The Menswear Style Podcast

Jonathan Peters, Founder of Amberjack

December 03, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 101
The Menswear Style Podcast
Jonathan Peters, Founder of Amberjack
Chapters
The Menswear Style Podcast
Jonathan Peters, Founder of Amberjack
Dec 03, 2020 Episode 101
Menswear Style

The world of work is changing rapidly, yet dress shoes have barely changed since the 1800s. Through material innovation and a unique vertical supply chain, Amberjack is creating a new type of men's dress shoe. After years working with big companies like Cole Haan, Allen Edmonds, and Adidas, the founder Jonathan Peters got frustrated by how bleak the landscape of dress shoes had become. Work is changing, technology is advancing, yet dress shoes are stuck in the past. The brand wanted to create something new by avoiding the complicated supply chains full of shortcuts and compromises, and partnered with one of the best tanneries in the world. They've created entirely new materials for soles that are extra comfortable, and put leather and science fiction into the hands of craftsmen in Portugal. They also use 100% plastic-free packaging and promise their shoes will last a lot longer than the fast-fashion, disposable dress shoes they share a price-point with.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Jonathan Peters, Founder of Amberjack about his career to date, and the unique concept of this new brand operating within the dress shoe category.  The idea came after the realisation of feeling unconnected with his shoes whilst working within the corporate world. He felt he could bring the same excitement many guys feel with clothing brands to the footwear world.  Our host Peter Brooker and Jonathan also chat about early prototypes, how to make shoes built for comfort, how the brand is adopting sustainability, and how to get a 10,000+ waitlist for a debut shoe.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Show Notes Transcript

The world of work is changing rapidly, yet dress shoes have barely changed since the 1800s. Through material innovation and a unique vertical supply chain, Amberjack is creating a new type of men's dress shoe. After years working with big companies like Cole Haan, Allen Edmonds, and Adidas, the founder Jonathan Peters got frustrated by how bleak the landscape of dress shoes had become. Work is changing, technology is advancing, yet dress shoes are stuck in the past. The brand wanted to create something new by avoiding the complicated supply chains full of shortcuts and compromises, and partnered with one of the best tanneries in the world. They've created entirely new materials for soles that are extra comfortable, and put leather and science fiction into the hands of craftsmen in Portugal. They also use 100% plastic-free packaging and promise their shoes will last a lot longer than the fast-fashion, disposable dress shoes they share a price-point with.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Jonathan Peters, Founder of Amberjack about his career to date, and the unique concept of this new brand operating within the dress shoe category.  The idea came after the realisation of feeling unconnected with his shoes whilst working within the corporate world. He felt he could bring the same excitement many guys feel with clothing brands to the footwear world.  Our host Peter Brooker and Jonathan also chat about early prototypes, how to make shoes built for comfort, how the brand is adopting sustainability, and how to get a 10,000+ waitlist for a debut shoe.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the mentor style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. On this episode, I'm going to talk to Jonathan Peters, founder and president of amberjack. And I'm going to pull a short clip from the website, which you can find, by the way, at www dot amberjack dot shop. The world of work is changing rapidly yet dress shoes have barely changed since the 1800s. Through material innovation and a unique vertical supply chain amberjack is creating a new type of men's dress shoe. So that interview of Jonathan come and I really enjoyed it. We talk about famous New York bridges in films. That was all off mic, but it was a great 10 minutes. The rest of the interview is great. Also, don't worry about it. We talked about what social channels are really working right now for influences in a very saturated world of social media. And how do you get a 10,000 person waiting list for your new product. That's what am projected. And I'm going to find out how plenty of takeaways in this interview. But before we get to Jonathan, don't forget to check out the show notes at menswear. style.co.uk and on the social at men's wear style. If you'd like to come on, come on the show. And tell us about your brand. Tell us about your journey. And you can email us here at info at menswear startup co.uk. Okay. So let's get to it. This is a good one. And I hope you enjoy it. Here is that interview of Jonathan Peters, founder and president of amberjack. It's my great pleasure to introduce Jonathan Peters to the show. Jonathan is the founder and president of amberjack. How we're doing today, Jonathan? Well, well. Nice to be here. Pete. Great to have you on. Jonathan, For the uninitiated, please tell me a bit about yourself. And what is amberjack? Yeah. So first of all, thanks for having us on. amberjack is designing you know, footwear for