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