Bronwen Foster-Butler: Going Wild In The Country
“I was excited by the challenge of bringing to life something that no one had ever seen before.” Bronwen Foster-Butler, chief marketing officer for cult boot brand VOYLOK, chats about her life and tells us why the natural footwear is perfect for the great outdoors
Based in south London where she currently lives with her young family, Canadian Bronwen Foster-Butler was a model who then worked in the fashion industry for a number of years. Casting around for something new, she was delighted to land the role of marketing director for a burgeoning footwear brand which chimes perfectly with Bronwen’s passions in life. As a lover of the wilderness and getting into nature, eco-friendly company VOYLOK and their country-loving boots provided the perfect match. We talk to Bronwen about how she combines family life with her inventive and creative career – and find out about her possible move to her own ‘wilderness’ spot in the country
Glorious: Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Sure! I’m Canadian but have lived in the UK for 19 years. I’m incredibly passionate about movement and health and how the two go together, as well as how we can take better care of the natural world.
Glorious: Where do you live? Did you go to university – and where? And how long have you worked in fashion?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I live with my husband and our two children in Streatham Hill in south London – we’ve lived in and around this area for the past decade and love the access to the commons that surround us. I went to university at Royal Holloway in Surrey – I think I’m the only Canadian to this day that did a degree in European Studies, but I’ve always been a bit of a Europhile so I loved it! I’ve worked in fashion for almost 15 years but I was a model in my teens, so I suppose I’ve been involved in it for even longer, in a way. I love the mix of creativity, self-expression, craft and commerce.
Glorious: Do you have an interest in women’s sport?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I’m hugely interested in women and sport. I’m a passionate and vocal feminist and find the system we operate in mostly hostile towards women accessing sport and movement. It’s either sexualised – like figure skating, surfing, gymnastics, even athletics in a way – or marginalised. Although I’m thrilled that women’s professional sport is starting to get coverage on mainstream channels – about time!
Glorious: Did you grow up sporty?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Yes but never in the traditional sense. I don’t think I ever made a sports team at school. I was really small and just not that ‘sporty girl’ that coaches wanted. But I grew up going to summer camp where we would canoe, swim, sail, hike – and then in the winter I spent all my time on the ski hill. When I turned 16 I became a snowboard instructor and actually ended up coaching in Whistler (a big ski resort in Western Canada) for a number of seasons.
Glorious: You’re the chief marketing officer of VOYLOK. How did this opportunity come about?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I was extremely burnt out from my previous role so I started asking around in my network to see what opportunities there were. I had a conversation with the two other co-founders at VOYLOK and saw an opportunity to get involved with something quite radical, right at the beginning. Getting to be part of growing the brand from day one – something I’ve always felt like I could do, but hadn’t actually had the chance. Plus the product is quite disruptive – very similar to Ugg and Crocs when they first entered the market – so I was excited by the challenge of bringing to life something that no one had ever seen before, in a way that would make it desirable.
Glorious: VOYLOK is described as the most sustainable boot on the planet. Can you tell us a little more about the company and the design of the boot itself?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: The boot itself is based on a traditional Slavic design called a valenki – it’s a felt boot that is zero waste, zero chemical, made from raw regenerative wool and hand crafted by fairly-paid craftspeople. It’s a two-in-one boot, so – worn with the rubber overshoe and it’s a version of a welly, worn without and it’s a cosy indoor slipper. That modularity is also what makes it so sustainable as when it eventually reaches the end of its days (although it’s very robust, so we are talking a long time away!), the felt boot can literally just biodegrade in your garden leaving nothing behind, and the rubber overshoe can be recycled. End of life solutions are notoriously difficult in footwear – shoes and boots are normally a mix of different materials and chemicals, glued and stitched together, which makes them almost impossible to recycle. So I’m really proud of the fact that our sustainability claims go “from cradle to grave”.
Glorious: What is VOYLOK’S mission?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Our mission is to rewild the planet and its people. We believe the world will be a better place if more people spend more time in nature, so we want to help make this happen!
Glorious: Can you tell us about your company events and how successful were they? How important is it to partner with like-minded brands and communities?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Yes we’ve had two events recently, and we had a great time with both events. The Planted event came about after speaking to founders Sam and Deb – they loved the strong design aesthetics of VOYLOK and especially our sustainability credentials so they invited us to get involved. Our product is so tactile that it was great to see people interacting with them – touching the wool, taking the overshoes on and off themselves: it really reinforces that IRL experiences are much stronger than online shopping ones. It was an honour to get to showcase our boots at Planted – the team there have created something really special with the brands they work with.
The WWW + Rewilding event came to be through something called “The Law of Attraction”. We posted a giveaway on our Instagram page and an old contact of mine from Lululemon tagged Michelle at The Rewilding. Given our whole mission is around rewilding I was immediately intrigued and excited, so I reached out to her to chat. We were discussing ways of working together and she mentioned Wonderful Wild Women – a group I’d also been following for some time. I was actually speaking to Sarah (the founder of WWW) the next day, so it all felt like fate! Sarah and I had a quick chat, I asked if her community would want to come to an event at The Rewilding space and – voila! It all came together incredibly easily in less than three weeks.
