David Preston Shoes - Handmade Chelsea boots
Preston was inspired to make custom-made Chelsea Boots when he
couldn't find anybody making his favourite footwear in the UK.
Now with an impressive celebrity customer-base and clients
worldwide, David tailors these shoes to your specific
requirements and specifications.
Digger: Hello David.
David: Hello mate how are you
Digger: Good thank you. Can you please tell us a bit about
David: I was
born in Scotland and grew up in Melbourne because my family
emigrated out there. I came back to England about twelve
years ago. I trained as a nurse and thatís what my profession
is rather than having gone to a shoe college or from a fashion
background. I was a musician as well. In terms of the
business, growing up in Melbourne there was a
shop there called Rocco which was a kind of hand-made shoe
store which did amazing rock and roll boots and shoes of all
genres like creepers and Chelsea boots. I went back there a
couple of years ago and Iíd always bought shoes from there.
But when I came back to London I thought ďI canít find shoes
like this anymore.Ē
Digger: There was a gap.
David: Yes, there really was.
There were guys wearing Chelsea boots, but I couldnít see the
love which that sort of style deserves being put into them
really. And having always been into those kinds of shoes I
thought ďIf you canít buy them, have a go at them being made
yourself.Ē That was the inspiration.
Digger: Thatís the classic imperative really for businesses
starting up isnít it? Nobody is doing it, or doing it well, so
they plug that gap as it were.
David: Exactly. Very much so. I
saw that niche, and particularly for hand-made boots and
beautiful leather materials. For somebody like me who was really
into that sort of thing Ė a cool pair of boots thatís not going to cost you several hundred
Digger: Rowena Howie at Revival Retro near Carnaby Street, strangely enough, was in
Australia and thatís what inspired her too. She heard some music
coming from a pub. She went in and they were all doing vintage
dancing and she fell in love with it, came back to the UK and
couldnít find the dancing shoes or clothes so did what you did and
sourced, manufactured and imported them herself. Now she has
the niche there. Amazing.
David: Yes. It is amazing, I
guess you can draw inspiration from crazy things Ė you might
not be working in that field but might decide to go on a
tangent for something you feel passionate about.
Digger: So there were all these other people who suddenly
materialised who wanted that sort of footwear?
David: Going into something
like this I could easily have made it and it been met with
relative indifference. But Iím just fortunate that what Iíve
made has really caught on and people like what Iím doing.
Digger: Is it individuals or cults and groups that pick up on
David: Predominantly at the
moment, because the company is still growing, I attract Rock and
Roll people or people into being a dandy or sixties retro-type
genres. Itís appealing to them more, although I donít think the
boots are necessarily limited to them. I think at the moment
Iím doing well building my business with those types of people
Digger: The Mods as well?
David: Yes, the Mods as well. Everyone like that Ė guys in bands or artists
Digger: Where are they coming from? Are they from all over the
David: Absolutely. Iíve sold to
China and Australia.
Digger: Good for you selling to China!
David: Yes, and all over Europe
and the States and I guess thatís the thing about The
Internet. People can come from anywhere. Iíve got a lot of
people in London as well that buy Ė a couple of shops buy from
Digger: Any from Melbourne?
David: Iíve sold a few to
Melbourne and one guy in Sydney bought four pairs.
Digger: Very good. Thatís the beauty of The Net. A shop in
London or wherever would pick up passing trade and people
aiming specifically for the shop. But The Net opens you up to the 1% or
whatever it is of the worldís 'connected' population that might
be interested. Which is a big figure.
David: Exactly, and I think that
this footwear might be considered niche to a certain degree Ė
there is that niche in every town and city in the world
potentially and there are always going to be people who like
that type of footwear. Itís just a matter of finding them
out there. If youíre just in a shop then you canít reach them.
Digger: I go to Mod rallies or related concerts and you see so
many people wearing the look and the Chelsea boots and shoes. I wondered where
they were getting them from! So tell us about your bespoke
David: The bespoke service came
about because I wanted to provide something different in the
sense that I donít think that many people are offering that to
customers. It gives people the chance to have something
that feels special to them or unique. You canít really go into
the high street and have something in leopard print finish or
whatever it is. But if people come to me and say they really
like my style but can they have it in a different finish then
I can go to the factory and make it happen usually.
Digger: The answerís usually 'yes' is it?
David: Yeah. I havenít had any
problems thus far. Itís just a matter of the factory acquiring
a sample that looks like what people want and okaying it with
them Ė itís a bit of a to-and-fro process but certainly
Digger: Where are they made?
