Father, son gain sole cus­tody of shoe range

Fol­low­ing in the fa­ther­hood foot­steps of David Beckham, Jack Mar­shall be­gan a stylish footwear brand geared to­ward lads and their cool ‘pa­pas’ with his son

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE - By PETER STAN­FORD

Half­way through our con­ver­sa­tion, eight-year-old Jack Mar­shall springs up, hur­ries over to the open door into the rest of his south-west Lon­don home, and closes it. “Be­cause of my mum,” he ex­plains as he plonks him­self down again on his chair.

“In case she hears?” asks his father An­drew, slightly puz­zled. Jack nods. This is clearly in Jack’s mind a mo­ment for men’s talk. Or more pre­cisely a mo­ment for fathers and sons.

Which is very ap­pro­pri­ate, since the two of them are in the mid­dle of telling me about the new range of match­ing father-and-son shoes that they have just launched on­line, un­der the brand me Jack&Me, that has been in­spired by their re­la­tion­ship.

The prod­ucts them­selves are strik­ing enough. Mar­shall Se­nior and Ju­nior are mod­el­ing the same tan­coloured Chelsea boot known as “Henry” — Jack’s mid­dle name — which is clas­sic in style, but with a con­tem­po­rary twist in the form of brogue-like de­tail­ing around the toes caps and side vents, plus a touch of red in the sole and back tag. But this bold cross-gen­er­a­tional ven­ture into the shoe busi­ness is about some­thing much more than footwear.

“For me,” ex­plains fortysome­thing An­drew, who has two grown-up daugh­ters from his first mar­riage, “the brand is about emo­tional con­nec­tion between fathers and sons, those shared ex­pe­ri­ences we have.”

The two of them are just back from Jack’s Satur­day morn­ing game of un­der-9s foot­ball. It didn’t go well. He was in goal as his team, AFC Wandsworth, got ham­mered 10-nil. An­drew was on the touch­line. Cheer­ing him on?

Jack looks at me as if I am mad. Why would you cheer a 10-nil de­feat? I am risk­ing ex­clu­sion from the male-bond­ing cir­cle of trust. “My dad was try­ing to get us to work,” he ex­plains pa­tiently.

In the tra­di­tional foot­print of par­ent­ing, tak­ing your son to his Satur­day morn­ing soc­cer match has long been dads’ ter­ri­tory. My dad did it for me and I would have done it for my son, if he’d ever shown the re­motest in­cli­na­tion to get out of bed.

But An­drew is keen on ex­pand­ing dads’ do­mains. The con­cept of Jack&Me is aim­ing to chime with a more con­tem­po­rary ap­proach to hands-on fa­ther­hood that owes some­thing to David Beckham, for­ever seen out and about with Brook­lyn, Romeo and Cruz, more their older mate than their dull old dad.

So much so that the word “dad” is now un­der threat. Mil­len­nial hip­sters, it has been re­vealed this week, see “dad” as well past its sell-by date. In­stead, they want to be known as “Papa”.

And Cherie Blair has taken that same de­bate one step fur­ther with her re­marks that “moth­er­ing” and “fa­ther­ing” should now be treated as “out­dated” words. We should all just speak in­stead of “par­ent­ing”, ac­cord­ing to our for­mer first lady, and so recog­nise the equal re­spon­si­bil­ity and equal con­tri­bu­tion ex­pected from both par­ents.

An­drew Mar­shall is def­i­nitely on trend, but he still feels there are dis­tinct ar­eas for mothers and fathers. And that is what he has tried to cap­ture with Jack&Me. “I didn’t want to just speak to young sons, it could also be about me and my own father and the shared ex­pe­ri­ences he and I had. The pre­cious time dads have with sons — it is an emo­tional thing.”

An­drew and Jack cer­tainly do all the time-hon­oured male bond­ing rit­u­als at the week­end. As well as AFC Wandsworth, they head off for home matches at their lo­cal club, Ful­ham, and on Sun­day morn­ings go to rugby train­ing. But there is a new and mod­ern di­men­sion to the father-son re­la­tion­ship, too.

