Interview With Mathieu Preiss – Co-Founder of Septieme Largeur Shoes
Follow Up On Septieme Largeur
In this week’s article I am interviewing Mathieu Preiss, the Co-Founder of Septieme Largeur.
You could say that this is a follow up to last week’s Review which I enjoyed very much! Mathieu was kind enough to find time and reply to my questions for you all.
It’s a genuinely good company with great shoes so I was excited to learn more about them.
1. Hello Mathieu! Thank you so much for answering my questions! Please begin by telling us a bit about yourself.
Hello everyone! My name is Mathieu Preiss and I’ve been working for 12 years in the shoe business. I studied a bit of political science and law school but I stopped everything to travel, discover other cultures and find my path.
Basically, I had the choice of being an average lawyer or to work every day with my passion of shoes. This is what drives me and I still love it every day more!
2. It’s what I love about shoe people. You can give up a stable life to pursue your passions. What is Septieme Largeur’s key characteristic?
If I have to define Septieme Largeur, I would say that the idea my uncle and I had, was to propose the best quality craftmanship to a maximum of shoe lovers.
We wanted to give them the chance to taste the handmade patina service (the art of coloring raw leather shoes by hand ) for a decent price. To resume, democratize high quality shoes with Patina and having a pedagogic role to make people understand the art of shoemaking. We started with only raw leather and now we have a full range of classic shoes plus two seasonal collections per year.
The overall style is French (with around 90% of French leathers tanneries) which is a mix between the English school (we are a part of this family as we produce only Goodyear welted) and a twist with French flair (our lasts / details / colors are less “conservatives” than the British school).
3. The Patina work is certainly one thing that appealed to me. What about the name “Septieme Largeur”. Does it mean something special?
Literally, Septieme Largeur means “Seventh Width”. We wanted to have a name that represents the craftmanship and the technique behind each of our shoes.
We are aware that it’s not the easier to remember but we like it that way 😉
Another reason we chose this name is because the 7th width is the most common width for men. Both me and my uncle wear it as well!
4. It might not be the most common name but it is certainly memorable. As a brand you are relatively new however your family has a long tradition in shoemaking. When was your own defining moment though where you said “I want to focus on my own higher quality brand”?
When I joined my uncle in Paris in 2008, he was in the process of launching another brand (that does not exist anymore).
We had the dream to propose high quality shoes with high standards level of details plus, like said above, the possibility to have your own and unique pairs of shoes with a special patina. We therefore did a special range in store which we called the “Septieme Largeur Range”.
Our first sample model was the Gedeon on a nice dark navy patina I did myself. He actually retains all the same details until today (close channel stitching/wooden pegging/ French calf). Every day when I worked in the store there were customers who wanted to buy it.
In the end we decided to develop a full collection on this idea and Septieme Largeur was born.
5. It fascinates me that you refer to the Gedeon as a he! It shows how much you care for your creations. Let’s talk about your uncle a little. I understand that your uncle had a big influence in you. What was it that drew you to his work and leatherworking in general?
My uncle Marcos Fernandez is kind of a legend in the shoe industry with more than 50 years of experience and craftsmanship.
He created brands like Bowen and Emling and was in charge of Paraboot or Sebago. There is not enough space in this interview for his CV!
Of course, I learned a lot at his side during the last decade and I still do.
I am very grateful of that knowledge and that’s why we try to use the maximum of it in each pair of shoes and development for our customers.
6. Septieme Largeur has its base in France but you make your shoes in Spain if I am correct. Why is everyone these days making shoes in Spain and would you like to make them in France instead? If yes, what prohibits you from doing that?
Absolutely, the shoes are made in Spain but the leathers we use and the brand remain French. There are multiple reasons for that choice.
To begin with, my uncle initially made his collections in England. However he then switched to Spain for more flexibility and because he wanted to be more independent.
He then started teaching and passing his knowledge to a manufacturer close to Valencia. He has been working with them in the last 30 years and they do a marvelous and very serious work.
This is our reason and this why we are very proud to say we work and made shoes there.
Spain acquires a strong reputation in shoemaking but actually always had good shoemakers. The have a strong house riding tradition which requires resistant and elegant shoes since centuries ago.
France and England are for us the two other countries who make very good shoes. Portugal too is getting closer, but in my opinion it’s not yet the same.
Of course, a lot of new brands are working in Spain because there are still manufactures who accept to work with them with a private label On the same time it’s cheaper than England or France although not necessarily worse in quality.
7. Thank you for the detailed explanation Mathieu! Making shoes is not a simple task. How do you make a Septieme Largeur Shoe? Can you quickly guide us through the process and quality control?
