Editor's note: As an ongoing series, one of Styleforum's resident footwear experts, Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes in NY, will be compiling interviews with shoe industry insiders, including company owners, designers, and other personalities. Next up is William Church, co-owner of Cheaney. Stay tuned for a piece with Nick Horween soon.
Check out Nick's previous interviews:
Paul Grangaard, CEO of Allen Edmonds
Nick V.: How was Church's English Shoes founded?
William Church: Founded in 1873 by three brothers: Thomas, William, and Alfred, alongside their father Thomas, Sr. who wanted to bring what was prior to this date a cottage industry into an industrialised factory workplace to improve throughput time and productivity. Ethos was, and always has been, to focus on quality end of men’s Goodyear-welted shoemaking.
What was it like growing up in the Church family?
Great—I remember as a young kid being taken into the factory on Saturday mornings and enjoying the novelty of the intercom phones, the photocopier, and exploring what was, to me, a huge factory.
Can you describe your own background?
Public school at Stowe, both me and Jonathan, my third cousin and Cheaney co-owner, went there as did our fathers. Then a degree in real estate management from De Montfort University followed by 5 years working as a real estate surveyor in commercial property in London, then to Church's. I subsequently did an MBA at Warwick University part time.
How did you get started in the company? What relatives got involved?
Never an obligation to attend but always an attractive option. Jonathan and I are part of a fifth generation shoemaking family. My father, John, and Jonathan's father, Ian, were both chairmen of Church Group.
When did you decide to get into the business? Why?
At 27 years old. The attraction for working for a family business albeit stock exchange listed. Also happy to move out of London back to my Northampton roots where I was born and bred.
Cheaney was a sister company to Church's. What was their relationship?
Church acquired Cheaney in the 1960s for its brand but also to enable the group to do private label work for other brands, which Church did not have capacity for. Also the Cheaney factory was additional manufacturing capacity for Church's shoes
What companies did Cheaney manufacture for?
Over the years very many—in fact if you look into our heel sock stamp drawer you will find practically every Bond Street brand past and present that Cheaney made for.
How would you compare Church of the 1980s to the 2000s?
Still very well-made, handcrafted shoes—one of the main differences is into the retail store network with new openings and refurbishments—also investment in the factory premises has been extensive.
What are your plans for Cheaney?
To grow and develop the brand and make the most of the huge, innate skill potential that lies within the business.
I always saw Cheaney as a great value for a traditionally made British shoe. Do you plan to continue with that mindset?
Very much so. We are 100 percent made-in-England and totally committed to this. Of the brands that are made in England we offer very good value footwear—since our acquisition we have enhanced the ranges, improved product quality and exhibited at international trade shows. With Cheaney you get a lot of shoe for your money! We are 125 years old this year.
I also noticed some upgrades, such as fiddle waists and finishes. Tell us about your direction in that area.
The Imperial collection is a small upper-end collection to demonstrate the finest craftsmanship Cheaney can achieve. We were doing similar work for other brands unattributed to Cheaney so we thought we would do it in our name too.
What is your target market?
The discerning shoe buyer who wants not just classic but classic with a contemporary edge.
Where are you currently distributing?
Primarily UK but also Japan and some mainland European markets. Plus our own retail stores in London. One opened last year—another to open next month.
How do you plan to expand on that distribution?
Through distributors and / or sales agents. Plus our own stores.
Your new website, what can you tell us about it?
Even better photographic representation of product, transactional, downloadable i-brochure.
Where do you see Cheaney Shoes 10 years from now?
Good question—higher volumes through factory. Enhanced global distribution. Better consumer brand recognition. Cherished for its heritage craftsmanship.
Thanks Mr. Church!