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Tom Cridland

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How to Launch Your Own Menswear Brand With $9,000, a Dream, and No Gimmicks

Tom Cridland's pants, sweatshirts, and now jackets promise to last for 30 years

Plenty of menswear designers, and men’s magazines alike, love to talk about their ‘man.’ A sort of idealized customer, reader, and alter ego, the man in question probably prefers BMWs, enjoys artisanal cocktails, and is between 28 and 35 with an unreasonable amount of disposable income for his age. He is "unshaven, gets up at 9:15, he uses this razor blade, he drinks macchiatos, and he hates the Tube," says Tom Cridland, a fresh-faced 25-year-old British entrepreneur who launched an eponymous menswear brand in 2014, with an audible sneer. "It’s just like, you don’t know that, shut up."

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Cridland doesn’t have an ideal man, whether realistic or not, a fact the founder freely acknowledges. "It’s just me, me telling you a load of bullshit," he says over breakfast one morning at the stuffy St. Regis Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Cridland wore a Tom Cridland "30-Year Jacket" in "Chilli Red," a name and color that brings to mind something Guy Fieri might have worn to his senior prom. Rather than artisanal snobbery or urban glamour, Cridland’s brand is all about inclusive luxury, he says. "I don’t want to make it pretentious or open to any one single person. I’m happy to take money from anyone."

The Tom Cridland store. Image: Tom Cridland

Tom Cridland sits at the intersection of two trends. The first is brand transparency, a value embraced by small, often direct-to-consumer companies that build consumer trust by making their supply chains, mark-ups, and product development processes public (Everlane is perhaps the largest example). The second is marketing sustainability rather than outright stylistic relevance. Cridland might not quite make you look cutting-edge, but like menswear compatriots Best Made, American Giant, and Ministry of Supply, he’s confident that his "30 Year" series of shirts, sweatshirts, and the new jackets will endure for just that long.

"We’re encouraging people in the industry to protect our resources by not making clothing that wears out quickly," Cridland says. Ministry of Supply founder Aman Advani, whose company blends athleisure materials into office clothing for long-term wear, has also noticed a self-conscious movement toward quality. "Customers have shifted to being value seekers over price seekers," he says. "They've become fairly open to a wide price range in exchange for a quality that matches or exceeds the price paid."

Tom Cridland modelling his own 30 Year Jacket. Image: Tom Cridland

Raised first in London and then rural Cambridgeshire by parents with an entrepreneurial bent (his mother runs an accountancy, his father manufactured clay pigeons and then bought Lumie, a company that makes natural-light alarm clocks), Cridland started a bootleg CD business at the age of 10. He went on to study modern languages at Bristol University. Classes were less important than meeting Debs Marx, his girlfriend, when they were both 18 (Marx is currently the company’s only other full-time employee). In 2009, Cridland also produced and sold 300 t-shirts emblazoned ‘SWINE 09’, satirizing the porcine flu outbreak. The venture was highly profitable, but then, "we thought profiteering off swine flu was quite poor form, so we donated the money to charity," he says.

Cridland started seriously mulling his own start-up in 2013 when he noticed a gap in the market for men’s pants. Inspired by companies like the Brooklyn sneaker maker Greats and Harry’s razors, he decided to go direct-to-consumer. "I was looking at all these brands in America," he says. In the U.K., "the entrepreneurial scene is really lame. Everyone’s quite close-minded." Cridland is as straightforward and unpretentious as his brand. For breakfast, he orders two plates of plain bacon strips, which he dips in ketchup and consumes in rapid succession. ("That was a bit of an overkill on the bacon," he later groans.)

A $9,000 start-up loan from the U.K. government in January 2014 provided enough capital for Cridland to travel to Portugal to inspect manufacturers, a location he chose because he’s half Portuguese. The rest of the money went to designing samples, creating a logo through the on-demand platform 99 Designs, and paying for web services like Shopify. "I had to raise the money for my first stock order with preorders," he says.

A rack of 30 Year Jackets at the Tom Cridland store. Image: Tom Cridland

These came from crowd-funding projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which have netted the brand over $100,000 and doubled as marketing initiatives. "We didn’t need to give away equity and we attracted a customer base," Cridland says. It also helped that Cridland got his initial run of pants on celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller, and Elton John’s drummer Nigel Olsson, who became a friend of Cridland’s and has a shade of navy trousers named after him. Daniel Craig was also seen wearing a pair of the unobtrusive $135 pants. The founder didn’t have special relationships with stylists or agents, he says. "I just got in touch with their teams." Some of the celebrities even offered to pay.

The 30-Year Shirt and Sweater came along in early 2015, when Cridland started noticing the problems with cheaply produced, ephemeral clothing, as epitomized by brands like the Irish Primark, which sold £2.5 billion worth of clothes worldwide in the six months before February 2015 at an average price of £3.87. "Fast fashion is a bit silly, a bit stupid," Cridland says. "A white t-shirt is a white t-shirt. If you buy one that lasts longer… it’ll end up being cheaper for you." The 30-Year Jacket uses heavyweight cotton and all the seams are reinforced. The result is not particularly delicate — it looks like it could withstand a tank onslaught.

Cridland’s brand has released few revenue numbers, but 6-7,000 30-Year Sweaters have sold for $94, the founder says. A full 40% of sales go to the United States, despite a $25 shipping fee. His buyers have no particular demographic or age bracket, but 80% of purchases are in gray and navy.

It’s tempting to put this popularity up to a larger menswear movement. "There's been a dramatic shift in men's intentionality, from the craft beer and coffee they drink to the shirts they put on their backs," Advani says.

The 30 Year Pants. Image: Tom Cridland

But styles always change, and the hipster heritage wave looks to be crashing. "The 30-Year Jacket is trying to tap into the same anomaly that's built brands like Borderstate Made leather belts, Herschel Supply Co. Bags, and Red Wing boots," says David Coomer, founder of Cornett, a branding agency in Kentucky. Rather than trumpeting a lifespan of 30 years or 1000 miles, as Wolverine brands its boots, "simply be a product that endures," he suggests.

In the meantime, Cridland is moving more of his manufacturing to Italy and working on a suit line. He still hasn’t spent a dollar on advertising; his products speak for and sell themselves. The brand isn’t looking to impress magazine editors, after all, or cater to a fictional man, just provide quality at a decent price and maybe help the world a little in the process. It’s a philosophy Cridland adheres to in his personal habits. "I’m not averse to shopping in charity shops because you’re helping to recycle and you get a better value," he says. "I bought a Gucci trench coat for £20."


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