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Grandt Mason: From vegan dabbler to global aspirant

Published: 28th Apr 2017
Author: Tony Dickson - S&V Editor

The designer and his dog – Grandt with San.

Cape Town, SA – Both as a footwear designer and as an entrepreneur, Grandt Mason has been genuinely creative in the development of his business.
The company he has spent 15 years building – Grandt Mason – is a successful artisanal manufacturer of men’s and women’s comfortable fashion footwear with 3 retail outlets in creative, touristy areas.
His second business, started in December last year – Bearthfoot – is intended to be a global player with footwear aimed at the upmarket fitness market, but conceptually completely different from athletic footwear.
 
Grandt Mason – previously g-mo Footwear – grew out of a search for leather-free footwear as an offshoot of his dabbling in a vegan lifestyle. At the time – 2002 – he was an industrial design student, and having made himself a pair of “really uncomfortable” denim boots, he received a steady stream of enquiries for the same offbeat footwear from other students. The enquiries translated into orders, and in a short space of time a ‘passion project’ became a business.
He teamed up with the late Woodstock shoemaker Achmat Taliep, invested in machinery and over time moved both of them to a pair of garages. His sister, Kate, quit her job to join him, allowing him to spend more time to experiment with different designs.
He also went from factory to factory in Cape Town, looking for someone to make his footwear in more commercial quantities, “but my designs were terrible”.
Some very experienced shoemakers, however, saw his potential. The late Jacques du Plooy, and Gerald Batt, “have been the main catalysts in my career”, and aside from advice and encouragement, in 2005 du Plooy arranged for him to meet Hong Kong shoemaker May Ling at Yardly Leather.
Probably more as a favour to du Plooy than as a business investment, Yardly prototyped his range – still vegan at that stage – and he went to Europe to try to interest likely-looking boutiques in his footwear, but with little success.
Back home, he thought his big break had come when an upmarket mini-chain placed what would have been a substantial order – but a change of buyer saw that project cancelled.
In all of this, he had spent his inheritance, and he kept going with a R50 000 loan from German philanthropist Rudiger Kaffke.
 
Both his business and his footwear evolved. From low-rent factories, Grandt Mason now operates from a shop in the arty Woodstock Exchange in Albert Road, where his 6 staff cut and last by hand, in view of customers. He terms it an ‘atelier’, which means an artist’s workshop or studio, and custom-made footwear has been a significant part of his business.
The key development – his handwriting – has been to create footwear which can be fastened in a variety of ways, to create a snug fit. He seeks to design footwear which is “fashionable but doesn’t compromise the wearer’s footfall”.
Most of the Grandt Mason footwear is unisex – with a few women’s styles – and his biggest seller to date has been a ballet pump, which barely resembles the pumps being churned out elsewhere. In fact, until now, they haven’t looked quite like each other, either: “30 000 pairs later and never 2 exactly the same,” he says, but that has changed with the launch of its first mass production.
He still offers customised styling allowing customers to select various options such as fabric, stitch and sole colour. “We have a database of over 5 000 customers from all over the globe who have helped create their own unique pair of Grandt Mason's,” he says.
©2017 S&V Publications
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