Up Top (this time around) since 2006
Tull Price is one busy but unassuming guy. He’s been in the shoe business for more than 15 years and has almost unfathomable success, but you’d never catch him boasting. He founded Royal Elastics with a partner in 1996 (when he was “very young”). The company was so successful (if you’re a child of the late 90s, early 00s, you almost certainly had a pair, I know I did) they sold to K-Swiss in 2001. Since leaving the company he founded in 2004, Tull has managed to build not only one, but two successful footwear companies – he’s a partner with the designers of hugely successful New York label Rag & Bone in their footwear division (again, I own a slightly embarrassing number of their shoes) and he owns the limited-run label Feit with his brother Josh. He certainly manages to keep himself occupied.
Tull has basically been out of Australia since 1995, spending time in London, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and a couple of stints in New York. “I actually came this time because I was kind of starting to build Feit and I had a girlfriend who was Scottish and she was never going to really be able to work as much as she wanted to in Australia. So New York seemed like a good place for both of us. And I think New York’s always had a pull on me – I seem to keep gravitating back here.”
While he clearly loves New York, he also doesn’t seem willing to rule out living, well, anywhere. He spent three years in Los Angeles, loved it, and says, “I still dream about maybe moving back to LA at some point. It’s not as fast-paced, it’s got more space, the weather’s better and it’s closer to Australia.” He misses the wide open spaces of his native land as well. “In New York, being stuck between big buildings all the time, it’s rare that you get a kind of big broad view of green or some ocean. I just miss that feeling of freedom that you get from the landscape.” And then there’s the Asian food. “Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese – we kill it. I miss that a lot. The Thai here is very average, Vietnamese is a bit better. They kill it on the Japanese, but I would happily have bad Japanese for good Thai and Chinese food.”
So going back to Australia is also still on the table. “I’ll never have a full answer. There is still a chance that [I’ll go back] in five years, before my son starts school. So I don’t know, it’s possible, there’s still a decent chance.”
I’m not entirely sure when he’ll have time to even contemplate his next move – he seems to have barely stopped since founding Royal in 1996. At the time, he says, “I was fascinated by the idea of globalisation and how youth cultures were mimicking, at such an increased pace, each other in major cities around the world. I wanted to travel and I thought it would be exciting if I could somehow bring a product which spoke a language that could kind of transverse those borders and could also give me the opportunity to travel to all those places and work.”
Tull speaks in detail about his youthful fascination with globalisation and the growth of capitalism, but after eight years he, “kind of felt a bit disenfranchised by how [Royal] felt, what I found and how the world got so quickly saturated by basically mass production and mass repetition.” Essentially, he says, he got bored by mass production and much more interested in the foundations of shoe making, which he took time to discover and learn. “That’s kind of where Feit was born from, basically the idea of trying to make a better product and finding people around the world who are still practicing this kind of art. It’s an art that’s in a sense dying and [with Feit we’re] trying to bring a new life to it, in a contemporary way.”
Tull’s involvement in Rag & Bone seems to have come about in a more organic way, after he ran into friends and Rag & Bone founders, Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, in 2008 and they started discussing bringing footwear into the then growing company. “There’s a lot of handmade influences in what they do and most of their product at that time was made in America,” says Tull. “So I thought it was a good match where I could use those things that I’d been looking into and learning about and trying to combine them.” It’s clearly been a great partnership – you can barely walk down the streets of New York or Los Angeles (or Sydney for that matter) without spotting a pair of Rag & Bone boots. It also means that Tull can now afford to take more of a hand-off approach and focus more of his energy on Feit.
It seems to work well, the brothers Price’s structure of Tull in New York, doing design, and Josh in Sydney, taking care of their store. Despite this clear division, Tull says he’s asked Josh to come to New York for good, “many times, but I can only push him so far.” He says the Sydney-New York situation has, “definitely been a challenge. It definitely slows down the productivity of the business. I think we’re starting to get past that now because we’re starting to grow a little bit and that kind of helps, but it is a challenge – the time zone is a challenge. Just being disconnected by that amount of distance, it definitely is not efficient.”
And while Tull is clearly thinking about living other places, he also seems to be relishing actually spending time in New York. While he’s officially ‘lived’ in New York for seven years, until his son was born, he was gone every few weeks. I asked him if seven years in one place was a record for him. He laughed: “A record is, I’ve just been here for 8 ½ weeks!”
And really, perhaps it doesn’t matter where he is. When I ask him if he has any advice for Australians contemplating the move to America he thinks the question over a bit before saying that in fashion in particular, “you can be local and global at the same time by having a good online presence. But if you’re not using that to your advantage … it’s never been more competitive.”
If there ever was a concept close to my heart, it’s the idea of building a company, especially a fashion label, with thought and at the label’s own pace. With Feit, Tull and his brother, are doing just that – even if it is on opposite sides of the world.
We've partnered with the lovely people at Broadsheet Sydney for this story, head here to read more about Feit and Tull's brother Josh.
Check out Tull's New York Local's Picks here.