The idea be­hind Jack&Me be­gan with one of those child­hood mo­ments that chil­dren and par­ents still dread: buy­ing school shoes. I can still re­mem­ber the bat­tle in our lo­cal branch of Clarks with my mother (back then, it was al­ways mothers who drew the short straw), when I had set my heart on a pair of plat­forms and she re­fused to budge from the plain and sturdy spec­i­fi­ca­tions for school footwear de­creed by my monk head­teacher.

By the time I be­came a dad, the school-shoe shop­ping ex­cur­sions were still far from mo­ments to trea­sure. More a time of tight-lipped smiles at best, more usu­ally tears and re­crim­i­na­tions.

But for An­drew and Jack, it was en­tirely dif­fer­ent. “It was three years ago, so Jack was five, and we headed off to all the usual places to find suit­able shoes. It had seemed straight­for­ward enough. We were look­ing for a pair of shoes that we both liked.”

“My hus­band is an ex­pert on leather and his pas­sion is shoes,” ex­plains Jack’s mother, Cristina, once she is per­mit­ted to come through the closed door into the male en­clo­sure. “So I was the lucky one. It didn’t take much con­vinc­ing to per­suade An­drew to take Jack school shoe shop­ping.”

The search, how­ever, did not go well. “In shop af­ter shop,” An­drew re­calls, “we couldn’t find any­thing.” In­stead of a stand­off, though, they de­cided they would de­sign their own shoes.

“I’ve spent all my work­ing life in sales and mar­ket­ing for lux­ury brands like Gucci, Dun­hill and Mont Blanc. Be­cause of that back­ground, I have sat down some­times with a blank sheet of pa­per and thought, how can I cre­ate my own brand? But it has al­ways felt like me forc­ing an idea, which never seems very nat­u­ral. This par­tic­u­lar idea came so nat­u­rally be­cause it was rooted in our life as father and son.”

Work-life bal­ance is top of the agenda for the papa-dad gen­er­a­tion, so when it came to the three years it has taken to get Jack&Me from con­cept to fin­ished prod­uct, there were plenty of golden op­por­tu­ni­ties for An­drew and Jack to go to the of­fice to­gether. Af­ter An­drew com­mis­sioned sketches of the big-his and lit­tle-his shoes, for ex­am­ple, the two of them would have a dis­cus­sion.

“We did dis­agree some­times,” An­drew ad­mits, “but then we’d talk it through. It be­came a chance for me to pass on my en­thu­si­asms to Jack, just as we share an en­thu­si­asm for, say, foot­ball. It was also about shar­ing val­ues — that the shoes are well­made stylish, not purely func­tional, but also much more than that.”

“Jack&Me was very much their thing at first,” re­calls Cristina. “And I loved see­ing them talk­ing about shoes, and talk­ing about other things. They’re very close. Be­cause my hus­band works, those times to­gether are so im­por­tant for him. But when things started turn­ing real, es­pe­cially now we are on­line, I’ve been im­mers­ing my­self much more in the busi­ness, and have spo­ken to so many dads, un­cles and even grand­dads who take such a pride in spend­ing time with their chil­dren, much more than a few years ago.”

So does Jack en­joy the chance to talk to his dad about the grown-up stuff as well as things like sport? He stops fid­get­ing and thinks for a minute. “Yes. We talked a lot about the new Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Do you know about him?”

It is a mo­ment for An­drew to come over all dad-ishly pro­tec­tive. He heads off that dis­cus­sion, al­beit it with an in­dul­gent smile on his face. “I wanted to cre­ate some­thing about fathers and sons shar­ing more than the mun­dane day-to-day rou­tines of get up, have break­fast, go to school, come home.

“I’m busy, Jack has a busy life, so the time we have to­gether is pre­cious. Rather than just talk­ing about his lessons, or how many goals he con­ceded, it gives us some­thing more to talk about.”

I wanted to cre­ate some­thing about fathers and sons shar­ing more than the mun­dane day-to-day rou­tines.” Jack Mar­shall, Jack&Me cre­ator

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

An­drew Mar­shall (left) and son Jack have launched a father-and-son shoe range.

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