Interview: Tom Cridland Sustainable British Brand

Get used to the name Tom Cridland. The young entrepreneur’s online menswear brand is built on a simple promise: to make high standard classic pieces at a reasonable price. He’s so confident in the craftsmanship of his sustainable luxury label, that his classic jackets, sweatshirts and even his plain T-shirts come with a 30-year guarantee. With “zero marketing budget”, the young businessman who is still only 28, has had more press coverage that you can shake a (sustainable) stick at: everyone from the BBC and the Guardian to Forbes and CBS News in the States (plus ABC, Bloomberg and The Huff Post) has covered his story which not only stands out as a case of business ingenuity but one with an ethical directive that is simple, accessible and most importantly, not sanctimonious. Tom isn’t trying to change the world but he is encouraging fashion consumers to think smart and dress smart at the same time. “There’s no need for fast fashion. We don’t have to add to landfill,” he says matter-of-factly. The old adage, ‘raise your words not your voice’, certainly applies to this astute entrepreneur who has just completed a tour of the US to promote his young label. Tom Cridland clothes are made in Italy and Portugal from cotton, wool and cashmere and colours run from muted off-white and camel to bright pink and orange. So far, Tom’s passion and tenacity (and that of his business partner & girlfriend, Debs, whom he met at Bristol University seven years ago) has paid off. The pair work around the clock and travel the world promoting their brand which has already found an A-list following: Stephen Fry, Daniel Craig, Ben Stiller, Nile Rodgers and Toby Huntington-Whiteley are just some of stars who have been spotted wearing his designs. We caught up with the ever-alert and fired-up TC one day back on home turf.

Tom cridland sustainable menswear
The famous 30 Year Sweatshirt, £65

Tom Cridland: Sustainable Menswear

Congratulations Tom! Your brand has really taken off. How many people are there working for your label these days?

Thanks very much! We work with lots of third parties who help with the production and logistics who send out all the stock and deal with the packaging, but in terms of ‘Tom Cridland’ members of staff, there’s me, my business partner and girlfriend of seven years Debs and we have Becca who is fantastic helping out as we are often away travelling. I have a sister PR business so I’m often in London, but for both businesses (plus a third in the pipeline) there’s just the three of us. We’re pretty busy but still really enjoying It and engaged.

So your PR company came first before you fashion business? Is that how you got so savvy about marketing?

It came second actually. In order to scale things, because we had investment offers that I didn’t want to take, [the PR business] was the way to do it. So rather than go for a shareholder option, which would have meant me relinquishing creative control, this was the thinking. I wanted to be entrepreneurial, that was the whole reason I started the company. I didn’t want a boss or anyone to answer to. So the sister business makes money which we invest in this [ fashion] business. We proved that we have a good skillset for PR, so it seemed like a natural progression. Today, we have about 20 clients. It’s a simpler business in that there is no stock or logistics and the only overheads are time and skill.

Your press coverage is really impressive. You’ve been on televised news in the US; on radio…

We have never spent a penny on marketing. We don’t actually have a marketing budget. No spend on ‘pay-per-clicks’ or Facebook or Twitter ads. We just do it all ourselves. Sometimes you can end up irritating journalists but so far they have been so supportive. I’ve just been really dogmatic about getting press and I’ve definitely ruffled a few feathers along the way too! But it’s a learning curve. Now that we have been so lucky with the press in the UK especially with the ‘30 Year Sweatshirt’, we’re focusing more on the US.

So what is your background? What made you want to start a fashion label at the age of 23?

I wanted to be an entrepreneur. At school I got okay grades but I didn’t really flourish because I don’t really respond well to structure. I started the brand really not knowing what I was doing. My only aim was to start a brand that would make the world’s best pair of trousers. Not the best idea, but not the worst either! I decided that I should focus on one idea and do it well. From there, the idea grew into something else. Becoming a sustainable fashion brand struck me as a great business idea and something that was needed. There are a limited number of fashion brands putting out their message on a regular basis. I saw it as a great way of standing out while pledging to make the best clothes we possibly could. I didn’t go to Central Saint Martins; I am not from a design background but I just want to make wardrobe staples that are the best they can be. What really supplements this idea is having a sustainable ethos.

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How did you come up with this 30 year guarantee? It’s quite a big promise!

People who wear wardrobe staples know that these things never go out of fashion. So I thought: why not come up with a guarantee? My pledge to customers is that we make the clothes as well as we possibly can. If we fail, you will be compensated! We don’t have to subscribe to fast fashion. We don’t have to add to landfill. The 30-year guarantee seemed like a well-rounded concept to me.

Have you had any cheeky returns?

Our returns are so low to be honest. On repairs it’s been about five so far. I think we will be as fair as possible because it’s just what we do. I mean when someone spilled some bolognaise on a white sweatshirt, we did manage to get it out for them, but really they should have tried themselves… We don’t cover stains but it was the right thing to do on that occasion. Wearing a white sweat while eating bolognaise is questionable in itself! We try not to draw the line really.

Who designs your lines?

It’s a collaboration with my production team in Portugal and Italy. All the details and the materials including the graphic designed logos are me, even though I don’t often give myself the design credit because I am not a ‘natural’ designer who can sew.

How do you convince younger consumers to invest their money in ‘choice’ fashion pieces as opposed to tat from Primark?

Well, I definitely went through my own stage of buying incredibly tasteless T-shirts from Topman! I think it’s a case of saying, ‘Do you want to look smart in clothes that are clearly well crafted?’ ‘Do you want to develop your own look, rather than shopping for a new look every weekend?’ A person looks better in well-made clothes and if you buy better, you actually save money. You don’t even have to make younger people feel bad about contributing to landfills. Buying quality means spending less in the end and having more fun.

So what makes your clothes sustainable? It is our promise of craftsmanship that makes us a sustainable brand. Our clothing is made of high quality cotton, wool and cashmere. Our production team in Portugal have been making clothing since 1964 and in Italy, the standard is very high. They make clothes for brands you might find on Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue. We are looking to switch to organic cotton, and we would like to move towards that this year. I’m not going to pretend for second that you can’t buy clothing like this from another house, but it would cost you far more to reach our quality. Because we sell online we are able to cut out those mark-ups.

What is luxury for you?

Luxury should be design led. Like what Alessandro Michele is doing at the moment at Gucci. His designs are amazing, boundary pushing and fun. I think fair enough that Gucci charge those prices as you have something so unique there that you can’t find anywhere else. Buying a plain white T-shirt because Kanye West says it’s cool is, well just plain stupid.

How did you catch the attention of all those celebrities, like Leo DiCaprio and Daniel Craig, who’s a fan of your classic navy chinos?

Mainly just through their publicists to be honest. We’ve just been incredibly lucky really to find people who like what we do. I mean, we did draw up a wishlist and target the people whose art we really admire. I personally don’t consider reality TV to be a talent of any kind. I’d rather burn my stock than give it to them!

Tom Cridland sustainable menswear
Sherbet lemon trousers inspired by Californian sunshine, £89

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