A more gentlemanly version of the trainer: that’s how Julia Alexander shorthands the men’s loafers she makes under her Jack Riviera label. It might sound like a slightly flippant way to describe these beautiful shoes – which are made with leather and jewel-toned velvet, and finished with embroidery – but Alexander is really talking about how she wants you to wear them.
“They’re meant to be worn when having fun,” she says. “They have a sense of humour.”
The Brisbane-based entrepreneur isn’t a shoemaker by trade – her background is in corporate law – but the seed for Jack Riviera was planted a few years ago when she was searching for a pair of smoking slippers for her husband. The trouble was, everything she liked was eye-wateringly expensive.
“There was an Alexander McQueen pair,” Alexander says. “[They were] over $1000 Australian, and you’re having to buy them from overseas. The least expensive I could find were around that $600 pricepoint.
“I just wanted a pair that you could wear to a long lunch and not be afraid to have too many drinks afterwards.”
It took a couple of years for Alexander to realise she’d happened upon a niche in the market for handmade, high-quality loafers similar to the luxury brands – but available in Australia at an affordable pricepoint.
“It was the beginning of last year when I thought, ‘Maybe I can do something about this’,” she says. “I tossed and turned. A lot of us do this, where we think about this stuff. But the thought entered my head and just stayed there.”
Jack Riviera launched in March 2019 with a small range of handmade velvet loafers, each style priced at $185. With their slick materials and rich blues, greens and golds, the shoes look like their luxury-brand counterparts – but are distinguished by playful embroidered motifs designed by Brisbane illustrator Heather Hawkins. There’s the Tipsy Jack, which has a cocktail on each vamp; the nautical-themed Ahoy Jack and Squadron Jack; the lion-crested King of Jacks; and the pirate-themed Captain Jack. There’s also a tasseled pair and a couple of kids’ options.
“Elegance is definitely important,” Alexander says. “But it’s combined with a sense of playfulness [and] adding personality to what you’re wearing … [at $1000 a pair] they become only for special occasions. These are made for wearing and having fun.”
Alexander has since added a custom monogramming service, which accounted for half her business during the early weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown. “It was incredible,” she says. “It maybe reflected people working at home and buying things online.”
Next up: new colourways and a women’s range.
“There’ll be a full women’s range in the next three months,” she says. “I was surprised by the number of women wearing the men’s shoes. But people would message and email about it constantly.
“The women’s collection has champagne, a queen bee, a few more animals ... and some more crests.”
Her law background has come in handy for managing contracts and production arrangements with cobblers and embroiderers in China, she says. Otherwise, Jack Riviera is what she does now. She mentions LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s famous adage about entrepreneurship being like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on your way down.
“That’s how it’s been for me, but I love that,” she says. “I love that if a problem comes up, I can choose the way around it. Sometimes I wish I had a boss telling me what to do, but I enjoy the challenge.”