the the future of work as what we're targeting? And I think some people may be asking what does that actually mean? And so for us, it's it's essentially a modern take on on dress shoes, which we see as this kind of old, antiquated category. And so we spent a tonne of time on the product development side, developing some really cool new technology, I'm using the athletic world, and then coupling that with design that's a little bit more casual, and a supply chain. That's fairly unique in industry. And I'll talk more about that as well. But that's kind of the quick, you know, background and amberjack we just launched last week, actually very exciting. And yeah, my background I was I worked on the, on the growth sides on marketing sales, in in the consumer world for a long time doing a lot of footwear and apparel work, mainly, but some other consumer categories as well. And I was working on McKinsey during that period of time, so I got to work with you know, a lot of big companies got to see the world from that lens. And now, you know, very, very small opposite end of the spectrum with a little startup. So I'm both sides. And but I have always loved footwear and very excited to you know, doing something on my own. Okay. And tell me a little bit about the baby steps you are taking. So when you first had the idea, who did you reach out to? And how long did the journey take from concept to market? Yeah. concept, you know, I think consumer idea like this one, probably similar to a lot of other founder stories, it was more just a personal frustration. So working at McKinsey, you typically just match your your dress code, to whatever the client is wearing, which is just kind of typical corporate America, right? You need to look good, but it's not overly formal, um, but you're not wearing sneakers or, you know, flip flops, like in technology world or startups or anything like that. So you would just wear dress shoes and you're commuting and you're walking around and stuff and I just found the category. Boys been a big buyer of shoes on balletic shoes, casual shoes, apparel, I just don't dress shoes like this very, just personally, I was just like, I'm just not excited about it. They're either these very traditionally made products that I thought would just kill my feet. Or you had like these comfort brands that just clearly didn't feel geared towards a younger consumer. They felt very old. And you know, like Clark's or Rockport or eco and make comfortable shoes, and I'd wear some of them but, um, and so that's just kind of how it started. That was Probably over two years ago, and then I had the opportunity to work with some of the bigger players in the space. And so I got to see a little bit behind the scenes. And, you know, there's two things that kind of stood out to me that helped kind of formalise the idea a little bit more, I think, one was just seeing, you know, how those competitors were investing in the space. And I think there was so much cost cutting so much reduction in quality. From a material standpoint, from an innovation standpoint, it struck me just, you know, less focus on growth, more focus on margins, and struck me as an opportunity from a, you know, startup perspective. And then the second one, I think, most compelling was, when you look at the consumer landscape, from younger to older, what we did was some consumer research asking what your favourite dress shoe brand is, and then, like a net promoter score, which you're from, if you're not familiar with this, basically, how likely are you to recommend this brand to your friend or colleague, which is, tries to gauge you know, loyalty and excitement. And so we asked the open ended question. And then what we found is that among younger consumers, there was a negative NPS score for their favourite brand for their favourite dress shoe brand, which is almost unheard of in a consumer category. And it wasn't true as you got older. But among younger consumers, you know, typically 18 to 30, mid 30s or so, there was just so little excitement in that space. And especially if you think about apparel, typically, people get quite excited about their favourite articles of clothing, very likely to recommend it to somebody. And you just didn't find that. And so for me, I just thought, Hey, this is an area that I've, you know, been excited about, personally, and seems to make sense, just given a lot of changing trends in the nap landscape as well. And so I'm put a team together. And then here we are, you know, two years later. That's, it must have been a great feeling when a week ago you finally launched. But I imagine before that, obviously, we had the world go upside down pandemics. Yeah. You must have had the product in your hand before then. Especially for some Yeah, so yeah, maybe took me through those moments when the shoe finally arrives on your lap? Yeah, well, we've done a lot of, we've had a lot of shoes. To talk about the first shoe we got or the Well, maybe the first or the last bit like the first kiss laughs give me? Yeah, I mean, yeah, I think in shoes. Um, we were actually working with a factory in Korea for a while. And we'd like that, because, you know, they had really strong athletic background, really interesting. technology that we could use, which we thought was the right kind of approach and dress, which is typically very old kind of craftsman. angle, right. And so we thought, but the issue was, you