MEET JAMES, BEN AND RINGO FROM THE THOMAS GEORGE COLLECTION
This is the extract of an interview conducted by Styled by Sam in July 2020. You can find the original blog post here.
The Thomas George Collection is an Australian startup brand specialising in Goodyear-welted leather shoes and boots.
TGC is run by three gentlemen; James Seaford, Ben Atkinson and Ringo Mok, all based in the Eastern states.
I’d been following their journey since their launch, and a few weeks ago I bought myself a pair of their cap toe service boots, which I then reviewed on here. Having been really pleased with the boots, and also having spoken with all three of the guys from TGC at different times over the last few months, I thought it’d be great to get them all together to have a meet, greet and chat.
We did so a couple of weeks back, via video conference, right before Melbourne went back into lockdown.
It was a fun couple of hours getting to know James, Ben and Ringo. Here’s what transpired:
S: Tell me a bit about the TGC journey up to now.
J: I originally started Thomas George Collection as a result of work with Trimly, my shoe care brand. My customers were buying shoes overseas, because they couldn’t find a well-priced local option.
At first, TGC was a couple of small made-to-order runs which were offered through the Trimly site and a trial TGC site.
There was sufficient interest – and supporting data – to prompt me to decide that I’d give the collection a full scale launch, which happened earlier this year. The brand is based on the ethos of making welted footwear available to more Australians through a lean business model, meaning less costs for us and resulting in a lower price for our customers.
B: The shoes are built on our own custom last design, which was developed in partnership with a leading last maker in Northampton, England. Northampton is somewhat of a cultural home to shoemaking culture in England, with many leading luxury and heritage brands having deep roots in the area.
J&B: We’ve been lucky to have great initial support, which, combined with low overheads, has helped us survive Covid-19 so far.
S: James, what inspired you to start TGC in the beginning?
J: Trimly was selling quite a number of shoe stretchers. I reached out to customers and was told that because there was a dearth of well-made, local options for shoes, they were forced to buy from overseas.
Inevitably, they were often stuck with shoes that didn’t quite fit, given the hassle and expense of returning a purchase overseas.
Frankly, we lack a diverse range of quality shoe options in Australia, especially affordable ones.
Anyone who knows shoe sizing, knows that it’s a lucky dip. Most people simply aren’t willing to put up a few hundred bucks on a gamble as to whether a shoe from a brand they’ve never tried is going to fit, since international returns are expensive
This led to personal frustration. I’m a dad, a business owner, my children are all young, which means my wife has spent a lot of time on maternity leave. This made discretional spending quite the exercise in discretion.
Spending $1000 on a new pair of leather shoes, without an option of returning the purchase if it didn’t fit, simply wasn’t an option. I’d be in a shallow grave if my wife discovered I’d spent $1000 on footwear in such a fashion.
So I decided to do something about it. That spawned the Thomas George Collection.
S: What’s behind the name?
J: I am James Thomas George Seaford.
S: Given how newly launched brands christened with people’s names have become almost kitsch at this point, especially since many have dubious backstories, it is SO refreshing that your brand is actually named after you.
J: It also follows how many of the great shoemaker’s brands were named, after their founders. So it has the authenticity as well as the personal touch!
S: Ben and Ringo, what inspired you to join the company?
B: I’d already known James for a few years, as I was also a co-founder of Welted Shoes Australia.
For me it was an easy choice. I liked the idea, I liked the value proposition. Accessible, quality, no pomp (or the price that comes attached to it). It fit well with my personality, so I jumped right on board.
R: I first met James and Ben online through WSA, and was friends with them for a while through that.
It all stepped up when I visited Melbourne (I’m based in Sydney), where James and Ben took me in and showed me around the city for a few days. While I was there, they told me about TGC, I loved the idea and immediately wanted in. We’re a closely knit group and it felt natural that the three of us should work together on the idea.
J: Meeting these guys was one of the best things that could have happened to TGC. It created such a great atmosphere within the brand. It’s all about the people you work with, it can make or break anything.
S: So, what role do each of you take within the brand?
R: I handle the numbers side of things; data analytics, business metrics and that sort of thing.
J: Ringo is the math whiz!
B: I’m the operations director. I’ve previously worked in logistics, so I make sure all aspects of the supply chain are running smoothly. Ben also handles the socials.
J: I handle the majority of marketing and creative direction. Customer service is a group effort between all of us, and something we place a premium on in our brand ethos.
S: What factors did you take into account when designing the TGC range?
R: We ran a survey among Australian shoe enthusiasts and broader focus groups to see what kind of footwear people already owned, what they liked and what they wanted.
S: Ah, yes, you posted that in WSA. I remember filling it out!