The most technical and difficult part is to develop lasts that can fit well but also be elegant in the maximum amount of patterns.
As soon as you finish developing nice lasts (which are your own and not the one of competitors, which is very common in the shoes industry) you can work on your collection. This is the baseline for me at least.
The leather choice is the best part. There are so many choices and possibilities and the thought that men’s shoes are not so different compared to a century ago still amazes! The core techniques are basically the same however there are still a lot of models, styles and ideas to develop!
We always start by making a sample and then we make modifications. Afterwards a few samples which we try and wear for months. Only if the shoes pass those “crash tests” we propose them to our customers.
Then comes the hardest part which is to make a choice of what we would keep in the collection and what we won’t!
Each time we want to make more than we can actually do!
8. It is a fascinating yet delicate process. How many people does Septieme Largeur employ now? Are you the only one currently managing the company?
We have a rather small team in Paris with around 10 people. The Taipei, Singapore and Geneva boutiques have around 3 persons per store.
But each time I have to answer this question I always want to add all the workers in the manufacturing process because without them and their dedication we wouldn’t be able to provide our shoes.
I’m indeed the only one currently in charge of this company. I’m not tied by any investors or group in the capital. It’s still a family business.
9. I want to stress out the importance of the people making our shoes. Often we see just the company name but its those unsung heroes that make it all possible. I am glad to hear that you still retain a small healthy family business. It comes with responsibilities and challenges though right?
There is a lot of challenges for us just like for all the companies in these difficult times.
I would say right now we need to stay motivated and strong. We have to protect our old and handmade industry in a world more and more keen to the new trend of snapshot (quick, mass produced) and lower quality shoes.
I’m 100% positive that even if habits of consumption will change or accelerate in this crisis, men will always want to have an experience in our stores and discover or learn about our world.
Concerning the future, the challenge will also be how to make understand next customers generation that leather is a noble material, and that we haven’t find yet any vegan equivalent. Some do exist but in my opinion they are far from the animal skin result.
The Eco-conscious next generation might not understand or support our industry for this reason.
10. I also believe that men will continue to support real craftsmanship and tradition. Especially when your shoes have their own special identity. Septieme Largeur takes a classic design with a sharp last and a lot of focus on small details and finishing. A bit of a mix of British classics and French flair. What is the inspiration behind making a new collection for 7L?
The secret is that we do exactly what we shouldn’t do! Which is the fact that we are doing shoes we would love to wear!
You actually summarized perfectly the inspiration which is the “Ecole” (school) of 7L style. The seriousness of British shoemaking blended with the French touch.
It’s hard to answer about where the inspiration is coming from as it comes from everywhere, every single time. The most important is the desire and pleasure to make designs and when you it feels good in your bones, you finish it and wish to see it on a customer’s feet.
When we start a new model or collection for example I’m always in the stores waiting for clients to ask to try it.
I then observe how they react, how the model “lives”. I love to see on their feet and this a very important moment. It may sound crazy but maybe I am!
11. It is boring to be normal! Speaking about special one of the most recognizable designs of 7L is the Tobar Triple Monk Boot. I really like it and it’s hard to find an original design these days. Is there a story behind this boot?
We made the first concept of the Tobar in 2013. We are very proud to be the first to introduce this model because there was no other shoe like it at the time.
It perfectly represents the 7L house in this dualism of classic and eccentric. Our idea was to make something close to a button boot however we are quite strict at 7L when it comes to the fitting.
The button boot is a marvelous model but it doesn’t adapt well to ready to wear. The monks are perfect for it though since they allow a big instep for example.
This is how we created the Tobar. For the design we add a Balmoral pattern and decided to keep 3 monk straps.
It gives a modern design to a very old inspirational boot design from the beginning of the 20th century.
12. Fascinating and an interesting story so thank you for sharing! Septieme Largeur has a reputation for excellent Patina work. You have some phenomenal pieces of art on your Instagram and website. Who is the one that does this work and is it in-house or via contracted patina artists?
Thanks for the compliment, I’m glad you appreciate it!
It is our in-house Patina artists that do the work in our atelier in Paris. Actually, in one of our stores you can enjoy to see our patina artist working live.
This is a great experience!
13. Let’s go back to the collection for a moment. Which (and why) is your favorite shoe of the 7L Collection and which patina leather?
I would like to answer that my favorite shoe will always be “the next new model we will have the chance to develop” 😉
But I always had a crush on our Ernest boot. I love boots in general, because I ride a motorcycle in Paris and because I feel this one is very special too. I was glad you chose this one for your review.