David: In northern Portugal.
Digger: Thereís quite a lot of shoemaking over there.
David: I wanted them made there
because Iíve always admired their leatherwork and the craft
that they do. I hunted around for a long time. I found a
really nice family-run factory that has been around for
fifty-odd years. Itís not easy to find these sources, and not
coming from a shoe background I think that was half the battle
initially Ė "Where do you get things made?"
Digger: You did well.
David: Then, from the design
point of view, you have to get a 'last' made to makes the
shoes. I got a lathe made in Northampton.
Digger: Oh! Thatís where I am.
David: The old shoe capital.
Digger: Well, it used to be. The football teamís called The
Cobblers but thereís only a handful of shoe firms left here now. It
used to cater for the empire.
David: Churches and Lobb and
Loakes and all those classic shoemakers.
Digger: Yes, with all those shops around St Jamesís with
hatters and gentlemanís outfitters and requisites for smokiní
and fishiní and huntiní and shootiní.
David: Yes, and oneís for
shaving requisites only.
Digger: Thatís right. What an age that was.
David: Itís so enjoyable to
walk down St. James's Ė great fun.
Digger: Why is retro so popular these days with everyone? It was niche and cliquey
at one time wasn't it?
David: Thatís a tough one to
answer but maybe thereís a certain dissatisfaction with the
very fast consumer society we have these days. Bands, for
example - you get signed up and then get one shot, whereas back
in the day they would invest in someone and they would go on.
Digger: Yes, they would give bands two or three albums before
the band made it or they gave up on them, didnít they?
David: Yeah, and even some of
the great bands like The Beach Boys or The Kinks Ė some of
their great records didnít sell hardly anything and theyíre
now considered classic albums. They werenít dropped or
anything like that. Also with vintage, in terms of fashion,
people like reinventing things and thereís a uniqueness about
going and buying a vintage piece. You know youíre not going to
go to a party and see somebody wearing exactly the same thing
as you. I think fashion is always cyclical anyway.
Digger: Music and clothing really.
Digger: What are your Retro passions David?
David: It started with music
where, as a teenager, my sister got the Beatles box collection
that came out in the late 70s, which she actually got in the mid- 80s.
They were LPs back then and so I worked my way through that.
And then I
was down the local stores picking up all The Birds, Velvet
Underground, Badfinger and getting more and more into it. Then, when I had fallen I love with the music the whole culture
got to me. Film and pop culture really. So the sixties
predominantly but also the seventies. Iíve always been into
things like Roman history and military history anyway.
Digger: I love the WWII history.
David: Me too.
Digger: My girlfriend complains that when she leaves the room
and returns the telly has gone wrong again, because it has
reverted to black and white. (Both laugh)
David: Itís amazing how
enjoyable it is Ė the characters involved in WWII, you
couldnít have cast it better with people like Stalin and
Digger: It was amazing and then the fact that a lot of what
happened in the war was down to luck and the mistakes of the
other side. The bombing of London instead of the airfields
during the crucial Battle of Britain, the
Germans turning on Russia, the allied capture of the Enigma
technology and codes. I was also always amazed by how close the
Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians were to Britain and
how much they supported us in the war and what a sacrifice
they made. It wouldnít happen in this day and age.
David: No, Australia was very
involved, particularly in Africa and it was only when the
Japanese came in that they pulled their troops back because of
the Papua New Guinea thing. And America became
Australiaís friend I think more so that Britain in the sense
that Australia could be considered now a sort of mini-America.
It was around that era that things started to change.
Digger: Australia is a hybrid of both cultures now.
David: Yes, it is.
Digger: Possibly a lot of the best of both.
David: (Laughs) Well, Iím going
there in a couple of weeks and am looking forward to it.
Digger: The Internetís
obviously key to what youíre doing?
David: It is. I sell online, so
itís crucial. Itís amazing, having gone into it not being a
businessperson and having to learn quickly how key it is and
learn things like Google searches and tag words and getting
onto Facebook and Twitter and all these things. You have to
really keep on top of all that if you want to keep your
product growing in peopleís consciousness. Iíve been lucky and
had a few celebrates get involved with my boots. James
Williamson from The Stooges and Bobby Gillespie from Primal
Scream, Graham Coxon and Ringo Starrís kids. Kasabian as well.
Digger: Whatís the turnaround time if somebody asks for
something specific? I suppose now youíre established the
Portuguese turn these round for you quite quickly?
David: Yes, they do, but as Iím
not trading in huge volumes and its still a relatively new
business. After a year theyíre starting to notice that this
guyís doing more and more orders.
