Alexandra Finlay, the founder of Fin's, the UK men's footwear brand, talks about her life in fashion.
'Generally, they buy three or four pairs. I'm quite persuasive like that'
Fin's was born more out of an idea to set up my own business rather than having had a lifelong passion for the footwear industry. I went into it totally blind. I had no idea what I was doing, but men's footwear seemed as good as any. And you don't often have good ideas, so when one keeps coming back over a couple of years you start to think, "maybe I should act".
It launched in March 2008, having taken a year to get it up and running. If I did it all again I could probably get it wrapped up in two or three months, but I wanted to do it all by myself. There are plenty of stories of people who basically get people to write the business plans for them, but I wanted to feel as in control as possible because it was all so new to me. My shoes are made in a Portuguese factory just outside Porto. I found it through begging and pleading for contacts and general espionage. I went out there in April 2007 to meet them, physically shaking. I have never been more nervous.
They're not for the man who can't afford a pair of Tod's, Churches or Guccis. They're for the man who can, but who's fun and wants to buy two or three pairs for the same price. Disposable luxury is quite a crass way of putting it, especially in this day and age, but that was the idea. So many of my friends would buy a £200 (Dh1,140) pair of Tod's but they'd splash them on the beach or spill something on them in a club. And don't get me wrong, they're incredibly lovely, but they'd be trashed. So I wanted to introduce something a little more accessible.
I think men have quite a collecting mentality, so they start with the more boring colours but then they realise how comfortable they are and branch out with the set. Generally, they come into the showroom and don't leave without me selling them three or four pairs. I'm quite persuasive like that. We play Spot the Fin's. I've seen people wearing them in airports and I always go up to them. I was in a hotel in Majorca, and there was this group of boys sitting around, each wearing a different colour pair.
There are celebrity Fin's wearers too, including Sting and Valentino. There are now three ranges, plus the collaboration with Bill Amberg, which was just an amazing opportunity. He was already a fan and had a couple of pairs, so I had a meeting with him, knowing he's all about collaborations. I had an idea of a design with his signature webbing and he was all over it. It's great for Fin's to be put up there with a brand like that, because that's hopefully where I see myself being at some stage.
It's all about developing the core Fin's range to fill the need of the "shoedrobe". We have Finspadrilles coming out in the summer and we've got a classic Oxford which all my boys can wear to work. Summer is our big sales time but I'm trying to expand that by having a fantastic Middle Eastern market, where the sun shines all year round, and introducing autumn and winter styles for Europe. Dubai is my first focused foray abroad but it made sense because Boutique 1 placed such a fantastic order, so hopefully it's the first of many Middle Eastern countries that we're in.
Women's shoes are something that I wish I could do, in a way, because I'd get to wear my own shoes and it's a much bigger market than menswear. But I feel like French Sole have that whole flat-in-every-colour thing wrapped up. The focus is on men at the moment and I love that. I'm hoping that suddenly I'll wake up and a light bulb will switch on with a women's style and idea, and I am sampling and prototyping a few things, but I haven't had that light-bulb moment.
I live, breathe and sleep Fin's but I wouldn't have it any other way. If you go into something like this half-heartedly it's not the right way at all. I've talked to girls before who say: "Finally I'm pregnant and I can give up work to set up my own business." And I'm like: "Are you joking?" Fin's is my baby. It's like a newborn creature. * Sophia Money-Coutts Fin's shoes are available through the new Middle Eastern website www.finsforhim.ae and will be stocked in Boutique 1 in Dubai and Beirut from March. Prices start at Dh650.