On the up · 15 July 2015

Augustus Pili: The footwear brand hoping to showcase the best of British craftsmanship

Jalil Rahman was inspired to start his own business after having a tricky time finding shoes that had personality. “It always seemed like they came in two extremes – your standard classic brogues and then your cuban heels with glitter,” he said. His footwear brand Augustus Pili is “classic with a twist” and after being offered development opportunities withKPMG Small Business Accounting and the British Footwear Association, Rahman is getting ready to debut his site selling the distinctive range.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

My name is Jalil Rahman, I’m a self-taught designer and founder of footwear brand Augustus Pili. Augustus Pili is the reincarnation of classic English craftsmanship in colour – both in complexion and in character. I have worked for numerous British household names in my career. In men’s footwear, English handmade craftsmanship is arguably the best in the world. I want British footwear to get the recognition it truly deserves. And so Augustus Pili was born from the thought “what if the British mens’ shoe could be reborn today?”

(2) How long have you been around for?

The brand launched at London Collections Men in January 2015.

(3) How will you make money?

Augustus Pili footwear will be sold exclusively via the forthcoming e-shop at AugustusPili.com scheduled to launch this summer. We have not yet made any concerted push online but we have picked up traction on social media in London, a few cities in the US and then, surprisingly, Angola, Colombia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Currently, we are selling well through word-of-mouth, including bespoke editions for certain clients who embody our vision and will continue this on a case-by-case basis.

(4) What makes you different and why should someone take notice?

If you look at our shoes you should see that we use colour and fabric in a signature way. A few weeks ago I was invited to a large licensing event. On my way in I was stopped no less than six times on the London Underground by men asking where they could get my shoes, and in one case a woman wanting to get a pair for her boyfriend!

At the same time our shoes connect with a continuous and deep tradition of British craftsmanship. Our shoes are handmade in the heart of Northampton, England by expert craftsmen. Each pair undergoes over 200 processes before they leave the factory. In today’s era of fast fashion, and at times correspondingly poor quality, Augustus Pili acknowledges the importance of true artisan creations.

In terms of a target customer for the brand, we are interested in interesting men doing interesting things with their lives. Self-starters and initiative takers. It could be a social enterprise, it could be startup. It could be a quest for self-improvement. It’s not too important what it is. What are you passionate about? What can we learn from that? We are interested in meeting those types of people as we too pursue our passion. That meeting point is an inexhaustible well of inspiration and motivation.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

Last autumn I signed up with KPMG Small Business Accounting and it was the most important milestone thus far. With assistance from their mentoring programme, I was able to successfully establish a supply chain, launch the brand and outline a clear financial structure to take the business forward.

I hadn’t been prepared for the time and financial awareness required to complete the level of admin typically associated with starting a new business. The support of KPMG Enterprise helped me to develop the financial and accounting practices, as well as advising me on launch marketing and strategic business plans.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

The two biggest achievements to date have been debuting the brand at London Collections Men in January and being this year’s selection for the British Footwear Association mentoring programme. London Collections Men, the seasonal men’s programme organised by the British Fashion Council, allowed me to launch the brand on a global platform and build key press relations.

Just after in February I was fortunate enough to be selected for the British Footwear Association’s ‘Accelerated Development’ mentoring programme for 2015. This means I will be working closely with the CEO of a large British footwear company this year and so I have very strong expectations for our plans in the pipeline for 2016, both creatively and operationally.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Many specific to most startups in any industry: cash flow limitations, deadlines, delays…even postal theft. Whenever I encounter a trial of my patience I remind myself of the Japanese saying “Tanki wa sonki”, which literally translates as “if you’re short-tempered you’re a loser”. I consider launching a business a series of ongoing problem solving challenges. Treating it this way makes it feel much more manageable.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Five years! That can be a long time in business. I would be happy with a sustainable business that will survive the inevitable challenges that lie ahead. Saying that, I’m ambitious and quietly confident that Augustus Pili will grow to be an internationally recognised British brand. We offer a quality, quirky product with a luxurious feel borne from expert craftsmanship. They’re fundamentals the footwear market and indeed the luxury market cannot ignore. With our passion for seeking out and responding to our inspirational client base we look forward to great things. My advice would be get a pair now, in five years’ time you may well be wearing an iconic classic.

(9) What one tip would you give to those starting out?

Perseverance is key; when I first started building this company I came across a hugely inspirational quote that has remained with me: “For all men their movements are towards the highest ambition. But rare among men are those who persist”. Stay persistent.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

With Augustus Pili I am trying to create something special in British footwear. My business heroes are people who have achieved wonders with British brands who I have had the privilege of working for.

Watching the success Angela Ahrendts’ single-mindedness and motivation had on Burberry was invaluable career experience. Notwithstanding the strength of character it requires to challenge the masculine world of senior management, I specifically remember Angela making, what were at the time, highly controversial decisions for the business and admiring her vigour when faced with the internal, and at times external, criticisms. Her legacy and contribution to the company will never be matched.

Similarly, at LOCOG Paul Deighton faced every possible challenge, obstacle or emergency with poise and integrity. It’s rare to be in such a high pressured environment, under maximum global scrutiny and still have a leader with calm purpose and clarity of foresight. It was a true pleasure to observe his considerable managerial ability and contribution to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games.

At Vertu, Massimiliano Pogliani has successfully repositioned the British phone manufacturer by responding to the unique needs of its customers. Despite the fast paced nature of the industry and the notion of obsolescence for luxury tech, he has implemented solid commercial foundations within the business and developed a cohesive management team that inspires confidence. It also helps that he is a leader of impressive character.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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