Michael Nicholson aims to build on our industrial heritage with a modern take on the iconic rubber footwear
Bòtann, founded by Michael Nicholson and David Smith, along with shoe designer Robert McCaffrey, is all about rebooting that great Scottish institution, “the welly”. Inspired by a father who used to work at the Hunter factory in Dumfries which closed in 2008, Glasgow-based Nicholson wants to bring back the rubber boot in a funky new form and with a future goal of re-establishing their manufacture in Scotland and giving the jobs market a boost.
Named for the Gaelic word for welly, the Bòtann’s design is waterproof, ethical and vegan-friendly and currently available in black and putty. Further developments will depend on its Kickstarter campaign, which launched this month.
Michael Nicholson, can you briefly describe yourself, your brand and your father’s part in this?
Bòtann is building on Scotland’s welly-making heritage with a progressive approach to designing rubber boots. I am 38. I’m based in Glasgow but was born and raised in Dumfries, which was once home to the Hunter welly factory. My dad worked in that factory, moving from the north of England – with my mum and sister – to take the job. Through this project, it has become apparent that the reason I was born and raised in Scotland is welly boots.
What’s a typical day for you?
My day-to-day work at the moment involves writing about sound systems and other AV technologies that are used for big concerts and music venues. No one day is the same but it typically involves working from Many Studios, which is a really cool open working space in the Barras, Glasgow.
What is your training/background?
I studied Marketing & Human Resource Management at the University of Strathclyde, and then Music Industry Marketing & Management at the old Stow College. From there, I realised I wanted to write for a living and relocated to Manchester to pursue that dream, learning on the job as an editorial assistant for a magazine. Since 2012, I’ve worked for myself as a marketing communications consultant. I’m able to use this experience as one of three founders of Bòtann.
Why did you decide to set up the company and when?
The idea for starting a welly boot company came from my co-founder, David Smith. When I met David, he was already talking to footwear designer Robert McCaffrey, and the three of us decided to join forces. The inspiration comes from Scotland’s welly-making heritage and a desire to create jobs and opportunities in Scotland. For that to happen, we feel we have to offer something new and exciting – to not only create a welly but create a welly capable of making an impact.
What is your aim?
Our aim is to establish Bòtann with our first edition boot and build from there. We want to create jobs in Scotland – initially in areas like quality control, finishing, packing and distribution. If we are able to significantly grow the business, we would love to re-introduce welly manufacturing to Scotland.
What’s different about your product?
Our welly does what you’d expect of a welly, in that it’s fully waterproof and protective. It’s made of high-grade rubber from a sustainable source and is naturally animal-friendly. It isn’t what many people expect a welly to look like – it’s ankle length and has a contemporary look – and it’s neoprene lined for warmth and comfort. It feels more like you’re wearing a trainer than a welly.
What challenges have you faced?
None of us are wealthy, which presents various challenges when starting a business, but we’re happy with the way things have progressed. Finding an ethical way of producing our boot in Europe was a challenge, but it has been answered through our collaboration with Slovakian shoe giants Novesta. We’re over the moon to be working with them.
What was the biggest surprise along the way?
How much people like the idea of Bòtann. When you have an idea for a business, it can be quite a lonely thing and to get it to come to life you need to talk to others about it. Then they start to believe and every time they bump into you they ask how it’s going. At a certain point, the project takes on a of life of its own. There have been so many twists and turns to get to this stage, but fundamentally it has been about people believing in the idea, then the product, and spurring us on to make it a reality.
What is the fun part of your business?
It has all been good fun so far. When you’re developing a new brand and a new product, there are challenges and discoveries at every turn. For me, that’s what life is all about, so I love it.
How has it evolved?
For a couple of years, the three of us would meet up and discuss ideas. It was relaxed, not directionless, but the focus was on exploring our thoughts and less on doing. We were invited to The Good Life Experience by Charlie Gladstone in 2017 and that seemed to kick us on to the next level of development. We connected with Novesta in April 2018 and joined Creative Scotland’s Crowdfunding Creativity programme in September 2018, which led to our Kickstarter campaign launched this month. Throughout that time, we developed the design of our boot and worked out the best approach to its production, while also establishing the business.
What have you learned?
If you keep things moving forward, you stand a chance of getting to where you want to go. If it takes a few years, then so be it. It’s easy to walk away when you can’t see where you’re going or if the pace is slower than you’re used to.
What is your most popular product?
We only have one model at the moment but we have a few colours. My favourite is the putty coloured boot. It is the least welly-like welly I’ve ever seen in my life and that rebellion against conformity appeals to me.
Which items do you have at home from your range?
Bòtann’s first edition boot in putty. It’s beautiful.
Who are your customers?
It’s mixed, but generally speaking it’s style-conscious, adventure-minded people who care about practicality, the environment and things that last. As we developed the boot, we imagined a photographer who works in a range of environments. They need comfortable and practical footwear but they’re also conscious of how they look and they don’t want to change footwear several times a day.
What are your goals?
Our goal right now is to have a successful Kickstarter campaign, which will lay the foundation for our business. After that, we’ll assess where we are and see how quickly we can grow towards our aims.
What’s your style philosophy?
Practical, individual and modern.
Where are your products made?
Our boots are handmade in Europe by Novesta, in a happy working environment, using ethical methods – including the use of natural rubber from a sustainable source.
Who has influenced your style, what are your inspirations?
Purposeful products which are considered essential, both in their function and their aesthetics – a type of modern utility. Examples like the Mackintosh raincoat or Trakke bags, which manage to be distinctive and innovative as well as dependable, iconic companion products which are cherished.
Who are your style icons?
Héloïse Letissier and Bill Murray. I admire them for their originality, humour and their “I’ll wear what I like with absolute confidence” attitude.
Bòtann, RRP £140 but available at £90 through their Kickstarter campaign until 11 April at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/botannboots/botann-the-welly-rebooted