J: That gave us some excellent insights. We also sent the survey to our Trimly subscriber base, through partner email lists, and distributed it through paid advertisements.
We used the survey’s results to help guide our designs and offerings. We really wanted to cater to the Australian market’s preferences.
We designed our boots around Australian military heritage. I’m an ex-Army guy myself so I felt drawn towards the heritage of service boots, and we drew heavily from the army boots worn by Anzac soldiers from Gallipoli through Kokoda.
James spent a while talking about shoe history; it was clear that he’s both passionate and knowledgable when it comes to it!
S: What made you choose to avoid a Chelsea boot offering?
R: Even though our survey showed people having a preference for Chelsea boots, we didn’t really need to offer our own version.
J: Yes, we decided that the preference for Chelseas was likely thanks to the widespread availability of RM’s elastic sided boot range, and there was plenty of market share to be had in other shoe styles.
S: When looking for a maker, what made you choose to partner with Fugashin?
J: The supply chain in Europe is very opaque. Fugashin was transparent with me, and walked me through their whole shoemaking process.
Practically and geographically speaking, there’s great distance between us and Europe; the closer a factory is the easier it is for me to work with and maintain relations.
Also, in Europe, I had to accept the word of the manufacturers that I met with at face value.
While it was said that country of origin labels, worker’s rights and sustainability practises were all up to standard, I had no way of confirming it. This wasn’t ideal for me.
When I spoke with Fugashin, however, they were open andinviting.
I was invited come and visit them and their facilities. They were transparent about their practises, in addition to areas that they were working to improve in. I was impressed.
They had no issue in providing me with a memorandum of understanding, guaranteeing that they look after their workers, treating and remunerating them fairly.
Also, given that Fugashin is partly made up of Japanese ownership, the Japanese cultural attitude towards work culture and pride in product was apparent to me. They made it clear that they really understood the standard of product that we wanted for Thomas George Collection.
S: Let’s talk about personal life. What do you guys like to do outside of work?
B: I’m a father to two great young boys; so I like to spend time with my family, I’m also into my basketball and I’m a massive sneakerhead!
R: I like to dabble in photography, I’m a gamer and I enjoy going window shopping.
J: I’ve been getting right into my gardening lately. I also enjoy bonsai, and going for early morning runs.
S: Do you guys have any style icons?
J: My first style related memory was of my dad. I remember being a kid, seeing my dad get dressed up in his naval uniform, complete with sword (and air wings), and just thinking wow.
Ben proceeded to hold his phone up to his camera with my @samtalksstyle account on it.
B: I don’t really have a style icon, but if I think about the concept of style, I always go back to that picture of David Beckham at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding. That was really something!
R: There are two that I can think of. Tom Dickson from Double Monk, and Steffen Ingwersen from Vecchio Anseatico.
S: It seems to me that many people who are into shoes, are also into watches. Do you think there’s a connection there?
R: Yes and no. It often starts with people who care about others’ perceptions. When people want to show status, it seems like they go for the nice suit and the nice watch, but in my experience, the 3rd connection isn’t often made.
It’s more down to people appreciating the craftsmanship at that stage. If people are into the craftsmanship, there’s definitely a connection between them being into shoes and into watches. Both luxury industries are built on the premise of craftsmanship.
However, the status obsessed ones who get into watches just go for the look. They’ll get into watches because of the expense, but they’d happily pay big money for cemented shoes if it gives the look.
J: There seems to be a bit of cultural element to it, too.
A case of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions meets Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. People from countries or cultures with great social stratifications (Indonesia, Philippines etc.) tend to have a stronger preference for luxury status brands than those with less (e.g. Australia).
Leather shoes are a little more nuanced, because it’s hard to put a big Gucci logo on the side of an Oxford. However, many men do buy Goodyear welted footwear for belonging and esteem; but one tends to find that as they move further down their welted footwear journey, it becomes less about status and more about the appreciation of craft.
B: The resurgence of having a watch as the auxiliary style piece, a taste for the finer things and the interest in the craft of horology definitely resonates with us as shoe guys.
S: Do you guys have a grail watch as well?
B: I’m a realist, so I don’t want to say Audemars Piguet. I’d love a Tudor Black Bay 58 in bronze.
R: I already have my Submariner, so I got mine. I wouldn’t mind adding a Breitling Navitimer to the collection.
J: I’m not much of a watch guy, so, not really.
The talk of a renewed interest in horology prompted me to bring up the interesting world of Soviet Russian watchmaking. James was very interested in that, and I sent him some reading material about it. So he might become a watch guy after all, soon…
We’ll finish this one off with a picture of the Sub in question: