This is the story of FLY London, a remarkable brand of Portuguese footwear.
A difference of opinion on an aeroplane between two English business partners on the verge of launching a bold footwear project led to Portugal taking up the baton of what would become one of the most famous shoe brands in the industry.
Whilst at a fair in Dusseldorf, where that particular new brand was to be unveiled, the well-informed entrepreneur Fortunato Frederico discovered that the stand would not be open for business after a falling out between the company’s partners. “We wanted to create a brand and we had an idea for a lighter, less formal shoe, something casual, comfortable, soft, young and urban. When we found out what was going on, we realised that it was exactly the thing what we had in mind and just what we were looking for”, recalls the business man from Guimarães.
The project originated in England, which was the first market that Fortunato Frederico was hoping to explore before bringing the concept over to Portugal. The brand had a name (FLY London) and an unusual symbol (a giant fly). The brand’s image appealed to Fortunato, who met the two Englishmen and bought them out: “I paid them a pretty penny and was left with very little money”, he remembers. And so, in 1994, FLY London was born.
This was footwear for the young and urban (between 15 and 35) and where originality was paramount: from the design of the soles to the combination of colours and materials. The genetic code of FLY London shoes has remained intact for 14 years and that’s very much the secret of the market success of this brand from Guimarães.
FLY London is a major presence abroad and their products can be found at international fairs and events, they’re worn by a variety of famous faces (see inset), they’re mentioned in the specialised press, and sell very well in a variety of countries. England is the main market, ahead of Portugal (in second place), Denmark, Germany and the United States, with Spain being another regular destination and Japan an expanding market. FLY London is sold on all five continents (and in almost all European countries), at over 1500 outlets. Africa, China and Brazil are the main targets for 2009 and over three quarters of FLY London’s business is done outside Portugal.
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Self-made man with a difference
The owner of FLY London, Fortunato Frederico, is a self-made man who typically started on the bottom rung of the ladder. However his profile is somewhat unusual.
Brought up by a nun (the “little nun”), Fortunato entered the seminary at the age of 10, where he was educated and where he acquired his taste for literature and music. He studied philosophy and likes reading Jean-Paul Sartre, Dostoyevsky (possessing most of his books) and Gabriel García Marquez. He enjoys jazz, Russian and Greek folk music and, above all, Gregorian music.
When he left the seminary, at the age of 14, he went to work at the “Campeão Português” footwear factory, which he considers to be “Portugal’s pre-revolution footwear university”. He began sweeping the factory floor; he then worked on the machines and ended up being in charge of one of the assembly lines. He left his first job in 1972, for what he calls “a four-year apprenticeship”, during which he was a mechanic and a machine salesman with one sole aim: to visit the international fairs and get to know the footwear industry and market inside and out.
In 1976, when he was 33, he decided to set up his own company and partnership. However, eight years later, tired of working for the big names and nursing the notion of starting his own business, he decided to do something under his own steam, settingup Kyaia with Amílcar Monteiro, a colleague he convinced from the first firm he worked at and someone who still works with him (as commercial director).
The company was named after a place in Angola where he’d spent the best part of his military service: “It was in Kyaia, at night when I had time on my hands, that I came up with the idea of having my own shoe factory in Portugal. I spent endless nights thinking about the whole thing. ”
By 1984, Kyaia was already geared towards international sales. In the first year, with 50 workers, it made 750 thousand Euros. After a few difficult years, with multinationals moving to the Vale do Ave to take advantage of the region’s workforce and forcing Kyaia to shift part of its production (see inset), the company finally achieved stability and began to plot its expansion and growth.
The difference between the cost of production and the final price of the shoes encouraged Fortunato Frederico to create his own brand and not just produce footwear for others. It was within this context that, in 1994, Kyaia achieved the goal of having its own brand and creating a concept of modern, young and bold footwear that he had been mulling over for some time. QED: FLY London.
The international reach of the brand and company was further consolidated and in 2005 Kyaia bought the Foreva chain of shoe shops (an investment of 7.5 million Euros), which now meant the company was involved in every part of the footwear value chain and one year later Kyaia launched a new brand, Softinos.
The Kyaia group is currently made up of 13 companies, employing approximately 600 workers. Apart from the manufacture, distribution and sale of footwear, Fortunato Frederico has also invested in property (tourist accommodation and shops), in order to reduce costs related to his main activity, footwear. The objective is to be able to put up all the Sales staff/clients that visit the Kyaia premises and transfer (in the medium term) all of the shops to built-for-purpose premises.
For Fortunato Frederico, who apart from being an entrepreneur is also president of the association for the sector (APICCAPS), “emotional intelligence, instinct and intuition” are the key ingredients in business: “an economist can tell me the business is bad, that it’s no good, like what happened with Foreva, but if I think it’s the right thing to do, if my intuition tells me so, I do it. In the case of Foreva, I was right and we were successful”, he remembers.
Interpersonal skills also play a large part when managing the business and human resources. “When I’m with a person I quickly realise if I can work with them”, says the owner of FLY London, who insists on seeing any information regarding his employees. Fortunato Frederico knows most of the workforce by name and likes to know something about them as people.
The Kyaia project has “10-year goals” and sells more footwear than any other company on the Iberian Peninsula. For now, 2009 is the year that sees Foreva go international and the launch of an environmentally-friendly shoe onto the market.
By Carlos Gonçalo Morais
web design & development 262media.com