know, they didn't have the factory didn't have the familiar familiarity with high quality leather. And ultimately, in a, in a leather shoe. That's really the the marker of quality is working with high quality leather. And so when we got those first pairs, it was Yeah, it was a low point, I would say. And so we made a difficult decision at the beginning of the year, actually, to switch factories to Portugal, just we thought Portugal. And I know that might sound trivial listening. But that's, that's a tough decision in the development cycle, because you do your factory partners, basically, their partner in development, they do all the development for you, and you direct it, but you're almost Your hands are tied without them. And so switching without anything really is very, very challenging. You kind of have, you can bring some stuff over, but you really have to redo a lot of it. We thought though, you're not in a relationship with these guys, as well. I imagine. So you kind of have to then yeah, exactly, guys, and do the whole guy that's, you know, and you grow to like each other, and it just becomes a very painful thing to do, because it's very disappointing for everybody, right? And they, they really lose out because they put a lot of work in. And so that was a very tough thing. But to your point, you know, we thought with COVID there was no rush, especially at the beginning of that lockdown, period, I don't know what it was, like, in the UK, but in the US, there was probably a month or two where there was almost been retail drops, like 90% buying standpoint. And so we thought, you know, let's take our time and and improve the product. And so we spent a lot of time were testing iterating and, and, you know, finally got to where we think it's a pretty, pretty good outcome. And so we're excited. We're happy. We're excited to see what people say when they get them in their hands. Okay. I'm curious to know, if you were to just look at a dress you from the naked eye how you would distinguish that quality you say? It's all about the leather and the quality of the leather. But what to you, that kind of tells when you look at somebody's stress you whether they've slashed out or whether they've cut corners? In terms of the the leather itself or just the overall product, the overall product? Um, I think it depends on the application and the use case. Right. So I think it's hard to compare a traditionally made Goodyear welted very formal shoe, to like a hybrid dress shoe using athletic materials that are built for comfort. I think there's some things that are, you know, comparing. But I think it's also important just to think through the different kind of categories in dress, because, you know, you take a traditional shoe, that's Goodyear welted, which is typically a sign of real quality, that's a shoe that will last a really, really long time, right? It's typically nailed into the bottom, it has a plank, you know, a shaft in it, that's a shoe that will last you, I mean, because last year last year, it's not going to be particularly comfortable shoe, and it's not going to be something that's particularly versatile. But that's a different kind of choice, I think, I think for where we're playing in kind of this more hybrid dress category, this kind of emerging space, what you've seen kind of kohan, I think, is our real competitor there. To me, I think it's leather, and then the quality of the materials that are using the rest of the shoe. I think, at the end of the day, those are really the big markers of quality. In leather, for one, probably no makes up, you know, more than half of of cogs, cost of goods sold for your typical shoe. It's really the biggest number one costs by far into a dress shoe. Right. I see. Jonathan, I got a question on sustainability for you. Yeah. I've spoken recently to a lot of companies, a lot of startup companies, some footwear brands. and sustainability has been almost at the forefront of their USPS to try and source materials locally, or even if it's just down to the packaging, you know, having recyclable was this on your radar to when you were in the process of making the shoe? Did you think Yeah, it is. So let me I'll tell you my kind of philosophy on it. And then I can explain the actual elements of what makes our brand sustainable, if that's not easy. Yeah. You know, I think our philosophy my personal philosophy on it was it regardless of what we lead with, from a marketing standpoint, like we need to make a company that's responsible and sustainable and does the right thing. I just sounds hokey, but I just literally did not want to build a company that that where that wasn't true, I just thought you're creating something from scratch, doesn't add that much cost, might as well do it, right? It's a little bit harder when you have these big, massive organisations that are doing something the same way for 50 years, and now they need to become sustainable. We're building that up from the beginning. So we have a lot more flexibility in doing that. And I have a lot less costs, right? So for me, that was a no brainer. I think, you know, for us, we see it, just as this is, this is table stakes, this is important, every company should be doing this. And so we don't, that's not like what we go and lead with, we don't just do it for a marketing thing. We try to, you know, tell consumers, look, this is a credibly comfortable shoe. It looks good. By