Well, let’s jump right in. Seeing as we are heading into a new season, what inspires you when you’re selecting new products?
Cathy: Gut instinct. That’s all. You don’t have a formula for it. It’s a gift.
Your ranges are always strong. What is your favourite item from your upcoming A/W range?
C: Wendel and Heavenly Feet. Caprice. There’s a few. You don’t have just one favourite. You couldn’t run a business on just one favourite. You’ve always got to be looking for new products. You’ve got to be a step ahead all the time.
What is your favourite style of shoe?
C: You can’t go on what you love you’ve got to go on what the customers want. I always used to go for two hours to the York shop every Saturday and sit in a corner and listen to what we’re refusing. To rely too much on technology is the biggest mistake. You have to know and understand what the customer wants. It’s easy to pick good lines out but it’s not easy to know what everyone wants. Well it’s nearly impossible anyway.
What colours do you think will be popular for A/W?
C: Black, black, black. At the present moment we have bought a lot of bright. It’s either black or it’s bright so complete opposites! I’ve bought a lot of bright colours for next winter. Bright cuffs round them. Heavenly feet and Wendel. Brown is taking a dip I think. I always say look what’s gone in your sale and learn from what’s gone in your sale. Your evidence is there. A lot of them look good in brown but you don’t see a lot of people in brown. More tan, mocha tan. In a normal, classy, everyday boot, it’s black.
What is your favourite season to buy for?
C: Oh definitely, summer. I love the colours and the flare. I can put my imprint on them. I can say “change that”. Boots are very difficult to change. They are sort of classical or have to be practical. I got such good feedback for the colours on the Kinloch stuff this summer.
When you first started, how successful did you think it would be at this point?
C: Let’s face it, I’m not easily pleased but I didn’t know if I could do it. I learnt from other buyers. I was willing to listen and watch. Everyone says I have a good eye so that’s a gift. I wasn’t started long before I had people knocking on my door wanting to join my firm. They were girls that I used to work with that thought “if she can do it, then I can” and they did it for a while but they just weren’t buying right.
Before you did this, did you always want to do shoes?
C: No. The trouble is I have a very difficult foot. I’m not wide but I’m very high instep. I used to have to wear sling backs in winter because I couldn’t keep them on my heel. My heel was very slim. I did clothing as well as shoes. We had to hang our hat on something. It had to either be shoes or clothing and it had to be shoes. So I was determined I was going to fit awkward feet up. And that’s what got us going to begin with - fitting awkward feet up. I had so many people coming in with their daughters for wide fitting shoes for their mothers I said “why don’t we get some younger stuff so while they’re waiting they can be looking”. Not high fashion though. I was against high fashion. I remember when I was doing clothing and I got offered some hot pants and I looked at them and thought “ooh” then I thought “no leave them! It’s too good to be true” and I was right because nobody could sell them. I took some risks but calculated risks. I dipped my toe in. I wanted to keep shoes though because there were a lot of people out there that’s not getting satisfied with shoes and it paid off. I always said I wanted to be as big and better than Clarks. We’re not as big but I think we’re better. I’ve been talking to Lisa and she was saying when you’re looking at all the shoes and you think sometimes it’s better to talk about it because two heads are better than one and you can’t always be right.
What advice would you give to someone starting a business?
C: Walk before you run. That’s what I told mine when they joined. We managed to pay for everything then if there is a hard time ahead like a recession then the bank won’t close you down. Some think they can borrow all this money and do this in a big way and that’s the worst thing you can do.
What made you determined to keep going?
C: You know when they say someone’s shown a red flag to a bull? Well it’s a stupid story really but I’d been to one of those Pippa Dee parties and when she brought everything out I thought “oh god there’s not a single thing I could buy” I had three boys and it was all little night dresses and even for me, I was 5ft 8 in those days and the night dresses wouldn’t have even covered me! If it was me I’d have had something for everyone. Even towels, I’d have bought towels or tights. So I went home and said “I’ve a good mind to start up” and John says “why not” and I said “because we have no money” and he said “well we’ve never borrowed at all but we could borrow £200 to start you” so I said I’d think about it then the next day we saw this fella we knew from London and John said I was thinking of starting up and he said “Cathy?! Now John yes” so I said “right off you go home and have a cup of coffee, we’re going to the bank to get that loan” and that’s what made my mind up. I was furious and I’ve never looked back. I had to make that £200 stretch and stretch. If I’d made one wrong by then we’d have been out of business. Money makes money.
What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
C: Computer. That’s the worst. I hate it. It’s too slow for me. My brain is very fast, moves too damn fast actually! The best is the buying and ordering shoes and designing them up. One of our best sellers even the factory is selling it now. I saw a shoe but it looked too dowdy so I said “you see that over there, put that on there” and I changed the shoe but he said “that will cost you more” and I said “no it won’t you’re going to do it for the same price aren’t you?” anyway I got what I wanted and the following year I went back and they had my shoe on show and he said they had a few left and everyone wanted it. But that’s my best bit - buying and negotiating. But the computers…I don’t know how you stand it! I don’t do it and I was determined I wouldn’t but I wish I had done it because I’m sure I could have but I have jobs coming out my ears!
In your lifetime, who’s inspired you the most?
C: Nobody. That sounds terrible doesn’t it? My Dad inspired me a bit. He was very clever but he wasn’t a business man, he would never take risks. He was entirely different natured to me but he was clever and he did teach me a lot of things and he taught me a lot of good sayings. My Dad used to say from little acorns grow strong oak trees and that’s what I say from that £200 was a little acorn. My grandchildren say I inspire them. I mean I never understand why. When I got that lifetime achievement award I didn’t expect that. I couldn’t speak! We went to London and graham, Ian and Stuart came back to the hotel and said we couldn’t get a taxi and said “We can get a rickshaw. Mum would you go on that?” and we couldn’t get anything else so I got on one with Gloria and Graham’s Susan and we giggled the whole way there and had people taking our picture as we went past! It ended up being an event with 500 or 700 people! I had no idea! When they called my name I was in such shock. I got down to the bottom and I nearly fell up the stairs and then woman gave me a microphone for a speech. I even got a standing ovation, but all I could say was “thank you very much but I’m in shock and I can’t say no more”. I had a queue a mile long with people saying they’d never known me be speechless before. It was an absolute shock! Deborah Meaden called me the original woman of substance and said I’d obviously seen a niche in the market. It all just rolled in though, I hadn’t planned anything. If you’re starting a business you have to work 100 hours a week to begin with.
I’ve had a good life though except for my husband dying early but I have a lot of good memories. I enjoyed the beginning of it better than now because there was a lot of drive. We always said we were in it for the achievement and money wasn’t the bee end of everything. I started it because I saw a niche in the market.