François du Chastel: The Man Behind the Slipper
The idea behind Chatelles started with a love story. Founder, François du Chastel, offered his love a pair of slippers he designed, with a verse by Victor Hugo embossed in the inner sole: “I cannot live far away” … “from you any longer”. The outcome? Francois was left broken-hearted, but the slipper was just the beginning of his now, blossoming business venture: Chatelles. Not quite the traditional route into women’s fashion-Francois was an investment banker before he founded Chatelles in Paris-the company has steadily grown since its launch in August 2012. The appeal of Chatelles Slippers are their versatility; the shoe for all occasions and all ages. Designed by Tiphaine de Bodman, Central Saint Martins graduate and engineered with help from a podiatrist to build a slipper with the best support and comfort, Chatelles seem to offer something others don’t. With Lily James and Kate and Pippa Middleton having said to be huge fans of the slipper, IMPAKTER was curious to find out more about the growing popularity of Chatelles and how François has progressed his business over the last 3 years.
It is a new shoe with an old history.
Q. The shoes are designed as an alternative to heels and ballerinas so women “can shine and look comfy and effortless,” was this your original intention and what have you learned about female fashion in the last three years?
A. Yes, they are designed as an alternative to heels. As a man, I love girls in heels, but a girl cannot live in heels, it’s not comfortable; it is not a daily shoe. Ballerinas are beautiful, but they are not walking shoes and are generally better for indoors. The other alternative would be loafers, but they a bit too classic. The slipper has a nice history; they were created in the late 19th century for Prince Albert, husband to Queen Victoria, and for a very long time they were used indoor for gentlemen to wear, but we’ve created them as outdoor shoes for women. It is a new shoe with an old history and really only entered the woman’s wardrobe in the last 5-10 years.
I think the female fashion industry is an amazing industry to work in. I have no formal training in fashion, but it’s all about paying attention to detail and respecting your clients. For example, the way the shoes are designed: the sole is waterproof, the shoe is shaped at the edge to make them appear more feminine, the logo is embossed (no ink is used) and they are a mix of recycled rubber, which is longer lasting than other materials. I have learned that attention to detail is extremely important because in fashion, especially, people are very demanding. It’s a glamorous industry, but there is no room for approximation; the brands that have been able to build a strong reputation are extremely professional brands. It appears very superficial when you flick through magazines, behind the scenes, it very different. And, also, because everything is online there is no room for mistakes.
Q. Did you see it as a big jump from investment banking to fashion and were you ever fearful of the transition?
A. I was a bit fearful because it was a big challenge for me, I was jumping into a new industry, a new world with new rules, but when you are committed and focused and you want to achieve something you have to just go for it. You do have some fear, but you must use that as an asset. It was a matter of putting the right team together and executing.
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Q. You founded the company back in August 2012 and last year you were the winner of Reseau Entreprendre, how significant is this success for the company as a whole?
A. It was quite an achievement to be awarded the first prize and it’s still ongoing; they provide senior coaching with fashion experts to help build a strong network and they also helped financially. Reseau Entreprendre is a private French foundation that helps to support start-ups and on a French scale it is the best thing you can have to launch your start-up and it really helped, especially being a new business in an unfamiliar industry.
Q. What is great about the design is the choice. There are so many colours and styles to choose from including the option to add a tassel and even your initial to your slippers. Are there any other quirks or future ideas you have for the slippers?
A. We try to be as creative as possible to keep up with the momentum of the changes in style. The slippers can be ordered plain or with a tassel or initial, which can really alter the style of the shoe if you use contrasting colours, and it can all be done online when you order them. New ideas we aim to roll out soon is a small jewel collection and colourful aesthetics using animal prints of parrots, tigers and Egyptian beetles for example. We’re always thinking of new ideas to keep things fresh and evolving. At the moment, there are two collections every year: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter and throughout the year, we also do small capsules. Last summer we did a wedge heel capsule. Eventually, we intend to add accessories, such as handbags and purses, but it’s important to focus on building the brand first.
Q. If you had to sum the experience of launching Chatelles and the last few years in the fashion industry, using three words what would they be?
A. Challenging. Chatelles hasn’t been an easy business to start without experience in fashion. Exciting. Working within the industry has an element of fun every single day, much more than working as a banker. Awesome. Chatelles is a great business to build; there is a high risk of failure, but it’s all about execution and understanding the depth of the market.
Q. What piece of advice would you give young entrepreneurs starting out in a similar business?
A. Don’t spend too much time on a business plan, just execute; this is the only thing that matters. You can talk to investors and create nice evaluations, business models (this was what I was doing as an investment banker before launching Chatelles), but that’s just abstract. Entrepreneurship means concrete reality; it’s about action and delivery. This is my personal experience to what seems to work in this business. Ideas are not enough, execution, attention to detail and putting the client first are the key elements and if you base your work around these pillars with a good idea, you can only do well. But, you must remember that you will always have lots of competition; you have to keep moving forward no matter what!
Q. What is your overall goal for Chatelles?
A. The Ambition of the brand would be to build a global brand for women’s slippers just like, for example, Totes for loafers or the French ballerina shoe brands: French Sole and Repetto. Today, in the slipper market, there are plenty of competitors, but there is no brand that exists, to my knowledge, in the developed countries that have taken on this role of a global brand. My only regret is not starting sooner! I am happy it wasn’t my first experience because I gained knowledge and skills in banking, but Chatelles is so much more exciting.
In the photo: Francois du Chastel