About the patina, as we try to do in general in the House, I like one very discreet and subtle like the one in photo.
I also really like suede leather. I like how it catches the light and it is also very “independent” since it doesn’t need so much maintain. I always tell to people that they shouldn’t be afraid of it as they usually are.
14. I agree that good suede is much more durable than people think! Time to address the elephant in the room (year). The Covid-19 Pandemic affected us all greatly. Are there any particular challenges you faced?
At the time of writing, we had to close both of our Parisian stores twice but also those in Geneva and Singapore.
Only Taipei is lucky to be in almost a normal situation. As you can imagine, sales on our website were (and still are) a small number in comparison to our sales in stores.
Luckily, the government helped us and we had the chance to have supportive customers who know us for the last 12 years. We are very lucky with that.
In each crisis, I try to find what is positive and analyze are our weaknesses. In this one, It would be logical that we feel separated from our customers but also from our teams. Quite the contrary though since this crisis gets us closer.
We totally refreshed our website and had time to rethink our digital strategy, also including communications between our team.
We will go through this crisis and we will get it out stronger than before.
15. I admire your transparency but also your positive thinking Mathieu. There is a big shift in the shoe industry at the moment because of this as well. Specifically more and more focus on online retail where the costs are low whereas retail is suffering. Many people also prefer or have to wear more casual shoes now.
I really think our consumption habits were already changing before the Covid-19 crisis and this just helped accelerate it.
My point of view is if you are doing something you are passionate about, you do it with a sincere price point and with enough patience, you shouldn’t be afraid of changing consumptions habits.
To elaborate, I mean the opposite of making pay final customers your marketing and communication for a product which not really different than competitors)
We are typically a small store business brand but we are enjoying our digital store too.
The key for me is to propose a great experience in our physical store where our customers can learn about something new or have a nice experience with the team using all the tools that digital can offer in stores.
In this harmony, there is no reason to be afraid of these inevitable changes.
16. I also try to educate people to invest in good shoes and avoid fast fashion. Why should someone buy a Goodyear Welted Shoe?
Our stores are not in any famous streets, in order to – as I described earlier our business model – have a very interesting price point.
So, if a customer passes through our door, he already knows that it’s totally in his interest to buy durable shoes in high quality, even if they are hard to break.
It’s also in their interest to do not pay high prices only because of a brand name. Often customers are really paying big groups held by shareholders who have never put a foot in a shoes manufacture! 😉
17. Your store then is a “destination store” where the customer knows what they are getting. Apart from your Paris stores you expanded in places like Taiwan and Singapore. How do you penetrate that diverse market and why is it important to you? Was there increasing demand for your shoes there?
All around the world there are men who demand high quality shoes and that’s the beauty of our profession.
The stores we opened around the world are maintained by passionate people and mostly old clients who wanted to join us in this adventure.
It is a franchise system where they are their own boss and they know their clients like old friends which is a very important point for us.
By the way we are open for any person who want to join us. Just send us an email!
18. That is great to hear because this is less than just a store and more like a family. Then again, what does the future hold for Septieme Largeur?
Our focus is to learn and apply the lessons learned this year.
We will continue to move forward in the digitalization of the brand. We are also thinking about new stores and many things for now I’d like to keep secret 😉
19. It excites me to see what the future brings! Thank you very much for your time Mathieu! Before we go is there anything you would like to add?
Thank you so much Kostas for letting me talk in your great website. I hope it was not too long!
I hope to have the pleasure to see you soon since Stockholm is a destination I always wanted to go.
I would love to have the chance to open a store there! Maybe with you 😉
This Is Why I Love This Industry
First of all I want to really thank Mathieu Preiss one more time for his effort.
I know that time is hard to find as a small business owner yet he still provided honest answers for all the questions I had. He gave me (and hopefully you) an insight from their perspective and was a way to understand their brand and expose you to them.
Septieme Largeur is famous enough, yet retains the small family business where shoemaking and knowledge runs deep in their blood and not just on the surface.
Mathieu also does a good job of showcasing that if you have a good product with good service people will support you. Additionally, even though times are challenging you should always try to see everything from another perspective and see opportunities and not just problems.
You can see it clearly from how they shifted to improving their website and their digital presence.
I do wish Mathieu Preiss and Septième Largeur the best for the next years.
See You Next Week!
And that brings us to the end of this article! It was a fantastic chance to Interview Mathieu Preiss, founder and owner of Septieme Largeur Shoes.
They make great shoes with a lot of passion and I recommend you read my Review (Link Here).
In the meantime, don’t forget to Subscribe or leave a comment with your thoughts! I will see you next week!
Thank you for reading,