This week our Menswear Dialogue Series takes us across the pond to the UK to visit with White Dove & Wonder, a small design shop using reclaimed shoe lasts to create unique and sustainable home products. We had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Susan Gaston, one half of the White Dove team about her background and her creations You may not look at your shoes the same way again.
Image Granted -What is your title/trade/profession? Where did the idea of White Dove and Wonder come from? What was the beginning of your story?
Susan Gaston - Company Director, Home Accessories Sales, Sales Executive. I was out sourcing art and antiques for my fledgling business when I came across a whole lot of lasts in a Northampton shoe factory. I bought them out of a sense of nostalgia not anticipating how much space a thousand shoe lasts would take up. When I showed my husband, he was aghast and so we sat down and tried to think of ways to use them.
As we’re both quite creative people, we came up with 2 ideas: the lasts coat peg and the loo roll holder and things have just escalated from there. Jimmy does all the restoration and manufacture by hand, whilst I do all the buying, marketing, press, administration, social media and, most importantly, sales. The name White Dove and Wonder comes from the fact that we keep white doves in our garden and we’re always wondering how many will return.
IG -We understand you were a vendor at the recent Best of Britannia (BOB) show. What was your experience at the show? How has your brand presence been affected by your participation in an event such as BOB?
SG - BOB was the most amazing experience for us at WD&W. There was a real buzz and a collective enthusiasm for all things British. It has allowed us to connect with many new trade contacts, including an iconic London department store. I have opened 5 new accounts and sold at least 10 pieces online. BOB has certainly heightened our brand recognition, with 6 fresh editorial pieces in the last 10 days!
IG -Where do you find the lasts you use to create your products? Is it done organically or is there a method to the madness? Is there a surplus or shortage of lasts on the market? What makes a good last? What is your decision making process on whether to use one last and not the other?
SG -The lasts are sourced all over the country, I am fortunate to be able to access them because of my contacts within the shoe trade, (my family business for over three generations). There is definitely a finite number of lasts, because so many were burnt when the switch was made to composite, so I guess you’d call that a shortage!
Ah, what makes a good last? Well that’s personal…my husband Jimmy, who makes all the pieces, loves the old 1930’s machine made block lasts with lots of character, but I adore the bespoke lasts, which have an individual name stamp on each one and are all different foot shapes, however the general consensus from my clients is the best lasts are the exquisite, tiny baby lasts! We choose different lasts for different products, for instance the doorstops need the big men’s lasts for weight, whilst the mirror needs a uniformity of shape and size. Also different clients like different lasts… Londoners like things to be more quirky, whilst the country market prefers a traditional look/last.
IG -Where do you see this type of business headed in the future? Is there truly market for this type of product? If so, why is that? If not, why?
SG - I see us expanding into visual merchandising, bespoke design one off pieces, which are more art installation than objets d’art and also a diversification into other areas of reclamation objects d’art. We already have something in the pipeline.
Yes, there is definitely a market for our kind of products, with the recession people are beginning to see the value in reclaiming and remaking and I think we have caught the mood and imagination of a lot of British folk….there is a definite move away from the disposable to the sustainable.
IG -Is there anything else we should know about your brand?
SG -Only that we are fabulous! And that we are producing sustainable, quality, unique things of beauty, that are both antique and art and by investing in one of our pieces you are helping to preserve an important part of our industrial heritage and gaining a quirky talking point!