the way, it's made the right way. And you can trust us in the company. I think that's how we see that. Right. It's like the subtext, it's like, yeah, I think there's just a lot of greenwashing in the industry, people leading with things that are really not all that different. Have you probably seen some of that as well, right? I mean, so I just think some of that gets lost. And so for me, I think it's just about how do you do it the right way, because it's the right thing to do not because it's going to be the big marketing, push you in terms of what we do. So we will work with an ISO certified, tannery, it's actually our business partner, it's it's the highest level of certification, and so we get a grade leather from them. And so we're partnered with them, there's kind of two benefits for that. So one a grade, there's much less waste, so much less cut and thrown away. And then secondly, this is not a sustainability point. But from a value standpoint, we get that leather at, you know, basically at cost because we're business partners. And so we ended up passing those savings on to the consumer and that's how we're able to have you know, 100% full grain, a great shoe that you know, price point $180 otherwise, it's just not possible. So that's on the tannery side. tanneries can be a nasty business if they don't have the right environmental standards in place. But if they do, it really is one of the most essential products that you can use as a byproduct of the meat industry, if it's tanned and created in the right way, it really is a great product to be using. The factory work with in Portugal has been around for a long time, you know, incredibly high wage standards, labour standards. And then the materials that we use are all very environmentally safe as well. And then I would say the two other aspects, we do percent carbon neutral. So we offset all carbon emissions, which is actually fairly rare in footwear, and then everything, you know, packaging is plastic free and entirely recyclable as well. So those are just the little things that we think, you know, creates the business model that's responsible and kind of sustainable over the long term. Well, little big things I would say. I mean, these are important things. But you're right. I think a lot of brands like to maybe hijack the word sustainable, because it's so in, it's rightly, in Vogue, if you know, yeah, they they know how to kind of weaponize the words when they actually do the bare minimum. Yeah, exactly. And I would say, you know, for us being carbon neutral, is a big thing. And that's fairly unique. There's not a lot of companies that are doing that. But we don't run around yelling that, because I think at the end of the day, it's about creating a great product, first and foremost, that is made the right way, as opposed to making this certain way, and then telling about it, everybody about how you made it. Yeah. It's a nice modesty to that as well, which I kind of dig. Jonathan, you heard that I bet somewhere online that you had a waiting list of about 10,000 people waiting for the shoe to land? Yeah, tell me about that. That must have been very exciting. Yeah, it was. So we built that up, over COVID, whether you can believe it or not. So over the course of probably nine months from the beginning of the year from spring up, so maybe a little less six months. And so we initially just kind of got some people on board, friends and family. We did a little bit of paid ads in the spring just to kind of test what worked. And then we had this group of folks, and a lot of it's over text, which is kind of cool. I don't know how our brains do that. But we do some email, too. But we send that just a bunch of stuff. Like, Hey, what do you think of this image? What do you think about this picture, what he's about this ad, we think about this strategy. And people can choose how much they want to be engaged. But what we found is a lot of people were quite excited to provide their input and share their thoughts. And I think for them, it creates a sense of ownership over what we're building. And it's true, they helped shape it, which is kind of a cool thing. And I think footwear for guys is an interesting category, in the sense that a lot of guys are quite excited about shoes. It's one of the few kind of pieces you can, you know, show off in your in your wardrobe, so to speak, and you get a lot of, you know, excitement for guys, but it doesn't necessarily true for for other categories. And so I think we're able to tap into that a little bit and just do that the waitlist grew and grew from, you know, 1000 2000, initially to over 10,000 by the time it washed. Yeah, that's so cool. Well, I love the idea of people coming on board with the journey. And almost like you say, taking the ownership. So it feels like it's something that they should be putting their name to as well when it finally released because then they can then show it to other people and say, well, I've been telling you about this. You should you should sign up, you can get on and provide us your expert opinion on this dancer, expert that says, I like the idea of text as well, because I often think sometimes texts are turning into like the old emails of five years ago. I mean, I had a text that I've been trying to get ahold of a certain somebody for the last couple of weeks. And I finally phoned him up. I said, Dude, where I need it. I need this thing. And he