Proper Interview: Paul Batista, Yogi Footwear

Being the suede shoe fanatics that we are, Yogi are a brand whose footwear we really dig here at Proper.In fact we love them so much we even did a collab with them recently and our brand Hikerdelic. Having been wearing their superb products both in their earlier and more recent incarnations we decided to have a chinwag with brand manager, head of sales and more importantly our good mate Paul Batista. 

So Paul, it’s been a crazy old year so far, how have you coped with all the madness?

After the initial WTF I embraced the downtime and weather – daily bike ride round Ally Pally, plenty of BBQs, downtime with my daughter. And I started writing my memoirs (not really)…

How have global events affected the running of Yogi?

In the short term we were adversely affected by lockdown spending habits which were focused around slides, sandals, T-shirts and shorts. Considered purchases on higher ticket items such as casual shoes were put on hold. Our DTC website performed well though which helped.

We have great relationships with our wholesale customers and we supported wherever we could. Everyone acknowledged the season was challenging and we mostly worked together to navigate the best positive outcome. Also as a brand we’re relatively small in scale to some of our contemporaries, so everything was relative.  

What is your role at Yogi and how did you get involved with the brand?

I’ve always been involved in footwear as far back as the mid 1990’s, at the premium and mainstream ends of the market, so I know how to deliver volume and also how to nurture and build brands. When Duffer sold to JD in 2008 Yogi was basically forgotten until 2016, when I found some old archive images and persuaded the owners to support a soft relaunch. Perhaps weirdly it was the foot formed logo – which I think is still one of the best around – that led the proposition and we began to develop and refine the ‘hero’ silhouettes for today’s environment. There’s been a bit of lucky timing in terms of casual shoes coming around again along with the emergence of comfort, sustainability and wellness as key components to modern living.

Yogi was originally part of the legendary Duffer label back in the 1990s, are you in contact with founder Marco or any of the other OG Duffer crew? 

The 1990’s was an incredible time in popular culture in terms of the music and fashion, and the Duffer team were unquestionably at the forefront. I was in my twenties starting out in a career in footwear and was based in Covent Garden, so (pre-internet) was exposed to what was going on sartorially, and it defined my career. I’ve not seen the OG crew for a while now, although I last bumped into Marco in Florence a while back.  

Yogi shoes don’t just look amazing but the negative heel is great for your posture isn’t it? Have you noticed a difference since you started wearing them?

The first thing our customers notice when they try on a pair of Yogi’s is the level of comfort. The science around the benefits of a negative heel comes from a Danish Yoga practitioner, Anne Kalso, who observed how Brazilian indigenous tribes walked on sand, and how the motion affected their posture. From my own experience I’d say there’s something in it and to try them out for oneself.   

Which pair are your current favourite to wear?

I managed to get my hands on a pair of an exclusive colour we did for Oi Polloi – Caden Centre Seam in an amazing Chestnut tumbled leather. It looks incredible, like a vintage 1970’s shoe with raw seams and an amazing patina. They feel like I’ve had them for years (in a good way!)

How do you go about designing/creating new silhouettes and seasonal collections for Yogi?

We only launch a new silhouette if there’s a good reason to do so. Our customers are pretty switched on and will know if we launch a new product just for the sake of it. The DNA of the brand is utmost in our mind when developing a seasonal collection, so we tend to evolve our best sellers in terms of the small details – perhaps a box stitch, raw seam detail or new colour, interesting sole unit (more of which below, read on…) We’re in an enviable position in terms of having a very loyal and discerning customer base.

How sustainable are Yogi shoes?

Everything we produce is locally sourced within a 100km radius of our third generation, family owned factory in Benedita, Portugal. Leathers are vegetable tanned (which eliminates the use of chromium and other potentially harmful metals in the tanning process). We’ve also worked long and hard on sourcing an outsole in Portugal for our negative heel soles, and have found a cracking supplier who have developed a 100% recycled, locally sourced rubber and cork sole, which we’re super excited about. So to answer your question in a convoluted way, Yogi shoes are 100% sustainable.

We loved doing the Hikerdelic collab with you guys, do you have any other cool hook ups with any other brands planned?

We’re launching a collaboration with YMC to coincide with their 25 years in the business, which Yogi can also tenuously claim by virtue of the historical Duffer association. Fraser [YMC co-founder] wanted to give the iconic plain toe Derby and Chukka Boots a modern, relevant interpretation – so we found some amazing waxy plain leathers to give the collab a clean, contemporary yet directional look and feel. Basically we love working with like minded brands in terms of their aesthetic and product values, which is something I think we’ve achieved with YMC and Hikerdelic.

You’ve got quite a few celebrity fans of your footwear, who has impressed you most by sporting a pair of Yogis?

Johnny Marr has been a customer for a while and rocks the classic Orson shoe in black suede. Liam Gallagher’s also purchased several pairs – both of which are great endorsements for the brand. We just keep doing what we do and we’re humbled that the brand resonates on so many levels.

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