Sepand Oboudiyat and his stylish footwear brand Sons of London are making Square Mile waves
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Sepand Oboudiyat always struggled to find reasonably priced, high quality footwear when working in the City. Looking at various style blogs, he found them fixated on the finest Jermyn Street and Mayfair offerings. There was nothing that quite fitted the needs of many City workers, who require multiple pairs of shoes to see them through the rigours of the daily commute (leather shoes shouldn’t be worn two days on the trot to enable them to dry out – longer if saturated by rain). Despite decent earnings among City workers, he saw that many just didn’t have the money to fork out the thick end of a grand for two or three pairs of shoes to finish off their work wardrobe, but still hankered after quality and elegance.
In his previous life, Sep worked at RBS and Deutsche bank as an IT specialist, but had always had a hankering to run his own business and move into the creative sphere. Leaving the world of algorithms and FX trading programs in 2014, he pondered several ideas, including shoe making, before taking a year to work up a detailed business plan. Sons of London launched in November 2015.
Having looked both in the UK and on the continent for factories, Sep alighted on a small second generation family factory in La Marche, Italy. The artisan workforce is only 16 strong. Using Tuscan leather, the workshop can produce both Goodyear welted and Blake stitched shoes. Sep was determined to have instantly comfortable footwear, so decided to focus on Blake stitch manufacture for Sons of London’s first collection. This is small and refined: only five basic shapes are offered – all produced on a distinctive and elegant Sons of London last – and the colours are kept to black, brown and tan. A lot of time and experimentation was put into finding a sleek but accommodating last, there is one regular width. Next year, Sep plans to add a loafer to the collection; “it’s about adding styles to carefully evolve and grow.”
As Sep stresses “I wanted to offer a simple shopping experience.” This ethos is all about “making the ownership of fine shoes easy and accessible”, and also informs his sensible take on shoe care – keep them dry, rotate them, a spot of polish and keep them in good repair. Given the pounding shoes take and lack of time many have, Sep agrees that focus in many blogs on glass like perfection, whilst pleasing, is overly time consuming and unrealistic.
Despite his back office banking career, Sep had always felt he wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. He thoroughly enjoyed his demanding City roles but felt that he’d come to a point when it was time to try something new. Despite being ostensibly very different, his experience and skills have been of immense value to a more creative and craft based job; project management skills have been exceedingly transferable and he believes his knowledge and understanding of return of investment ratios and fund sourcing have been key in making Sons a success. Sons of London is a one man band in the UK, “it’s a constant challenge having to switch between business threads, be that logistics, customer service or factory issues” he says. Prioritisation is tough – even coming out of high tempo roles – the constant pressure is, “knowing what’s most important now for my brand.”
Given Sons of London is a new brand, barely under a year old, Sep is pleased at the number of customers he is acquiring. Whilst conceding, “you always want more!” he has begun to consolidate a loyal circle of customers in the Square Mile as well as getting interest and generating sales from across the UK, aided by his offer of free shipping and returns. He, “wants to crack the UK market first without spreading ourselves too thinly.” Happily Sep has found just over 20 per cent of custom is repeat – he finds many clients purchase their first pair of shoes and then quickly return to buy two or three pairs more. Certain recent trends have helped – with the current popularity of monks, Sep found he quickly sold out of complete runs of his monk strapped shoes across all colours.
Despite the current obsession with social media, Sep has found his marketing strength lies in a considerable mailing list – he currently has over 5,000 names on it. His social media is rapidly evolving as Sons of London’s reach grows and he is beginning to contemplate e-commerce.
With fresh styles carefully being added to the collection, Sep is also considering adding a Goodyear welted option to the brand over the coming year. “I wanted to keep the shoes very light and comfortable which works with the Blake stitch as Goodyear can be slightly stiff before they’ve worn in. That said English weather means a more robust shoe is frequently needed!” As Sons of London moves forward Sep is keen to remain focused and offer a worthwhile, attainable product; “I wanted to create a viable company that is useful to my customers.” Those needing a stylish battle wardrobe to face the 7:16 commute on a daily basis should certainly look his shoes up.