Brand ethos matters more than profits says MD of Yull shoes Sarah Watkinson-Yull

Yull shoes

Yull shoes are one of only a handful of independent shoe retailers in the UK who both design, source and manufacture their full range of footwear in Britain.

From Northampton to London Yull shoes are made, but you can find them on feet as far away as the US and Europe.

Despite this new found popularity for `Best of British`, import taxes could seriously effect their bottom line. So would they move to Europe if tariffs were imposed?

Despite a current stopover in Paris for the majority of their international shoes, Founder Sarah Watkinson-Yull doesn’t think so.

Yull says, “We’re a small team, there are only 3 of us but we feel it is important to our brand identity to manufacture locally and help revitalise the industry. We source our leather and wool from Northampton and Yorkshire and we have set up manufacturing in East London where we even hand pack the finished product, making it truly British.”

It was an ethos which made it incredibly difficult to source funding and get her business off the ground before they were saved by a Princes Trust grant, but Yull is emphatic about the belief behind the business. She says, “We hope to do our part to bring skills back to the country and help balance the trade deficit by continuing to promote manufacturing in the UK.”

But despite the design and production of Yull’s shoes being in the UK, actually their client base stretches across the world as 65% of their business is export.

It goes without saying that the company benefits enormously from the free trade agreement with Europe. Yull explains, “We do a lot of distribution in Europe and the fact that the shoes don’t have duty paid makes it easy to store stock anywhere in Europe and distribute it. We keep quite a lot of shoes in Paris and distribute out of there.”

So with a hold already in Paris wouldn't it make financial sense to start trading out of France?

“No”, says Yull. “It would go against the brand ethos and why I started the company.”

Indeed, back in 2011 when Yull was a student in London, there wasn’t any support for an independent shoe maker, let alone in the flooded market of ladies high heeled footwear.

Luckily a grant 5 years ago from the Princes Trust has enabled the brand to keep growing and doubling their revenues year on year.

But now the company, and the values they hold, are in high demand with a large push coming from the States. A scenario that poses its own problems. Yull explains,

“The duty rates to the US currently for shoes is 5.5%. So far we are coping with this but the main risk is just the additional paperwork hassle and having to clear customs.”

So with Brexit about to be made official and President Trump now in office, what would Yull like to see happen to the markets? She says, “We are staying optimistic.

As we export a lot, trade deals with the US would be key to us. Lower duties in the US would be fantastic. However we also export a lot in the EU so are really hoping to not have to start paying duties on our sales there.”

Currently, Yull has more pressing concerns, mainly the fluctuating currency market that she is relieved is so far holding steady despite the current Brexit conversations going through the Houses of Parliament.

“As we sell largely in wholesale 6 months ahead of payment and delivery the uncertainty is the key risk for us. Luckily the weak pound has actually been beneficial to us,” says Yull.

“We expect the pound to be weak going forward 6 months (and we have based our next 6 month pricing on a pound dollar of 1.25) therefore this season we believe that our wholesale prices in euros and dollars to be very competitive.”

But that’s not to say that prices for the British made shoes won’t creep up slightly if conditions remain less favourable. The company is currently thinking about passing on additional costs if any tariffs become imposed on their current key market, Europe.

Yull explains, “We do have the risk of our pricing increasing should we start to experience duties on good to our EU customers. There is also the added influence of dealing with the increased paperwork and potential risk of this loss of business unless we take the necessary steps.”

There are still a lot of ‘if`s’ for the QBE Business Insurance New Exporter of the Year

Award finalists in 2016s National Business Awards UK. But Yull is clear on one thing, her business, which started with just 9 styles of shoe back in 2011 and now boasts almost 100 styles across high heel, court, flats and men's shoes, won’t be leaving the UK anytime soon.