Once a fashion buyer at Fenwick, Katie Cary learned that moving from the traditional wholesale trajectory can pay off when it comes to scaling her own footwear brand. Founded in 2014, Rogue Matilda specialises in quirky flats and accessories that meet the needs of today’s working woman whilst brightening up office attire. Encouraging customers to embrace their own personal style, Rogue Matilda began with a collection of colourful brogues, which quickly became best-sellers after being spotted on the likes of A-list celebrities like Gigi Hadid. After winning Draper’s ‘Footwear Designer of the Year,’ we speak to Katie about how she’s doing things differently:
Rogue Matilda shoes are smart yet comfortable, made for women ‘on the go.’ Have you recognised a shift in what women want from footwear?
I had the idea because I was fed up of wearing trainers to work and I found heeled ankle boots or ballet shoes were really bad for my feet. People are dressing more plainly so Rogue can brighten up outfits with fun and quirky designs. They really are statement shoes. I also noticed that women aren’t wearing heels to formal events as much as they used to, even weddings. People are working longer hours too, so women want something to wear to the office that can take them into the evening.
Before setting up Rogue Matilda you were a fashion buyer at Fenwick, how did it influence your approach to retail?
It made me more cautious of wholesale and very aware of the overheads of retail space. When I was a buyer, I saw a lot of brands who relied too heavily on big names. As a result, I’ve been determined to spend a few years building a proper brand first.
It says on your website “We produce small runs of seasonal styles and about 30% of our stock is core and will never go into the sale.” Why?
Having worked as a buyer, I’ve always been against fast fashion. Trends used to last years, now it’s a matter of weeks, which is largely down to Instagram. It’s not sustainable, so the quality of clothes and shoes is so important. If you look after a pair of Rogues, they will last.
So what are your main sales channels? How are you planning to scale your brand?
Instagram has been great for us and our following has built up organically, so we are looking into growing that audience. We have a huge customer base in Ireland so would love to launch pop-ups in that area to meet the customers. Next year, we will look into wholesale as well as expanding our product range.
What made you decide it was the right time to move into physical retail?
I took part in a pop-up with six other brands, but I found the shared space diluted my brand message. I love interior design so really wanted to put my stamp on my own place. The timing was also important - the run-up to Christmas is a good time for footfall. The shop has a lot of character, whereas a big, empty space would’ve been too expensive to fit out.
Do you have any tips for keeping costs low when it comes to store design?
Clothes fill a space quite naturally but footwear is trickier. We wanted to make sure the shoes were eye-level so we used a plinth to draw attention to the collection as soon as you walk in. We needed to translate the online brand that our customers recognise into a physical world, so colour was key, using a lot of light pink combined with red (which also works well for Christmas). As for keeping costs low, you could always paint the walls yourself!
What are the biggest challenges when setting up a shop? How did you overcome them?
When it comes to shoes, stock is difficult. There are a lot of different sizes and each pair is stored in a shoebox, so you definitely need ample space. Our storage is in Oxford, so this Chelsea location meant transporting stock wasn’t too much of a hassle.
You recently said: “I would still have been able to launch a pop-up without Appear Here, but it would have been a lot more stressful.” How did our service help you?
The website is very user-friendly so finding a space was easy. The Additions team are incredible too - you can even get plants delivered. I didn’t need to spend time searching for the best price online, so rather than finding my own handyman, for example, they sorted it all for me.
Why did you choose Chelsea as your destination?
To align Rogue with brands that we love who offer a similar price point, such as Sandro and Maje. Launching nearby is a way of elevating the brand to their level. With lots of Christmas markets around the corner, it’s also an area where people visit on their weekends to feel festive.
What are your ambitions for Rogue, are there plans to expand internationally?
At the moment we’re very UK focussed - there are lots of places we want to tap into. It’s easier to grow on our home soil first.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for a footwear brand?
Sizing is so important. Clothing can be tailored but if a shoe doesn’t fit, it’ll hurt. Once people know their Rogue size, they have the confidence to buy more styles. Take time getting it right - returns make up just 20% of our orders, which is low compared to the industry average of 45%.
Finally, what makes Rogue Matilda different?
We encourage people to create their own personal style rather than follow ‘copycat trends.’ After all, shoes are the only item that you can see yourself wearing - you look down at your feet - so they’re worth the investment. People tell me they feel happy in our shoes, and I can’t ask for more than that.
Interview by @annabelherrick