Art and sole: Augustus Pili's sensationally stylish footwear

It may have been in business for less than two years, but this men's brand has been quick to find its feet, Jalil Rahman explains


I founded Augustus Pili to answer the question: "What would a traditionally crafted men's shoe from England, with the quality that implies, look like if it were born today?" It's almost like reimagining the past in Technicolor, a look at history through a modern lens.

When thinking about the name initially, I wanted to pick something that reflected the intention of the brand: classic with a modern twist. I took my inspiration from London, because for me it is at the core of everything I do - I was born here and it's where my family and friends are. I looked back to the city's very beginnings, to its formation by the Romans, and how in the fourth century it was named Augusta – meaning great or memorable – from which I took the masculine representation Augustus. Then I wanted to try and find a surname, creating this idea of a conceptual man. I was going through the diverse languages spoken in the capital until I found a word in Swahili that was perfect – Pili, the literal translation of which is "second". The two together represent the journey of humble beginnings to get to where you want and subsequently how the shoes on your feet accompany you as you build your path in life.

(Image credit: CASEY MOORE)

Our current collection of men's Oxford shoes draws inspiration from the Natural History Museum. When I visited it as a child, I was always enchanted by the vibrant paintings, particularly those by Victorian biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. He'd been to the Malay Archipelago and while there did these wonderful sketches of birds he'd seen, full of vivid colours. I took from the intensity of this palette and applied it to my footwear designs.

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The result is a very personal collection. Ask any established menswear brand whether they would invest in pink suede shoes, or yellow calf leather, and I think the immediate answer would be no. For me, being able to carve my own identity has been very exciting. With any new company, you never know if people are actually going to buy what you are selling. When I see customers purchasing multiple pairs of shoes and sending me pictures of themselves wearing them around the world, it's an incredible feeling.

All the manufacturing of our shoes is done in Northampton and the factory we use has been around since the 1880s and is still a family-run business. Many brands will tell you their products are made in England when in reality the upper part is made elsewhere and it's simply lasted – secured on the sole – in this country. For us, even though it may be the most expensive method, everything is done here, from sourcing the leather and cutting the patterns to making the uppers and lasting. And that's something I'm very proud of.

The menswear industry is highly competitive and the big brands have budgets in the millions that we don't have. In the end, our products speak for themselves – the challenge for us now is getting people engaged in what the brand is all about.

JALIL RAHMAN is a self-taught designer who founded footwear brand Augustus Pili in January 2015 with the aim of reimagining the classic British men's shoe;

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