5 Questions for Rainboot Maker Tom Joule

There’s little that Tom Joule enjoys more than cozying up in a tent and listening to the rain. In fact, his passion for the wet weather led him to start U.K.-based Joules, a quirky brand of rainboots that turns 25 this year.

The executive is marking the anniversary with a greater push in the U.S. market. Launched here a decade ago, Joules is now garnering the attention of fashion accounts with its whimsical floral and novelty-print looks.

“The great thing about America is you culturally ‘get’ us [as a brand],” said Joule, who this year opened a showroom in New York and set up a network of sales reps. “[Americans] get the fun, the prints, the color, the Britishness. We don’t have to tweak anything. In fact, we have the potential to work better in the U.S. than we do in the U.K.”

Initially, Joules offered mainly rainboots for men, women and children, but the brand has since evolved into a full lifestyle collection, with everything from apparel and dinnerware to furniture and dog beds. The label, sold through wholesale partners worldwide, also boasts 90 owned retail doors in the U.K. and additional locations in South Korea.

Here in the U.S., the product is stocked at Nordstrom, Backcountry.com and Piperlime.com, in addition to independent boutiques. It also sells online at Joulesusa.com, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of sales.

Today, 40 percent of Joules’ U.S. business is focused on boots, with overall sales expected to double in 2015 over this year. The merchandise is priced at $75 to $165 for adult styles, and $40 to $50 for kids’ boots.

Here, the founder talks about rainboot competition, shoeing royals and retail expansion.

How does the label successfully reflect its British roots?
TJ:
Brits love to be outside. We have more than 100 days of rain a year, so everybody has a pair of rainboots at their back door. Some [people] like to be classic, so we do plain colors with a bit of a twist, with nice linings and poppy colors. Those [engaged in] a particular discipline, such as fishing, hunting or equestrian, may go for something more conservative. But we’re a fun brand, so we have in-house departments that work on color palettes, prints and graphics that will work on a Wellington boot. It’s all about getting out there, being with the family, having fun and splashing in the puddles.

Rainboot silhouettes don’t vary much. How do you keep your look fresh?
TJ:
We’re very print-led, so that helps to bring change season after season. It works with our clothing line as well. We have a great rainwear line, so we’ll update the boots to fit with the coats, hats and umbrellas. There are lots of elements on a rubber boot: foxing, the sole and the back spine — quite a few components you can update. We have fun taking the same Welly and doing new things with it.

In the decade since you first launched in the U.S., what have been some of the biggest challenges?
TJ:
Infrastructure [issues]. [Rainboots] are a cumbersome thing to ship around the world logistically. You have to understand what you’re doing, so you can back it up with stock. We now have a distribution center in America, so we can support [retailers]. There’s nothing worse than selling product into retailers, having them do well and then not being able to [fill] repeats.

Having the royal family wear your styles can be a boon to business. Have they embraced Joules?
TJ:
We don’t throw product at celebrities. We like to think they buy it anyway. I know Pippa and Kate Middleton have Joules product, but we haven’t seeded them at all. And I know Lupo, Kate and Prince Williams’ dog, sleeps in one of our dog beds. I have it on good authority. I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince George was wearing some of our children’s line. We are so right for that family. They’re moving out to Norfolk, close to our head office and three or four of our stores. If they’re going to be living that life, they’ll be wearing Joules.

What’s next for your firm?
TJ:
We’re very excited about America, but we’re working with other countries as well — South Korea, Singapore and some we’ve had for a while in Europe. That’s the five-year plan. We’re still opening stores in the U.K. and [will continue] to move into other product categories. We have great licensing [partners] — from sunglass companies to crockeries — and are broadening our offer all the time. You can do that when you’ve been around for as long as we have.

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