Home Human Resources NewsEntrepreneurial News My kitchen table was our distribution centre, now we are rivalling the footwear industry’s leading comfort brands

My kitchen table was our distribution centre, now we are rivalling the footwear industry’s leading comfort brands

by Sarah Dunsby
8th May 24 10:32 am

After 20 years in the footwear industry, Air & Grace Founder, Claire Burrows, became increasingly frustrated with the idea that style and comfort could not co-exist. “Why do beautiful shoes always hurt my feet?” was the question she was repeatedly asking herself before setting up Air & Grace nearly 10 years ago. Tired of having to sacrifice the comfort of her feet to feel good, Claire was determined to find a solution. With a desire to do things differently, Claire took a leap of faith, and the brand was born.

Air & Grace is an online, luxury footwear brand renowned for its fusion of style and comfort. With a dedication to crafting shoes that look as good as they feel, the brand offers a range of premium footwear designed to accompany individuals every step of their day.

Winning £150,000, how Air & Grace began

To make her concept a reality and make a splash in the competitive world of footwear, Claire knew she was going to need some backing. “With minimum quantity requirements and lots of additional start-up costs, there was no way for me to fund my idea on my own, so I had to get external investment.”

By chance, Claire happened upon an article in London’s Metro newspaper, offering one lucky entrepreneur the chance to win funding to support their start-up. Initially entering using 150 words to explain why Air & Grace was a strong business idea, it was not long before Claire made it through to the final stage of the competition: a Dragons’ Den style pitch to a panel. The innovative proposal left Claire walking away with £150,000 in funding.

Following the competition, Michael Acton-Smith, best known for Calm.com and Moshi Monsters, who was one of the judges on the panel, approached Claire separately and personally invested in the business. He had been so impressed with the pitch; he was keen to be involved and is still an investor to this day.

Ten years of comfortable footwear

Now, approaching their 10th Birthday in November this year, the brand has a lot to celebrate, with an array of anecdotes from over the years, both highs and lows.

“One of the “pinch me” moments that always comes to mind, was when our Tender Loving Air® patent was first signed off. It is a hidden sole, unique to us, which combines layers of high-performance foams to give you cushioning in all the right places. I became so fed-up with buying myself shoes and not being able to wear them because they hurt my feet, so spent months developing our Tender Loving Air® footbed. Having a patent really changed the game for us,” explains founder, Claire, when thinking back to some of the company’s milestones.

Back in 2014, Air & Grace kicked off their first launch with the Spirit of Christmas event, their first ever trade show where they had the chance to sell to customers but the lead-up was far from plain sailing. With factory delays, and the possibility that they may miss the event entirely, Claire and her partner hired a van and made the long drive to Portugal to collect 1000 pairs of shoes themselves. “Missing this event was not an option. All our planning had gone into launching at Spirit of Christmas, so we did what anyone would do, and found a solution.”

The early days were often like this. Claire even used her kitchen table as the brand’s distribution centre at the beginning. Now, with a website full of beautiful shoes, Air & Grace has moved their stock to a much bigger warehouse, based in Essex, UK where all domestic and international orders are now distributed from.

Claire explains how the growth of the business can sometimes be easy to overlook when working day to day, “It’s one of those things where I often forget how far the business has come, then I sit and think back to the start when my kitchen table was our distribution centre, and now we’re rivalling the footwear industry’s leading comfort brands”.

When their warehouse announced its closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of customers not being able to receive their orders was a big concern, so to avoid any disappointment Claire took matters into her own hands and once again, her kitchen table doubled as the brand’s distribution centre.

Starting with shoes and trainers, before branching out to boots and sandals, perhaps one of Air & Grace’s most exciting launches was the launch of their first heels in 2023! They worked tirelessly to find a solution and create comfortable heels. Now, one of their bestsellers, their collection of Dancing Queen heels, available in seven different colours, has been a roaring success.

It was a labour of love, explains founder Claire, “I love a night out in town with friends, so designing a heel that looks good, but also feels good was essential. We were not prepared to launch a heel if it was not dance-floor ready, so we used multiple methods within the design, to create the perfect heel (if I do say so myself). It has soft cushioning, a flexible sole and minimal stitching for seamless, long-term comfort. You will be the only friend who has managed to keep your heels on all night!” With such a resilient approach to hurdles along the way, it is no surprise that Air & Grace is about to celebrate its 10th birthday after a successful decade of shoe trading.

“Social media was the making of us.”

Despite all her hard work, Claire still attributes Air & Grace’s success to social media. “The support we experienced from our community on social media was something I would never have anticipated when I first set up. This helped to get our brand out there, and it snowballed from there. To be honest, social media was the making of us” says Claire.

With high-profile collaborations, celebrity endorsements and a growing online community sharing their happy reviews for Air & Grace, the business began to grow. The brand has worked with big names including Fearne Cotton, Trinny Woodall, Kym Marsh, Gaby Roslin, Zoe De Pass and most recently Fran Bacon, collaborating on a new trainer launch. The brand also loves to partner with other female-led small businesses, including Scamp & Dude, Eleven Loves and Genevieve Sweeney.

The company has also dedicated a lot of time to charity too, collaborating closely with The Prince’s Trust on their Change a Girls Life Campaign each International Women’s Day, raising over £30,000 for the cause since first forming their relationship with the charity.

They have also collaborated with Trees for Cities contributing to the planting of over 500 trees in urban areas through their unique approach to Black Friday, bucking the discounting trend and instead opting to pay to plant a tree for each pair sold from their Black Friday campaign.

2024: The tenth birthday

Now, turning 10, Air & Grace has grown rapidly since Claire first set up in 2014. Based in London, on the vibrant Bermondsey Street, Air & Grace is run by a team of 10 shoe-obsessed women, with Claire leading the charge.  There are lots of exciting things on the horizon for the company this year, not forgetting the 10th birthday celebrations, and an exciting new collection to mark the occasion. Watch this space…

To keep up to date on all things Air & Grace, make sure to sign up to their mailing list: https://airandgracelondon.com/. The brand is also available to follow on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Pinterest.

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