It was great catching up with Claire Burrows from Air & Grace at a gorgeous new coffee shop opposite her studio in Brixton. We talked about the ups and downs in our careers, what it means to hustle and why some shoes are sadly only worn once.
Claire is proud that you can enjoy the feel good factor without compromising on style. She confidently says that her shoes and boots are like wearing sneakers. I won’t apologise about being a bit techy but the Air & Grace footwear range are super comfortable. They feature Tender Loving Air® technology providing cleverly hidden three layers of luxurious memory foam cushioning.
I first came across Air & Grace on Instagram and then met Claire at her stand at Stylist Live 2016. Months have flown by and we finally managed to grab a coffee. Here’s what Claire had to say about renting a van, confidence and a big career change…
SH: So nice to finally catch up properly. So, can you tell me about the values that are really important to the Air & Grace brand?
CB: The three values Air & Grace stand for are:
Wearability – Quality and longevity
Desirability – Basically shoes you really want to wear. Shoes you love but also love to wear.
SH: I get the Air part of the name as that’s linked to the Tender Loving Air® technology which makes the shoes, trainers and boots so comfy. How did you come up with Grace part of the name?
CB: It was a mistake! I misheard my friend suggesting another name for the brand and thought she said “grace”. I then decided they should be called Air & Grace.
SH: So running your own business is never easy. What are your top tips for being confident? What would you say to your friend who wasn’t feeling confident?
CB: If you’re not feeling confident, it’s good to talk things out with someone you trust. Then I can see how I’m going to deal with a situation. It also gets me out of the irrational mode and I move into a recovery mode. Whatever the disaster is, I’ll got to remember that I’ll overcome it and trust me I’ve had to overcome a lots of business disasters!
Preparation is also really important. You can’t always wing it! So when I’m getting ready to do a press event or talk,I make sure I’m totally prepared for any questions. I also know my speech inside out.
SH: Oh, you mentioned business disasters. Are you happy to share any of these Claire?
CB: It was really close to our first launch at the Spirit Of Christmas event, the factory in Portugal then told me they were going to be one week late! It was not OK to be late as we had paid for a stand at the Spirit Of Christmas event and it was a critical part of the company’s launch. So I had to overcome the fear of missing the launch date for Air & Grace when so much hard work had gone into it all. My boyfriend took a calm approach and said that rather than relying on a delayed delivery we should just rent a van and drive to the factory in Portugal ourselves to collect the 1000 pairs of footwear! So we did!
SH: Crikey Claire, that sounds pretty stressful.
CB: Luckily I don’t mind working hard behind the scenes. Looking back, it’s a good story to tell and we have to laugh at the picture of me at the back of the van surrounded by a thousand shoe boxes.
SH: You’re right, it is a good story to tell. When people are setting up their own businesses I think it’s about mastering your own professional “hustle”. So, what does “hustle” mean or look like to you?
I always remember my investor saying “you’ve got the hustle to make this happen”. What does hustle means to me? It’s being able to find your way and your solutions to problems. It’s also about being quite resilient and really resourceful. It’s about playing up to your strengths. And don’t forget to find other people’s strengths.
SH: You made the move from employee to entrepreneur. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Do you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to do your own thing?
CB: It was more of a run up more than just one moment. My last job wasn’t what I expected it to be. I was spending so much time out of the country and leaving all my friends and family behind. I soon asked myself “why am I doing this?”. I also felt there was a gap with the shoe market. Maybe it’s an age thing [Claire smiles] as there was nowhere where I wanted to buy my shoes. I felt that I didn’t belong in a lot of the shops anymore. It was all about fast fashion and repetitive styles. I had a wardrobe full of shoes that were only worn once as they were uncomfortable. So, I wanted to do something that had more integrity and substance to it. I always wanted to help people to feel stylish and confident.
SH: Do you feel you started your own business at the right time? You mentioned age just now. I know my age (approaching 40) works in my favour as I have heaps of career experience to back me up.
CB: Yes I did start it at the right time. Experience and a strong network are both really important. Plus I have so much support.I’m lucky I started now in terms of technology. Social media been amazing for marketing and exposure. It’s also easy to set up a website and I used Shopify to do this.
SH: I love coaching people on career resilience. For me, this is about feeling confident about juggling the ups and downs of our careers and recognising our many talents. What does career resilience mean to you?
CB: I was working long hours and weekends but soon realised I need to look after myself more.The business was running me so I needed to get more people involved. It was important to have my life back. I really like getting out, doing exercise and love cooking. When don’t cook enough I don’t feel like me. So career resilience is about finding the time to get the balance back
SH: So you’re a foodie, what’s favourite recipe to cook?
Anything by Ottolenghi. I’m a pescatarian so I love cooking lots of nice veggie dishes too.
You can check out the Air & Grace range over on the website. From the end of March Air & Grace will be online at johnlewis.com plus at the following stores…
After our chat over a coffee we headed over to the Air & Grace studios at the legendary retro Bon Marche building (I remember this place when I used to hang out in Brixton in my late teens). It was great seeing the hub where the Air & Grace mission is in full effect. It was also cool meeting the rest of the Air & Grace team although they were busy with delivery day and wrapping up orders of the pre-ordered cow-print sneakers. It was shoe heaven as I got to check out most of the Air & Grace gems. I obviously felt like a kid in a sweet shop as I got to try on most of the range.The quality really is great; you can see and more importantly feel it. Trust me, the Tender Loving Air® technology in the sneakers, brogues and Coachella boots does make a difference.