goes, I sent you a text, like five months ago. You did and I have to scroll through like 1000 because it's like, oh, your dentist is now open. Oh, yeah. So that used to be emails. I think my emails would just go straight into a junk folder. Yes, wouldn't really think about it. But now I'm checking text again and finding all these kind of hidden gems and people have been texting me over the years. Yeah, it's so true. I mean, email is is just impossible these days to do marketing because basically spam filters, right. So if you're doing anything, commerce related, I mean you're getting like a minimum 50% straight into spam. Just Be a function of the providers, right? Gmail will classify everything into promotions and will even checks their promotion. I already checked my own promotions when I send out my own, just to make. Yeah, and then text I think is an interesting channel. But I do think it's primarily used in a very like a spammy way for most companies, where they just basically spam you things. And so we try to do it a little differently and make it a little bit more conversational enough, in a tailored way, and I think it's worked for us. Yeah, no, Well, listen, it's a good idea. I was also going to ask, what would you What advice? Would you give other entrepreneurs that are starting up right now? Maybe it doesn't have to be a shoe brand, but something else where they have zero marketing budgets, and you know, they want to get a 10,000 waiting list strong. You know, what, what kind of tricks and tips would you give guys and girls, the marketing side are down, then Oh, yeah. Well, marketing, and then maybe if you do have something in general, as well, I think on the marketing side, I'm not sure there's a one size fits all secret. Yeah, yeah. But I think the general rule, in my mind is just try to be scrappy, do the things that are not scalable, so to speak, there's there's a reason why companies don't do like this conversational texting, it's a, it's a massive use of time, right. So a big company with millions of customers, but we're a company, there's no way on earth ever to do something like that. Because it's just so time intensive to do it at a scale, right. And so, I think it depends a little bit on the category of what you're doing, but think doing the things that are very scrappy, and, and not scalable, and just the things that will surprise people, um, in a way that makes sense, you know, going around and, and my friend has just started a beverage company, and just goes around door to door with drinks and goes to retailer to retail. And it's hard. I mean, it's telling it like, that is so much more effective than going through a traditional wholesale model, getting a salesperson doing this whole thing. They just because no one else does that. And so, I don't know, I think the just doing things that taking advantage of where you are in that category versus bigger players, I would say is, it's going to be category dependent, I think. Yeah. Now, that's interesting. I was gonna ask Also, do you leverage any particular social media platform to generate traffic for the site? Is there anything that's working for you right now? Yeah, I think that's, um, well, we're just kicking that off. So we'll check in not to you, too. But I think Yeah, our view on it is the big channels, where it this is also one that depends on your, your customer where they live, right. So for our customer, it's a younger, professional, high, right younger kind of regular professional, their biggest category, their biggest platform is Instagram, by far, just in terms of time used Instagram, these days, it's really hard to grow organically on Instagram, it's like, it's not like it was five years ago. And so the way we see it is almost like another version of the website, people are going to check that your page first, a lot of the time, especially if you're running ads digitally, so it needs to be really high quality, it may not be a huge driver of organic growth in the sense you're gonna get like 50,000 followers or something anytime soon, just because of the way they've changed their algorithms. It's quite hard to, to do that these days. So I think we see it as almost like another version of that website. And then, you know, their channels that we've explored with I think it's not necessarily one silver bullet. It's a combination of things. So you know, YouTube, LinkedIn is an interesting one that I think is has some opportunities, and people don't, especially b2c products don't really get into as much, you know, Google ads, SEO, I think it's how do you create that whole kind of engine that is, you know, geared towards where you're at in that that fall, depending on the discovery process. So I know that's a conceptual answer, but I so I was a generic question, but thanks for colouring in. I do, because I looked for some information on you and on YouTube briefly before we jumped on the horn. And I found the trailer video for the release of the shoe. And I think it was released by the gentleman who did the voiceover for it. Oh, really? So he was really proud to put the voice to it. Check that out, myself. Now, I don't have to throw this guy under the bus. I'm not sure if he was allowed to upload it or not. But it was no, I mean, it's a consumer company. So we We're happy when people share what we're working on. And LinkedIn is an interesting one. I spoke to a CEO recently James Eaton who