Five years ago Marco Vaghetti was selling shoes from a tiny stall in a market held in a rainy car park in a south Manchester suburb.
He paid £25 for that pitch in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. This summer his LANX brand was welcoming customers to a 54 square metre marquee at the UK’s biggest country show – paying a five-figure sum for the opportunity to exhibit to its 100,000 visitors.
It is just one indication of how far the Whalley-based company, which started life in the front room of Marco’s grandmother’s house in Hurst Green, has come in such a short space of time.
It is a journey that began in the Far East, where Marco had set out on his quest to learn about traditional shoe making across the globe.
Sumo wrestling in Japan, conversing with monks in Cambodia and trekking the Great Wall of China – Marco, known to his friends as ‘Marv’, returned home with new skills, new contacts and great memories of his adventures.
He also arrived back in the Ribble Valley with even more motivation to develop his business idea, inspired by the skills of the shoemakers he witnessed at work in the Tokyo suburb of Asakusa, a traditional centre of the craft.
That was in 2017. Today the LANX shoe brand that was born of that inspiration continues to make great strides across the UK.
Turnover has grown to £4m since its launch in 2018 and LANX has 12 full-time staff. At peak sales times, the Whalley warehouse houses 20,000 pairs of its 40-plus collections of women’s and men’s shoes, boots and sneakers.
The business has faced and overcome the challenges of Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, War in Europe and the cost-of-living crisis and despite those hurdles has continued its upward trajectory.
Lancashire runs deep in the DNA of the business and not just in the name of the high-end brand. Each shoe in the LANX collection is stamped with either the red rose or the British White Bull, a proud emblem of its hometown.
Much of the range of handmade, smart casual footwear is also named after local villages and towns, such as Newton, Mitton and Garstang.
As well as its Ribble Valley shop and headqurarters, LANX has a store in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter. Marco has an aspiration to open two more stores in Edinburgh and London.
A former Stonyhurst College student with a background in marketing and events, Marco says: “We’ve only just started really. The business is still growing.
“We’ve got a long way to go yet. We’re not resting on our laurels and we are always striving to improve the brand, the business and the products.
“We are a young company and most people who work here are in their late twenties. We all share the same ambition to grow the business.”
The business grew initially on the back of sales from market stalls, pop-up stores and events. Today, attending events remains an important part of LANX’s brand building, as evidenced by its appearance at the Game Fair, held in August in Warwickshire.
By the end of this soggy summer, LANX shoes will have attended 45 county shows, fairs and festivals across the country. Those events traditionally account for some 10 per cent of sales, with the vast majority of purchases now made online.
Marco, 38, who admits that before his overseas adventure he didn’t know how to make a shoe, says: “Most of the shoemakers I visited were still making by hand. It was a traditional skill I found inspiring and it left a lasting impression.
“I’m very proud of the way we began. It was a combination of sales, marketing and events, together with the production of good quality footwear.
“We started from the back of a van borrowed from a friend and we really did it the hard way, getting out and meeting people face-to-face at events and markets around the North West and up and down the country.
“We wanted to create a brand that represents the people of Lancashire, what they wear and what they do. It is about history and heritage but with a modern twist.”
The difficulty of getting into the footwear world also appealed to Marco. He says: “Making a shoe is an intricate process to get right. You don’t see a lot of new entrants to such a specialist industry and that was an exciting challenge.”
The majority of LANX’s footwear styles and collections are handmade in the UK. Three of its partner factories are based in the UK, including one manufacturer in Rossendale, which is the historic heart of the industry in Lancashire.
Maintaining high quality is vital. Marco explains how LANX works with its network of independent shoemakers to ensure the best craftsmanship for each specific style in its range.
Every LANX shoe is designed and crafted individually and made with the finest leathers and British-sourced materials and textiles, with much sourced in the North of England.
This September sees the launch of the company’s ‘365 Vibram’ range, which marks a new outdoor footwear direction for the company.
Getting a new LANX shoe from design stage to point of sale can take anything from 18 months to two years, “If you are doing it the correct way”. The new range has been three years in the making. “We wanted to get it right,” Marco adds.
As part of its continuing development LANX brought in Lancashire branding agency Studio Up North (SUN) to come up with a new strapline that epitomises its fresh brand direction – true to its Lancashire roots the rallying cry is ‘Get ‘em worn’.
The business has enjoyed a number of successful profile-raising sporting tie-ups, creating special ranges for rugby union’s Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks, as well as Wigan Warriors and England’s national rugby league side.
LANX is now the official formal footwear provider for Wales Rugby Union for the next three years. Players will be wearing custom LANX shoes ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France and the bespoke WRU shoe will be available for supporters to buy too.
There are also a growing number of LANX clothing options, including an England rugby supporters’ shirt. Marco says: “These are really nice ways to get the brand recognised and also fit really well with our target demographic.”
Joe Foster, who built his family’s Bolton footwear business into the multi-billion dollar global giant Reebok, remains an inspiration to Marco.
Joe recounted his experiences at a North West creators meet up event in Whalley, hosted by LANX, and his story left a lasting impression.
Marco says: “I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Joe. If it was possible to do what he did so many years ago, why can’t another brand from the North West do the same? It makes you think and it’s certainly something to aspire to.”
Watch this space.
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