely key, whatever you are doing. As a shoe designer, you have to find a manufacturer you can trust. That’s been very important for me.”

Whilst no day is the same for the young businesswoman, Sarah said she is really enjoying where her life is at right now.

“We prepare all the orders in the morning and reply to emails – that takes us until about 11am. Mornings can be pretty hectic, but I don’t mind it. Then it’s a case of calling round shops, taking care of social media and planning the next seven or so days ahead. I’ll then go to factory in east London once a week for about 7am. I like to get there early.

“We design the shoes twice a year, but we’re always working ahead of schedule. So, at the moment we’re doing autumn/winter 2018. It’s so crazy how far ahead you look in this industry, but that’s just the way it is.”

Through her work, Sarah gets to meet other shoe designers and interesting public figures, a major highlight for her.

“I went to fellow Guernsey girl Dawn O Porter’s house as we were doing her shoes for an event once. She’s fantastic. Lady Kitty Spencer also came to visit us in studio and she was so lovely.

“The shoe industry is actually really small. The designers get to know each other quite well. It’s different to fashion and accessories in that sense I think, the shoe community is very friendly and not so competitive, which is nice.”

Yull has been going from strength to strength over the last six years and last year, Sarah was a finalist at the National Business Awards 2016. The company’s commitment to supporting British made products clearly makes them shine.

Indeed, they are one of the only shoe companies that produce their shoes on British soil.

“We actually manufacture everything in London which makes us stand out from the crowd I think. Not many UK companies manufacture here apart from Van Dal and Gina.”

The shoes can be found in independent shops, independent department stores and online, with their global presence ever on the rise.

“At the moment we have 120 bricks and mortar shops around the world. We’re in locations including Taiwan, America, Australia and across lots of different places across Europe. It’s amazing how far it’s come over the last six years, I couldn’t have anticipated it would do this well.”

When you peruse the collections, one thing’s for sure, Yull has a unique and strong brand identity. The coloured or contrast front sections are present across most of the products. But the popularity of the brand is about more than just aesthetics. The brand truly evokes the feel of classic footwear with a twist.

“We really love colourful, classic designs that are something a bit different. We also pride ourselves on being timeless. We are informed by trends for sure but we don’t follow them too much. We like to follow our own path.”

When Sarah’s not busy with her work responsibilities or teaching Masters students in her spare time, she loves to relax with a glass of champagne.

“That doesn’t sound very interesting does it?” she laughs. “But it’s true, when I’m not working I love a good glass of champagne and… you know what, I like to drive fast cars.”

The future certainly looks bright for this island girl, who is nowhere near the end of her bucket list of achievements.

“It’s funny because I’ll achieve one thing and then I want to achieve the next. It’s constant. To be honest, the next big thing would be to sell into more countries, sell to shops that are more famous and have more of a global presence. I’d like to be turning over half a million in the next 2-3 years, that’s the goal anyway.”

 

Check out Yull here.

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