The Norfolk Secret That’s out in the Open
Those seeking stylish and sleek footwear, head to west Norfolk or pop into the Fairfax & Favor marquee at your nearest country show this summer
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Christoffer Rosenfeldt
In the depths of the west Norfolk countryside, Marcus Fairfax Fountaine and Felix Favor Parker have overseen the rise of the stylish footwear brand bearing their middle names. Fairfax & Favor comes as the result of a long friendship – the two made a pact to go into business together at 15 whilst both still at boarding school – and is a brand that is now omnipresent on the UK’s game and country fair scene.
For a brand that traces its roots back to 2013 and has enjoyed gratifyingly rapid growth, it has not been automatic plan sailing for these two urbane entrepreneurs: “we’ve had our ups and downs” smiles Marcus when I meet him at their stable yard offices at Narford Hall. Having briefly worked in the shoe arena for his stepfather, Marcus, with Felix, made the brave call to head to Spain with the totality of their £4,000 savings to find and then meet with manufacturers for their shoes. After an initial attempt to wholesale, a couple of friendly shops suggested that they consider the riskier direct sales model. Gutting their house to furnish their stand at Holkham country show (those same pieces of furniture rightly have pride of place and huge sentimental value in their now much larger marquees), the pair sold £5,000 worth of shoes and, coupled with a strong showing at that winter’s Spirit of Christmas fair at Olympia, Fairfax & Favor were on their way. Those believing these two lack for business guts or bloody mindedness, turn to the right and step away.
The pair first stocked men’s shoes and Chelsea boots but very rapidly the demand for and growth of their women’s footwear outstripped that side. Marcus comments that their business is now roughly a 70:30 female to male split. Their women’s flat and heeled boots remain best sellers and the pair are introducing an over-the-knee model to the collection later in 2017 as well as an après ski boot. “Expansion has always been driven by demand,” remarks Marcus. They are always keen on feedback from their shows and utilise their social media feeds to show prototypes and test potential new models. Like many new brands, Fairfax & Favor’s social media feed is very user focused with a blizzard of satisfied customers photographing their footwear everywhere from the King’s Road to the Cheltenham Festival and Courchevel.
As the brand has grown, the pair have continued to source their shoes from the Iberian Peninsula; whilst they originally used Spanish workshops, they have moved their production to Portugal. Marcus remarks that the Portuguese workshops they use are exceedingly open to utilising new technology and experimentation as well as producing the shoes to a very high consistency. So far, they have not used Northampton-based workshops, though Marcus does not rule out using British artisans in the future, “it’s about our aesthetic – the slightly slimmer, modern last we use is unique to us. Should we wish to introduce a more traditional English shape as part of our offering in the future we will certainly look to use British firms.” Their leather, barring some Italian soft leather for accessories, is still also sourced and tanned in Portugal.
Certainly Fairfax & Favor has moved on since their early challenges. “It was cash flow at the start,” recalls Marcus grinning, “we virtually had to resort to beg, borrow and steal!” Both he and Felix had second jobs (pub work and deliveries) and an awareness of the constant need to keep costs as low as possible. Those extremes are now fortunately behind them. Concerns over cash flow never go away but their main challenge now revolves around ensuring the smoothness and consistency of their supply chain to meet and control their wholesale demands. The brand is stocked in just over 50 UK retailers at present, as Marcus comments, “we are also lucky to have very even coverage across the UK which is of immense help.”
At heart though, Fairfax & Favour remain a country and game fair brand. “We have grown up this way and owe our success to those early loyal customers,” Marcus says, “We see many customers coming back again and again and we also see them over the season at various fairs up and down the country.” Whilst their latest marquees are a far cry from their earliest stands, those original clients can be assured of royal treatment when they pop by and it is striking to see the reciprocal loyalty of Marcus and Felix to their customers. It shows that they have had to build the brand brick by hard-earned brick, “we owe everything to those early and current customers” stresses Felix. Planning to take stands at well over 30 UK fairs during the 2017 summer, Fairfax & Favor is also looking to establish a continental foothold this year with stands planned for shows in Dublin, Germany and Belgium. “Having met so many European customers – and competitors at some events – over the past year, we asked them about their various fair scenes and have acted on their recommendations.” With this sort of coverage, there are no plans yet for shops, “until there is absolute demand from people” as Marcus puts it. However, the pair have recently created a small showroom at their Narford Hall base. It enables them to showcase their entire collection and “it means we have a retail base and can offer private appointments to those who need them.”
So Fairfax & Favor move forward. Aware of current trends, the pair are looking to offer increased personalisation for their shoes and leather goods with an embossing service, which they also hope to have on site at a number of the larger fairs over the 2017 summer. They are also mulling over a made-to-order option, although this remains a tentative plan for the moment. Their boots and shoes are certainly stylish. Those liking a slimmer elegant line to their male or female Chelsea boots should definitely look them up. Indeed, their Regina women’s boots are a super-stylish cut for both casual wear and to add an edge to a more formal outfit. The brand certainly is gathering a lot of coverage – Felix laughs that following one fair, they received a phone call from a rather well known premiership rugby team asking about sponsorship deals. “Whilst rather gratifying it’s a little bit too soon for us to start doing that!!” he smiles. Given the two chaps determination and rise of Fairfax & Favor, who knows though in a couple of years?
Enquiries: Fairfax & Favor, Narford Hall, Narborough, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE32 1JA / 01760 338199 / www.fairfaxandfavor.com/