‘We want Kate’ – Bosses of Fairfax & Favor target Royal customer
They made their first million in three years and their footwear is worn by reality television stars to Hollywood A-listers. And now the pair behind Fairfax & Favor are launching a new product and hoping for a Royal customer.
Marcus Fairfax Fountaine and Felix Favor are two energetic, driven 29-year-olds who are now bossing a business which will turnover £8m this year.
Over six years, they've built a high-end shoe and boot brand aimed at people with a lifestyle that is both in the "country and the town".
So, their clients are hugely diverse from Made in Chelsea reality stars like Josh Patterson to British eventers Piggy French and Pippa Funnell. Even Kit Harington, star of Game of Thrones, was spotted wearing Fairfax & Favor chocolate brown Chelsea boots.
After just opening a shop in Holt, the pair are now hoping one of the town's most prestigious visitors, the Duchess of Cambridge, may just pop in. She is their dream customer - along with tennis star Andy Murray's wife, Kim.
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"Kate would be great," said Felix. "Hopefully she's going to pop in. But I'd also love Kim Murray to wear our boots."
Getting your product worn by a celebrity - and the pair don't pay anyone to do this - helps reinforce the brand and Fairfax & Favor already count many famous people as having worn their brand including chef Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Bonneville, rugby player Danny Cipriani and people connected with equine sports such as presenter Clare Balding and Sky's Alex Hammond.
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Marcus said: "We wanted to make footwear originally for someone with a country lifestyle but not too 'tweedy,' not too stuffy, a town/country lifestyle mix. If you wanted to look elegant the option was wellies or heavy boots... that's not a great choice.
"People like the fact they live in the town and country, they will happily go to London and wear our boots because they know they look good, but people know where you are from and that's part of the identity."
The country connection comes from the fact Marcus and Felix both grew up in Norfolk and still live in the county. Both farmers' sons, and friends from an early age, they still live just 10 miles apart - Marcus at Narford Hall, where the business is now based, and Felix in Foulden. They went to Stowe School in Buckinghamshire together and from the age of 15, always wanted to start their own business.
So they began by selling gun slings and cartridge bags for Felix's Spanish godfather who had a shoe firm so they started submitting their own designs and became shareholders.
But when the recession hit, the pair decided to leave - and they were paid in shoes but only one size.
"We sold those," said Marcus. "But people kept asking us when we were going to get a size 5? Felix had pigeon Spanish so he called up the factory and asked for more shoes but they wouldn't take our order so we ended up flying out there, we found the factory after a long while looking, near Alicante, but they wouldn't accept our order because we were so small.
"We had to pay everything upfront on the day. We had to get all the money together, from working in Felix's mum's pub, the Bedingfield Arms in Oxborough and from selling fireplaces for Felix's dad.
"We put all the money we had, which wasn't very much into it, and four and a half weeks later, the shoes turned up."
The pair then sold them at country shows.
"Everyone else we knew was in uni," said Felix, who dropped out of Cirencester college.
Marcus said: "Shows were a way of buying a social life and selling shoes, so we did three years of doing nothing else, in one year we did 36 shows."
But the pair had seen how major brands had grown out of similar country shows - like Joules, Hackett and Dubarry - and slowly they started seeing their business grow. Originally they worked out of Felix's mum's pottery shed but it was so cold they moved to Marcus' mum's office at home.
"We couldn't afford a computer," said Marcus. "But my mum had WiFi, a computer and a phone and the benefit was she'd give us lunch too. But she kept getting all these business calls and got so annoyed so she moved us into a converted cloakroom, took the loo out and put a phone line in. It was a tiny room, but finally we managed to move to The Stables, where we are based now."
They've increased their product range from one boot in four different colours to about 40-50 items including boots, shoes, slippers (made in Norwich) and accessories. Their trademark remains the interchangeable tassle which was Felix's idea and are soon to launch an exciting new product - puffa jackets - as they expand into clothing while focusing on making the shop in Holt work, an investment of £12,000-£15,000. "Our parents all worked for themselves, ultimately you are responsible for the success or the failure," said Felix.
"We are here to make retail work. This is the next chapter."