We have been following Air & Grace for a while now and when we visited the Spirit of Christmas Fair in November last year we were lucky enough to find the brand exhibiting there and meet the absolutely gorgeous and approachable Claire Burrows. Claire is the founder and designer of this rather ingenious and downright stylish shoe brand.
Claire is no stranger to the shoe business, gaining experience as MD at ALDO, Head of Product Development at FitFlop and Senior Buyer at Kurt Geiger. With this incredible background, she certainly knows how to dress women’s feet stylishly. However, comfort is not sacrificed as she also considers in her designs, her breakthrough in footwear technology using Air & Grace’s patent pending Tender Loving Air® technology. This provides three layers of luxurious memory foam cushioning cleverly hidden, so you can enjoy the feel good factor without compromising on style.
With the launch of the brand in 2015, last year was definitely non-stop for Claire but we have been lucky enough to have her answer some questions and offer an exclusive discount code (Air & Grace have no sales on offer so this is a real bonus!), even though she is in the middle of launching her new Bordeau leather Coachella.
1. What made you decide on focusing on comfort (as well as style) – a particularly uncomfortable pair of shoes???
Not just one pair – it was lots of particularly uncomfortable pairs of shoes!!! I had a serious shoe habit, but there were so many I wore once and then never wanted to wear again. They’d look gorgeous in the wardrobe, but I couldn’t face another miserable day in uncomfortable shoes. If you’re anything like me you’re always on the go, so outfit choices are dictated by which shoes can take the pace, but giving up on style is never an option. I just wanted beautiful, premium quality shoes that felt as good as my trainers – surely that’s not too much to ask?! I’ve been in the footwear industry for over 2 decades designing product ranges for international brands including Kurt Geiger and Fitflop, so I put all of my experience into creating Air & Grace – Beautiful shoes for busy feet.
2. Do you remember where you were/what you were doing when you decided that Air & Grace was going to become a reality?
I actually do as it was a pretty defining moment. I won a competition searching for the UK’s best new retail brands. I had to pitch to panel Dragon’s Den style, like I’ve never pitched before! I’d poured all my savings into developing the technology and sample range. I was down to my last penny and I needed more finance to be able to place the first orders. The prize was £150K investment, so it meant that I could take the next step from concept to reality. I was in shock when I won, it didn’t seem real until I saw the story in the papers.
3. How long was it before you got to see your first designs go from paper to an actual pair?
Bringing a design to life takes around 6-8 weeks for regular shoes. The part of the process that took the longest for Air & Grace was developing the Tender Loving Air technology. It’s something completely new which I’m patenting. It was a long year of trialling and sourcing. I use materials usually found in sports shoes to achieve that feeling of wearing a trainer wrapped up in a shoe. And the best bit is it’s completely invisible when worn – so no ugly orthopaedic toe shapes.
4. Have you had any “wobble” moments and if so, what has seen you through?
Lots!! Everything imaginable has gone wrong, as well as some things I could never have imagined – there have been tears. You just have to take a deep breath and find a way around the problem. I had to drive a van load of shoes back from Portugal to avoid missing my launch event last Christmas. What gets me through? When the good stuff happens. I’ve been amazed at how supportive people are, I’ve been sent handwritten thank you notes from customers, the reaction on social has been so encouraging and bloggers have been phenomenal.
5. Can you give three tips to anyone wanting to start out on their own – it’s a scary prospect to many.
Work hard, be nice and don’t be afraid to ask.
6. Can you give us a little insight into any new designs for 2016?
There’s 2 new styles in the pipeline – a gorgeous brogued lace up which will launch in two colours initially – tan leather and silver metallic, and a range of luxury leather espadrilles. Each style goes through extensive wear testing before launch to ensure it is the best it can be, so it’s a not a quick process. There’s a classic element to my design handwriting, styles will run from season to season being updated with new colours and materials. I love getting requests from customers for what they want to see next….it’s a very long list!
Here is a sneak peak at the brogues…it’s so sneaky it’s a shot from the supplier sent to Claire and she has been kind enough to share it – we at minis AND MORE are in love!
7. A tough one, do you have a favourite design?
That’s like being asked to choose a favourite child! The truth is it changes with the weather. The Air & Grace product philosophy is all about wardrobe essentials to take you from season to season. In the summer I live in our ballet flats, when it rains it’s all about boots and for everything between I’m loving my Garance loafers with a cropped trouser.
8. Who / what has been your inspiration throughout?
Air & Grace is a footwear brand for real women, so the women around me are my constant source of inspiration. A real broad mix of friends. family, colleagues and customers. They lead super busy, demanding lives. Time is at a premium for them, but it’s not a option to give up on style. When I’m designing I always think about who I can see wearing the shoes, how they would style them and where they’ll wear them.
If you, like us have rather fallen in love (girl crush!) on Claire and her stunning designs then, you are in luck. We have an exclusive reader offer code – just enter MINIS15 for 15% off all orders at www.airandgracelondon.com during January. (Not valid in conjunction with any other offer). Georgie (and her Mum!) can say, with all honesty they are super comfortable but so stylish. Styles do sell out but Claire does do regular re-ordering where possible and she is brilliant on helping out with sizing. We promise you won’t regret making that purchase!
We have not been paid to write this post. These are honest views from first-hand experience of Air & Grace’s products.