The story of fashion startup Tom Cridland is an impressive one. Established with the help of a $9,000 UK government loan just two years ago, the ethical apparel business has quickly become a $1m turnover organisation with a star-studded roster of famous clients, including Daniel Craig, Leonardo DiCaprio and Miley Cyrus.
At the age of just 25, Cridland - who operates the company with his girlfriend, Debs Marx - is clearly enjoying running a business that has so quickly gained worldwide recognition, not least because of the launch of its 30-Year T-Shirt last year. ‘With appropriately sourced raw materials and quality production techniques, your t-shirt should last for 30 years – and we can guarantee it,’ is very much the brand’s statement of intent – a position that has clearly resonated with customers. This year, a new base in the US and an expansion of the full-time team for the first time are testament to this early success.
The recent referendum vote to leave the European Union has caused a wave of uncertainty across Britain, with companies large and small unsure of the implications. But not even the UK’s most contentious and divisive political landscape in recent years is getting Cridland down.
“Brexit will have an adverse effect on e-commerce brands like ours – those that export clothing or have European manufacturing teams,” he said in a recent interview. “We wanted to remain in the EU, but we want to stay positive.”
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A slump in the British pound and an expected increase in tariffs and duty will force the likes of Tom Cridland to revise its forecasts and business planning. But the company has no plans to shift its manufacturing bases out of Portugal and Italy in response.
“I’m half Portuguese, Debs is half Italian,” he said. “We want to reflect our nationalities in how we run the brand, and the fact everything is made in Europe is a huge part of that.”
If anything, Brexit will force Cridland to think more globally; he says he’s not adverse to the idea of setting up a clothing manufacturing base in Bangladesh or China, “to create an ethical production line, where people are paid well.”
Cridland admits that if he was starting his business today, he’d be tempted to keep all of his operations in Britain, “to save on the bureaucracy that is likely to be involved now.” But that’s only because of his firm belief in getting things done quickly. “I’m competitive and want to get things moving quickly,” he says. “In fact, I started this brand too early, without really considering everything carefully. After two years, our website is only just being redone by a professional this year. The ideal would have been to go out and get some press coverage after the website was done.
“But that’s not the order things happened and it’s not the way I work.”
So, rather than be sucked into the doom and gloom currently engulfing the UK business community, Cridland is keen to focus on the positives as he continues his drive to make Tom Cridland the leading sustainable fashion brand. Rather than retract in xenophobia, he says he plans to continue “as if nothing has happened.”
In keeping with this, a new campaign has been launched to not only support a new range of products, but also get across another important message about something he says is “even more important to me than sustainable fashion.”
Keen to encourage governments to place a greater emphasis on business training in the education system, The Entrepreneur’s Shirt is a joint project between Tom Cridland and the charities DEKI and Young Enterprise. While the 30-Year T-Shirt made a statement about fast fashion, this new initiative, coming in September, aims to shine a light on the absence of entrepreneurial training in the education system. So, when you buy an Oxford shirt from Tom Cridland (also a sustainable luxury shirt with a 30-year guarantee), 5 percent of the proceeds are donated to DEKI (to support entrepreneurs in the developing world) and 5 percent to Young Enterprise (helping startups in the UK).
“In the wake of Brexit and its possible implications for the financial services industry in the UK, it’s more crucial than ever that aspiring entrepreneurs and people wanting to start businesses, particularly those who are young, are given a greater level of support and mentorship, as they will be the lifeblood needed to ensure our economy’s health,” Cridland says.
“At school, we learn about Britain’s kings and queens and all the traditional subjects. Some of us even learn Latin. But I’d rather have learned how to do a VAT return at the age of 11, to be honest.”