Colour Conversation with Caroline Townsend, founder, Mandarina Shoes

In our latest Colour Conversation we talk colour, travel and celebrity clients with the founder of the Scottish-based footwear brand Mandarina Shoes, Caroline Townsend, whose beautifully colourful shoes feature in our Winter shoot.

It's been great seeing how your shoes work with our new collection and bringing the styles and colours to life. Tell us a little about your brand and how you came to launch Mandarina Shoes. Was it always your ambition to produce your own footwear collection? 

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It was rather a lightbulb moment, to be honest. I was living in Vietnam at the time and saw some beautiful brocade shoes for sale. I thought, what a great idea – why not make a range of shoes for Western tastes made of wonderful fabrics? The choices are infinite. You are not restricted to black, brown and navy leathers. Sixteen years on, I still work with the same brilliant little factory out in Saigon for our signature limited editions, although I also manufacture in Spain and Portugal. The name Mandarina hopefully hints at an exotic mix of the Oriental and Spanish!

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Have you always had a passion for shoes?

Yes, I always did wear quite funky shoes. I remember buying some electric-blue waterproof ankle boots with Doc Martin soles in Amsterdam as a student, which my mother thought were most extraordinary. Well, look at current trends – the chunky boot is everywhere (I’ve still got those boots, by the way – they’re indestructible!).

You describe yourself on your website as a ‘one-stop shop for stylish happy feet’, and sell all sorts of styles, from ballet pumps and Chelsea boots to court shoes and slingbacks. Do you have any personal favourites and what are your bestsellers?

My current favourites are the Charlie penny loafers with flatform soles – they look so cool with both trousers and skirts. I also love our diamanté buckle satin flats and velvet opera courts for evening. I’m a big fan of the groovy mule too – they are so easy to pop on and glam up a pair of jeans at the end of the day. 

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As we have a range of limited editions, all our shoes are bestsellers! People love something niche and special. Our bestsellers are probably ankle boots and flats. Our Harris Tweed pixie boots are also something of a signature style. We have had an amazing reaction to our new sneaker range too and lockdown was very busy for us. Amusingly, among our bestsellers over the years have been our ballet flats with the dachshund motif which I designed in honour of the Mandarina pooches, Pocket and Bean. You cannot underestimate the British mania for dogs! We’ve been asked for Pugs, Whippets, Labradors, Scotties – the lot. 

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Each collection is crafted using fabrics and textiles collected from your globetrotting travels with your husband. Tell us more!

Mandarina has evolved from my combined love of travel and textiles. A peripatetic army upbringing, followed by 20 years living in South East Asia writing and editing for home interiors magazines, gave me the opportunity to indulge both passions. It is a great synergy. I can collect the one while doing the other, especially as I am married to The Hotel Guru. www.thehotelguru.com I have designed many diverse collections over the years with everything from Indian block prints to Oriental brocade and my native Harris Tweed.

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We hear you’re a firm favourite among Royals and red carpet A-listers. Any names you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?

I have to be discreet about this, I’m afraid, but I can give you some clues when I say a former British PM with a penchant for shoes, a Bond girl now known for her rather more pithy female film roles, a BBC news reader, and a sports presenter aka National Treasure! And yes, many pairs have attended recent Royal weddings, but sadly the supplier was not invited!

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Do you design with a specific customer in mind?

Absolutely, and this is key. We have a massively loyal customer base. Once people have discovered us they always come back. Our shoes are collector’s items.

Our international clientele is extremely niche. Our shoes and boots particularly appeal to professional women in their thirties, forties and fifties who like to be on trend but individual rather than ‘High Street’. Our shoes are unique, limited edition and well-priced – that is the draw. Through Social Media we are gaining both a younger (and older) audience now, which is great. 

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What should people look for when buying shoes online?

Never be afraid to ring or email to discuss fit and sizing prior to purchase. As with clothes, all shoe brands fit slightly differently. Sizes are being massaged to be more flattering these days – some brands call Euro 42 a size UK8, whereas strictly speaking it is a size 9. People who say to us “I never take size X” are not quite right – buy what fits and is going to be comfortable. The size is just a reference number really. Our staff are all trained to understand our sizing so we can help our customers if they ring. Our customer service is what we pride ourselves on, apart from the different range of shoes!

Mandarina Shoes on the Kettlewell AW20 photoshoot

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We love how you incorporate colour into your collection - Pine and Bordeaux being two examples. How important is colour to your brand?

Like Kettlewell, colour is the USP of Mandarina. It is the fundamental ethos of every collection I work on. However, I do respect the fact that not everyone likes, or can carry off, ‘brights’, so I always include classic black, brown and navy essentials in the range. That is why we believe that our shoes and your clothes go well together. We have really enjoyed collaborating with you!

Have you ever had your colours done?

Yes, I have had my colours done (with my two daughters). It was a fascinating experience. The HUGE surprise was to find out that all three of us should be wearing soft Autumn shades, even though we are all quite different – blonde, brunette and auburn with green and blue eyes. It was a shock to me as I am naturally drawn to vivid blues and pinks. The ‘diagnosis’ explains the answer to your final question….

Last great colourful buy?

An orange jumper from Whistles.


Visit the Mandarina Shoes website here

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