These events and partnerships are crucial for building our brand – and for being one that actually contributes positively to the world. I don’t think there are many meaningful brands that have been built through Facebook ads. I know what makes me excited about a new brand is when it involves real human connection, where I get the chance to get to know them. So that’s what we are trying to do with VOYLOK. Grow quickly, one relationship at a time.
Glorious: You’re based in London. How important is being outdoors to you?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Based in London with dreams of moving to Dartmoor. Covid has finally shown me that it’s possible to have a career in fashion and not be living in London, so our hope is to move to Devon as soon as we are able to. Being outdoors is critical for my wellbeing – both physical and mental – and although I’m very lucky to have a tiny garden and access to the commons, I know I’ll be happier when I have more wilderness on my doorstep.
Glorious: Do you enjoy any sports? Are there any sports you want to try?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I love sports – again mostly the fringe ones but am also a big fan of tennis. I love mountain biking, snowboarding, wild swimming (in Canada it’s just called swimming!) and hiking. I’d love to try surfing, I just have to get over my fear of the ocean and all the creatures that could eat me.
Glorious: Prior to VOYLOK you worked at material science brand PANGAIA and have led brand and digital marketing in EMEA at Lululemon and Burberry. How did you get into fashion marketing and what advice would you give to someone looking to get into it?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I was lucky as I was able to make the jump from an advertising agency to Burberry because the hiring manager was ex-agency herself and knew that we worked incredibly hard. It used to be that everyone in fashion started as an intern (usually through knowing someone) and then worked their way up. This has come under fire recently (thank goodness!) as it created an incredibly non-diverse industry. So I’m thrilled to see that there are mentorship programs specifically targeting people from different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as racial and gender identities too. Social media has also democratised the industry as you could be working at an IT brand, but if you have a side hustle as a fashion blogger or an amazing TikTok account, then most hiring managers will see that you have the transferable skills needed. I tend to get more excited by people with really diverse CVs and passions as I think this creates a richer environment for more creative ideas.
Glorious: What are the favourite aspects of your job?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Being creative, strategic and getting to meet new people all the time. And especially with VOYLOK, I love that these meetings almost always happen outside in nature.
Glorious: What is the most rewarding/ exciting/ stressful (whichever!) campaign you’ve worked on?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I was really excited to work on a bra guide when I was at Lululemon – us women are pretty terrible when it comes to actually knowing what bra size we are, which leads to most of us wearing the wrong size. I hated the idea that there are women who couldn’t move freely because they couldn’t find the bra with the right support. So we show a series of guides from size AA to J, celebrating all these different bodies and women moving in beautiful, strong ways and then equipped the viewer to help find the best bra for them. That was pretty special.
Glorious: Aside from being a marketing genius, you’re also a mother of two. Life must be busy. What’s a typical day in the life of Bronwen?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Ha! I would describe myself as a marketing student but thanks for the compliment! I typically wake up with my 5-year-old crawling into bed with me asking for breakfast. We all go downstairs and I’ll get the kids fed, make a cup of tea and then try to slip out into the garden for some fresh air and a moment of peace. Then it’s getting the kids to school, exercise of some form, usually a walk, or BMF (British Military Fitness), or Pilates at Heartcore, or an online sweaty dance with The Class. I mostly just love variety. Then it’s charging into the working day. We are fully remote so I’m working from home, chatting to partners, the other two co-founders, DMing with influencers, posting out boots; each and every day is different and I love it.
Glorious: Do you have any tips on juggling your work/ life balance?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: I just always remind myself that I have a choice – and it’s my responsibility to make sure I can show up as the best version of myself every day. Some days that means I have to do eight hours of calls to get stuff done, other times that means I have to prioritise exercise so that I can show up fully. Most of all, I just try not to take myself too seriously – I’m not saving lives, I’m selling boots, so when it all feels too much I just turn off my computer and then go head outside.
Glorious: If you could have dinner with four inspirational women, who would you invite and why?
Bronwen Foster-Butler: Such a great question. Jane Austen because her writing has always been amongst my favourites and she was such a champion of strong female characters. Amanda Gorman, to just hear her talk and her way with words. My old friend Sarah Burke – she was responsible for getting women’s freestyle skiing included in the winter X Games and in the Olympics before dying in a tragic training accident. And my grandma – just to have any excuse to spend more time with her.
Glorious: Where can we find more info about VOYLOK?
Bronwen Foster Butler: By giving us a follow on Instagram (@voyloks) or on our website www.voylok.com. Be sure to sign up to our monthly email “The Rewilding Journal” for tips and insight into how to live a rewilded life.