runs private YPC, a company here in the UK company. And I've, I follow him like a soap opera on LinkedIn. He's, he's terrific, because he does so much behind the scenes stuff. And he's very ballsy. So he will take products from other brands, and just kind of do unboxing. And he'll be very honest with it. It'll be like, this is where they've gone. Right? This is really good quality stitching. You can see this right, yeah. And then he'll just go this is where we would have done things different, or this is what I don't get on board with. And you'll kind of talk about what grinds his gears. But it's it's that kind of that transparency that i i really like and I think people gravitate towards as well, these Yeah, yeah. And then the influencer, the LinkedIn influencer, I think, is a really emerging space, the Instagram in Snapchat, that that's so saturated. Now, I think from you know, it's people don't really believe these influencers anymore. But LinkedIn is quite interesting, just because, you know, I don't know how to explain it technically, but just the function of the way the platform works. Have you ever noticed, you'll see, a friend likes some other random thing, and it shows up on your feed, and you're like this friend of a friend of a friend doing this thing. So you know, these posts, you know, even a post I do about launching the company that can be seen by 10 or 20,000 people just by a function of your network, liking it, and then their network all seeing that same thing. And so I think that's a really kind of interesting space that we're trying to play in beyond just you know, posting something, of course, but yeah, yeah. But actually, that's interesting. Yeah. Cuz I watched recently, I don't know if you've seen the social dilemma that's bouncing around. Yeah, yeah. So the whole idea of the notification, when I see a little red flag come up, like, oh, Facebook, someone's done something over there. And another group that I'm not really associated with, right, ah, and I just imagine those little bots going, come on, let's send them a notification. online for half an hour, let's say something's going on in the world. And I think LinkedIn might be doing something similar for that. And I, I heard a while ago, I'm not sure if it's still true, but that there's so firstly, for video, LinkedIn, so you have like the likes of Instagram that go live, and they kind of promote anything organic and live video related. And that's the case for a long time. But LinkedIn doesn't get a whole bunch of that, you know, because it primarily goes to the other platform. So anything video related, LinkedIn just grabs and just goes, here's video and it really often a lot harder and faster. That's really interesting. Yeah, that that's, that's great to know, I actually didn't realise that that video piece. I mean, what we've heard his LinkedIn is really becoming the new social platform for a lot of people spending more time online, especially for you know, older guys who might be scrolling through Facebook, but there's so much social sharing on on LinkedIn these days, it's become a lot more than, and it's, I think, for us is appropriate. It's probably not true for other categories, like an underwear or something or just like a casual shirt. But for us, we're trying to play in that kind of like casual dress, casual work, thing. And so there's a bit of a professional aspect to it. So maybe that's why we're kind of honing in on that platform. But I think it's an interesting. Just space in general. Yeah, I think it's sometimes an untapped resource for a lot of brands and influences. Right? The cat's moaning I better wrap this up. But Jonathan, he's gonna do something crazy. It's a real pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for taking time out. amberjack dot shop is the place people can go and find all the necessary links, including one to Instagram, which is where amberjack Where does the name come from? Originally? I know it's a fish, right? Yeah, it is. It is a fish, although that's not where the name came from. It actually came from my grandfather, his name was jack. And he was my role model and someone was a innovator in, in business and someone always looked up to and, and then amber is literally like, stands for something quite old. So like fossilised resin, I think, is the definition of it. And so we thought that too, was kind of an appropriate take for what we're doing. So modern take on an old category. It was a lot of it. And so that's how it came to Amber. Amber jack. Nice. Love the name. Brilliant. Well, amberjack doc shop again. It's the place people go. And thanks again, Jonathan. Yeah, thank you, Pete. Hope you have a good, good day. Well, how about that, as you can appreciate, I could have talked to Jonathan for hours, mainly about the Brooklyn Bridge and the development of the New York skyline. Honestly, that 10 minutes off mic was some of the best off my couch This podcast has ever seen or not seen or not heard. We should get Jonathan back on the show to talk about New York printers. But another time, another place. In the meantime, make sure you're checking out the good guys and head over to amberjack dot shop and treat yourself or your loved one to a good looking dress shoe. And that's it from my end. Thanks for tuning in. If you like what you're hearing, by the way, do leave us a review on your smartphones. It does help how he goes and until next time