Digger: Youíve obviously visited them a few times?
David: Yes, Iíve been out there
a few times as well. The turnaround time does vary, but Iíd
say it would be no more than a month. Because of the bespoke
thing itís more of a to-and-fro because I have to go to the
factory and get the swatch just right. Get them to make it, so
it can take a little longer for that. But as a rule we can
fulfil an order in three weeks or something like that. People
actually come round to where I live and I keep some stock here
and itís fun having people walk through my door for fittings
and so on.
Digger: You must seem like some kind of male Imelda Marcos?
David: I must do.
Digger: What sort of comments and feedback are you getting
David: Really good,
fortunately. Itís been amazing. It could have been different
but I get emails from people going out of their way to say how
much they find the boots comfortable and stylish. Iíve had
some people even say Iíve designed the ultimate Rock and Roll
boot, which is quite an accolade. Iím not sure I agree, but
itís certainly lovely praise.
Digger: There are Beatle boots around arenít there?
David: Yes, but when I went
into this I decided not to do copies of Beatle boots because
there would be no fun in that for me. I think itís also all
about making something thatís a bit more relevant to today. I
do make a few styles and one of them is like a sixties boot so
people who are really into the sixties can order that style if
they want. But the other styles are a little bit more
Digger: What do you most enjoy about what you're doing?
David: The feedback from people.
And also like anyone that goes into business
and you do something for yourself then thatís enjoyable.
Digger: Being your own boss.
David: Yes, absolutely and
thatís certainly a pleasure for me and something new.
Digger: Youíve done very well Ė youíve picked up on something
you knew nothing about and got all the business skills and
created the infrastructure for the business.
David: Yes, I guess itís just
dogged determination. Iíve only been trading for a year but
there was a period of about eighteen months learning how to go
about doing it. A little bit of hard work but I kept at it as
I thought you only do this once so keep trying and go for it.
I got the website done only a few months ago and Iím really
glad to have got that done because people can buy online now.
Before that it was a thousand questions back and forth Ė ďWhat
sizes?Ē ďWhat colours?Ē and so on.
Digger: People expect you to respond to emails within a day
and are very demanding on the web. But you have to grab them
while theyíre interested in buying.
David: Yes. You have to allow
people to send stuff back as well because you have to take
into consideration that theyíre buying stuff that they canít
try on which is a tricky one.
Digger: Yes, they don't have the feel and the smell of the leather.
David: When I got my first
order and the smell of leather Ė Iíd never experienced that
and thought ďIíll get used to this at some point." but itís
quite an assault on the senses.
Digger: I pass a shoe repair shop on my walks and I think ďYou
have to work in that every day.Ē Itís quite overpowering.
David: Even when I go to sell
somebody a pair of shoes and open the box to check theyíre
good to go the smell is something that I do enjoy.
Digger: So what about the future? Do you want to build a shoe empire or
reach a certain level?
David: I think I want to run
with it as much as I can. Iím working on more styles at the
moment because I donít just want to be a Chelsea boot person.
I will always do them and other variations of them, but I
noticed last year that in the summer months boots arenít going
to move so much. I want to try and do some other things that
will keep the business going around the year and also Iíve got
interests in other types of footwear as well.
David: Well they will be
because I think thatís what excites me. I can be looking
through a book and just home in on a pair of shoes I find
appealing and it all goes into the memory bank ďOoh, that
could potentially be an inspiration to something that I might
want to do.Ē
Digger: What were The Kinks and The Beach Boys wearing in
summer? I donít even know.
David: I was looking at The Beatles in Rishikesh and
Mike Love was with them and wearing these loafers.
Digger: So you're taking in any influences and ideas that hit
David: Yes, Iím doing these styles and
building it up as much as I can where it becomes as big as I
can make it.
Digger: Youíve done really well within the space of a year and
it's a great business.
Thanks for letting us know about it David.
David: Thank you.
Handmade Cuban heeled Chelsea boots, crafted in three
styles and made using the finest analine leathers and
David Preston Shoes are Cuban
heeled boots inspired by the timeless and classic Chelsea
boot. Handmade in a family run factory using the finest
leather and suede available, you wonít find anything but
the real deal here. What you are getting are boots that
will last as long as the love you put into them.
David Preston, the creative director of David Preston
Shoes, brings his passion for rock and roll into his
designs. A musician and artist himself, he knows how hard
it is to find quality boots. These are boots for everyday
use, on stage and on the street. He wears them himself.
Tel: 07963 707 226
Int'l: 44 7963 707 226