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Retail Review

After being named Best New Store at this year’s Drapers Footwear Awards, independent boutique Black Truffle has been going from strength to strength. Founder Melissa Needham is now focussing on her commitment to nurturing the best new design talent by introducing a footwear training course. Out On A Limb Found Out more.

Why boutique founder Melissa is looking to trainers THE first Black Truffle store opened in Broadway Market in 2003 featuring design-led shoes, bags and jewellery – focussing on quirky styles and rare finds. Melissa Needham went on to launch its sister store on Warren Street in the West End in 2006 which, as well as footwear and accessories, houses the Prescott & Mackay School of Fashion and Accessory Design. This design school offers short courses in everything from shoe and bag making to millinery and corsetry. A new two-day course has now been launched to teach practical shoemaking as well as commercial skills – taking a footwear design from the concept to saleable product. Melissa will be teaching the course alongside footwear designers Aki Choklat and Chau Har Lee. She said: “We have been running courses with a wide brief for many years. These have been open to anyone with an interest in the industry and they have been very popular – especially with those at entry level, like people wanting to move into a new career. “However, over the years we have had more people who are already working within the industry getting interested, for example designers and buyers, but not necessarily footwear specialists – I think the current financial climate is encouraging people to try and acquire wider areas of expertise.” She has also been running a series of classes that are more theory based than practical, covering the different interpretations of design and production. The new course is an extension of that, catering for people who are experienced in the areas of business, buying and communication, but who need more technical and specific footwear information – a clear understanding of how shoes are made. Melissa added: “I always try to keep the courses tailored to whatever demand is at that moment. “This knowledge helps with customer and manufacturer relationships because it gives an overview of the whole process, tracing the finished product through the chain of design and construction. “Demand for things like this has definitely risen sharply recently, I


think many people are looking for a career change into something more creative. I also think that training might be being looked at more favourably in the industry because of the current financial climate. “I think training is so important because there are lots of very interesting designers around at the moment and it would be nice if there were more people with skills available here for them to work with to achieve their designs. “Fewer skills in the UK will impact on the whole industry which can only be a bad thing.” Melissa also has plans to make a series of changes to the Black Truffle stores in order to provide better customer service and increase sales. These include introducing an EPOS system to computerise all stock, sales and purchases. She said: “I want to be able to analyse all the transactions accurately to help us react quickly to demand - I think it will be very useful as a business strategy tool. “I have also become interested in emarketing and have started getting involved in regular newsletters, blogging and social networking. “This will allow us to profile customers and provide a better, more tailored service for them.”

Out On A Limb (Issue 54)  

The trade magazine for the UK's footwear and accesories market.