Launching a Men’s Footwear & Accessory Brand: Q & A with Jose & Markham Founder David Lewis

This month we had the pleasure of sitting down with entrepreneur David Lewis, one of the founders of

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Jose & Markham – Winnipeg’s premium Men’s footwear and accessory brand.

Founded in 2010 by David Lewis, Wade Salchert and Cesar Baez, they’ve started a journey that has already lead them to factories in Mexico and China. All while establishing their online store and first retail location in Winnipeg. They have big plans, beginning with opening a new retail location in Vancouver in 2013. The entire interview is below. Enjoy!

Facebook: search ‘Jose & Markham Inc.’
Twitter: @JoseMarkham



CPLT: Tell us the story behind how or why you started your business? What was your ‘ah-ha’ moment?

DL: In summer of 2009, Cesar Baez arrived in Canada with $500 in his pocket, a bag of clothing, and a dream: He was determined not to rest until he had founded a line of men’s footwear and based his operation in Canada. It would take another 2 years before Cesar had all the elements in place.

In 2010, Cesar met Wade Salchert while working at Whiskey Dix Night Club and shared his idea to create a shoe company. Interested, Wade invited me (David Lewis) to their preliminary meetings and together, the three new compadres started to forge a plan for what would become Jose & Markham.

With the plan in place, the team traveled several times to Mexico, meeting with manufacturers and continuing to develop the business. Over the course of the next 18 months they worked through the design process for 55 models of men’s shoes which would ultimately become Jose & Markham’s inaugural collection: Fall and Winter 2011.

The Moty – Jose & Markham 2012 Collection

The crest in the Jose & Markham logo depicts three letters and a roman numeral: WDCMMXI.

Jose & Markham was introduced to the world with the official launch of as well as the opening of the company’s flagship retail location at 73 Princess Street in Winnipeg.

Jose & Markham’s 1st Retail Location at 73 Princess, Winnipeg, Manitoba

In November of 2012, Jose & Markham expanded their production facilities into China where they will produce elements of all future collections while maintaining output in Mexico.

CPLT: Describe the vision for your business now vs. when you first had the idea to start your business (share any learnings you feel other entrepreneurs should know about the evolution of ‘vision’)?

DL: Since the company is still quite young, the vision for the organization hasn’t undergone any paradigm changes since we founded. We’re still on course with the same vision we launched with:

“Create unique and exceptionally well-built men’s shoes and accessories.”

We have, however, learned a LOT. When manufacturing overseas, the number one challenge facing any organization is supply-chain stability. It’s taken us over 2 years to get ours stabilized and we’ve still got lots of work to do. The lesson is to deal with professionals, and to ensure the suppliers and factories you choose to engage have a clear understanding of your expectations. Set mutually agreeable deadlines and demand commitment to those deadlines.

CPLT: What were the very first things you did after your ‘ah-ha’ moment?

DL: When we founded the company the key focus was to develop relationships with factories who we could be sure were able to meet the level of quality that we knew we wanted to produce. We also spent quite a bit of time developing our website and inventory management system.

CPLT: What is your view on the creation of a written business plan as the foundation of your start-up vs. rolling up your sleeves and start selling something? Which did you do?

DL: We did a little of both. We didn’t have a fully fleshed-out world-class business plan, but we were very careful to ensure that all the important elements were accounted for in a feasibility study even before we spent the first dollar. Of course pre-planning and forging a strong understanding what you’re selling and who you’re selling to are fundamental to the start-up process. With that said, the more ventures you embark on, the more experience you have, and in certain areas, the less detail needs to be included in your own internal business plan.

CPLT: How much seed money did you start with? Where did it come from? What is your view on self financing vs. getting financing from external sources (friends, family, fools, angels, VC’s, crowdfunding, etc.) to get your business off the ground?

DL: Our company was launched entirely with personal investment from our three partners. We’re all equal 1/3 shareholders in the company. I think in a perfect world everyone would rather keep their financing internal rather than relinquishing equity in exchange for start-up capital. In our case we were lucky enough to build our brand in an incremental way so we were able to launch without seeking outside investors or loans.

CPLT: What has been your largest success to date? What has been your largest failure to date? What has been your most important learning (personally and professionally)?

DL: So far our greatest success has been the implementation of our on-line sales engine and inventory management system. Because we knew we would need to integrate inventory management from our retail AND on-line business streams, we decided to invest in architecture at the beginning that would allow us to accomplish these tasks with ease.

Now, our system is expandable into limitless retail stores as well as geographically diverse enough to handle multiple warehousing locations for the web business. All the systems speak to each other and keep track of one global inventory count. It was a lot of work to get it sorted out but now we couldn’t imagine running any other way.

Our greatest challenge thus far has been solidifying our supply chain. Because we’re designing and manufacturing our own product rather then just buying from a distributor, we had to get right out onto the factory floors to ensure our vision was being represented properly. Now, we employ QC agents to inspect each factory we do business with and the supply chain has become nice and streamlined.

CPLT: Are there useful tools or resources (ie. apps, websites) that you would like to share with the Catapult entrepreneurial community?

DL: Jose & Markham occupies a unique part of the market. Our customers are VERY diverse and so social media is a hugely powerful tool for us. Another organization seeking to communicate with a more focused target might not be able to leverage social media quite as aggressively but we’re very pleased with the way our SM efforts have been received. For 2013, we’ve contracted with an excellent social media firm as well as a PR firm based in Vancouver to help accelerate our brand. One unfortunate mistake we made early on was to spend heavily on mainstream media — particularly print advertising. While functional, today’s consumer demands more engagement from a brand like ours and we’ve started to realize those goals through social media and direct PR strategy. Simply put, one magazine or newspaper article is worth dozens of magazine ads.

CPLT: What three pieces of advice would you like to impart on the Catapult entrepreneurial community?

DL: I think the three greatest lessons we’ve learned are:

  1. Obsess over the quality of your product. Nothing you do will be more valuable.
  2. Spend your marketing dollars carefully. Traditional media is on the way out in many ways.
  3. Surround your self with people who share your passion. A team of motivated partners and managers can accomplish in a week what it might take other organizations months to figure out if they’re paddling upstream internally.

CPLT: This last question is your

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opportunity to share a view about entrepreneurship and/or ask the community something that you would like to know. What is your rant and/or question?

DL: Someone once told me [With excerpts from Michael Arrington’s article on dated Oct31st 2010] that to be an entrepreneur is to live for a part of your life like most people won’t, so as to live the rest of your life like most people can’t… and I like that.

…There was also that thing about being a pirate. Entrepreneurs are like pirates in so far as every time we do something, or don’t do something, there’s a risk/reward algorithm being calculated in our brain.

…But entrepreneurs are all screwed up. We don’t need to be rewarded for risk, because we actually get utility out of the risk itself. In other words, we like adventure – Just like pirates. And being a pirate isn’t for everyone.

One thing I have been, and will always be, is an entrepreneur. And that feels pretty good – because if I were a lawyer right now, even a rich lawyer, I’d always have wondered if I had what it takes to do something a little more adventurous with my life than work for someone else.

CPLT: Very lastly, would you like to make a special offer to our audience? If so, what is the offer?

DL: Jose & Markham is pleased to offer a one-time 20% discount to anyone in your business community. Print the “launch” email or this page and bring it in to our Winnipeg retail location anytime before January 31, 2013 to recieve 20% off your entire purchase.

For those wishing to shop online, use the promo

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code “Catapult” and receive 20% off your entire order before January 31, 2013.

CPLT: Thank you for your time and candid answers David!

DL: Thank you Jason!