Celebrating International Women's Day we talk to Tracey at her Shoreditch Boutique where her style archive of over 40 collections lives and discuss how she approaches her company. Maybe doing things differently has been a key ingredient to this creative Londoner’s success?
"Be passionate, don’t listen to the noise, trust your female intuition, be grateful for it and and just go for it!"
Tracey, you have such a reputation for challenging conventional ideas of what retail should or could be. In an age where the internet tries to dominate, how do you keep your boutiques fresh and interesting?
We have always been quite a touchy - feely company. Our leathers, the craft of seamless minimal design and shape is as important to touch as it is to see. Some of our leathers are so multi layered and proves that a glance is much less satisfying than a pass with your fingers.
Our shops still offer something that online just can’t touch - literally. We use all of our spaces to create moments. Our sale shop resembles a jazz bar where you sit amongst tables strewn with shoes instead of cocktails. Marylebone is like a fish bowl just begging for outsiders to wonder what is going on inside. From bedroom setting to hand knit walls, there are no boundaries to how a TN shop presents footwear. Our latest baby at Kings Cross was built to be as gallery-like as possible with concrete floors and a single large open space. Even here, we have several cavities pulled out of the floor ready for whatever installation takes our fancy - last summer we grew mint for our Mojito party.
Our sales staff are knowledgeable about footwear. I still like the old school tradition of ‘serving the customer’ and working together to find the best fit, look and matching the customers personality to the right design. No exploration of anything you buy should be emotion free. Fall in love, gasp at original design and let yourself have fun shopping. Shopping in person is about looking each other in the eye, listening to new music and making a human connection.
Is there another industry you model yourself on or are similar to?
I would be pleased if our shops were likened to that of a bar, an institution like Cecconi's. My first job was waitressing and I adore going out to restaurants, taking in the surroundings and atmosphere. I get that staff can make or break a diner out. A restaurant survives on making people happy and hoping they return for more. ‘Front of House’ has the same responsibility as our sales people. Who doesn’t want to be welcomed, have their name remembered and feel as if you were a relative of the family business? It can be a multi-tasking juggle at times making sure that everyone is content when they all come in at once. At times the chat can take over the trying on and that is the beauty of honesty and passion in what you do. This magic can not be taken for granted!
The ingredients I use for the shoes are sourced from ethical tanneries and the quality is the best in the marketplace. They are cut, sewn and crafted at small, family fun factories in Portugal. Better to specialise in a few things and do them well than have a massive menu and nothing that tastes good!? We have recently introduced Vegan sneakers into our heritage line of Geeks. The Geek is a sneaker style that has seen many iterations over the years and it's still a customer favourite. I love leather as a material but felt a balance to include plant based materials was time. Having a shop means that the customer conversations can be digested into something that ends up on the shop floor.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the customers we have had over the years, some of them have collections of designs dating back to the early 00’s. Some make the detour to pop into one of the boutiques even if not shopping, just so they can say hello and see what we are exhibiting as a display. They are the ones that make the word of mouth so strong. These sorts of relationships are everything to us as passionate makers of shoes.
My main ingredients to business are: honesty, curiosity, integrity, exploration and a happy customer.
Your boutiques have very different “personalities”, here we are at Shoreditch, on Redchurch Street. What attracted you to this area?
Redchurch Street has a rich story that keeps making history. Did you know that it used to be a dog market where you could buy puppies? When we arrived, it was rich with art galleries and we were one of the first retail destinations to join the street. I think this story has attracted other like minded retailers, bars and restaurants and it's still a pretty special place. From Allpress coffee, to a long love affair with the Gibsons at Cecconi's, from small items at Labour and Wait to Hostem’s impressive wardrobe pieces. These big contrasts allow us to make people question something different to a homogenous high street.
Can you explain the idea of the Shoe Bar at your Shoreditch Boutique?
For one, this area is synonymous with vintage and this boutique is where my design archive lives, all 20 years of it, that’s over 40 collections! Most samples are saved for posterity but the thing with shoes is, they are not perishable. I don’t design for trends, so they stand the test of time. The concept of “That’s so last season” is so alien to me! At the end of each season, there are always miscellaneous sizes and styles left over. We wanted a place to house these and make it easier for customers who wanted to shop at sale time only.
We are quite theatrical with our shop displays and always have a theme. We’ve done lots like turning the boutique into a bedroom, a classroom, a theatre, a living room, an indoor garden, a restaurant. We hadn’t created a cocktail bar theme installation before so the “Shoe Bar” came to mind. We set the theme with menus, glasses and tables to serve the archive and last pairs. We have daily specials. Because there is a mix of styles, with strong discounts, it’s happy hour, every hour. I never wanted to use the word outlet like other designers do, I knew there was scope to make the idea more imaginative and enjoyable. The tables are set apart by size so they are like tables in a restaurant, 37, 38, 39, etc… It’s playful, we serve drinks past 5pm and it’s becoming a very sociable shoe shop! With so much business heading online, it’s creative to me making experiences. It’s something that’s very instinctive to us, we’ve never wanted to be an intimidating brand. I think being independent and welcoming is my kind of luxury.
What do you feel has been the most determining thing that has contributed to your success?
I began my brand some 20 years ago because I wanted to design footwear that was interesting, different, timeless, a shoe that wasn’t a throw away item but rather struck a chord with the wearer, an emotional connection. This direction hasn’t changed since day one. When there is passion involved and a real story, success is closely linked.
Are there are any questions YOU would like to ask Tracey? Direct message us on instagram @traceyneuls and we will share her answers over the next few days.
From 14 October - 1 November Secret7 will exhibit all the artwork at NOW Gallery on Greenwich Peninsula in London, all 700 records will be sold via auction on the final day. All profits will be donated to help refugees.
Tracey Neuls is proud to be part of this movement amongst photographers, illustrators, painters, graffiti artists and sculptors.
"We have had a lot of fun in our East London shop, pushing the boundaries of retail, treating it like a gallery and hosting thought-provoking Artist Collaborations and creating our most recent Mise en Scene Shoe Bar. We've had a blast and thought leaving you on a funny note would make perfect sense. We look forward to serving you at our other Two Locations in London and of course Online.
Thanks for all your support, laughs and damn good fun - onwards and upwards!"