Born and bred in Northampton, the historical centre of the British shoemaking and leather industries, childhood friends Mark Jeffery and Guy West were surrounded by tradition and history from the word go, even more so for Jeffery as his father ran the family owned shoe factory in the town. Perhaps not a surprise therefore that they would go on to become shoe designers, but the fact that they began their first business as 16 year olds, designing and selling their own shoes at markets in Northamptonshire and also at Kensington Market in London, shows remarkable prescience and motivation. At first, as Guy West explains, “Mark and I would buy rejects and ends of lines from his dad’s factory and other factories, customise them and sell them on.”
They quickly moved on to having their own designs made up but, as West says, “because we were so young nobody would take us seriously” to this end they had to approach a friend who worked as leather buyer in a local shoe factory to source and buy the leather for them. In a shed at the hotel which West’s parents ran, the duo installed a clicking bench and “we paid a chap who would finish work at a shoe factory” says West, “and then come over to us in the evening and he’d hand cut all the patterns and do all the clicking on our shoes.”
They would then take the patterns to a closing room in Northampton, closing, as West explains, “is when you stitch all the uppers together”, before taking the uppers and soles to a factory to be made up into finished shoes, which they would then take back to West’s parent’s hotel to pack into boxes and cartons.
Already set fare for a career in shoes, the sudden death of Jeffery’s dad and subsequent loss of the factory, sadly ruling out Jeffery being able to take over the family firm, motivated the two friends to take their fledgling business to another level in 1987 with the founding of Jeffery~West, for which their close and early involvement with every stage of the manufacturing process during the previous four years, an apprenticeship by default, stood them in very good stead. Their industriousness continued as they created a 12-piece Jeffery~West sample range and approached prospective retailers before approaching a potential bank manager who, as West says, “sympathetically said that he would give us a try” and explains further that because he and Jeffery were only in the early twenties for the bank “it was quite a gamble because at the time there was absolutely nobody in the industry as young as us.”