The definition of Patria is “for one’s country”. It is a fitting choice for a new online luxury fashion firm which donates ten per cent of its profits to Armed Forces charities, uses 100 per cent British manufacturing and whose crowdsourcing model champions sustainability.
The business was launched, fittingly enough, on Armistice day last year. Founder Richard Thackray is a veteran of both the armed forces, having served in the Royal Navy between 1984 and 1989, and the business world including Boston Consulting Group and Elwin Partners.
Business Advice spoke to Thackray about the tragic inspiration for the business, the state of UK manufacturing and a First World War fighting dog.
Who are you and what’s your business?
I am Richard Thackray and the founder and CEO of an online fashion business called Patria. I am a bit old to be an entrepreneur, as I am in my 50s now and have also had no experience of the fashion world. We make made-to-order luxury goods such as sweatshirts, scarves and shoes. We use a crowdsourcing model, so we only manufacture and deliver the goods to customers if the demand is there. It’s a great way of saving unnecessary waste and resources.
How did you get the idea?
In January 2016 I was having dinner at an event aboard HMS Defender. It was sponsored by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and it was a lovely evening. At the end of the dinner, Robert Robson, the founding CEO of the charity got up to speak. He began talking about signing the casualty cheques of five Royal Marines who had been killed in Afghanistan. It was a very sobering moment and I just felt how awful it must have been for the families involved.
I came away from that dinner determined to do something to help by finding a different income stream for the charity. At the time I was trying to find a really good, premium pair of British made jeans, but I wasn’t having any luck. I thought fashion would be a fun sector to be in especially if I could help revive the great cotton making traditions of the past. Patria would be luxury, made of the best materials in the UK, staffed with veterans and giving a percentage of profits to the armed charities.
My thinking was that five years ago everybody wore a suit to the office, but now it is much more business casual. These were clothes which could be worn from accountants to plumbers.
On my own stick I went around the UK trying to find quality suppliers and manufacturers category by category. It was a journey through the decline of British manufacturing but also potentially its resurgence.
There are very few quality manufacturers left in the UK and not that many willing to make white label products. But, we use knitters and shoe makers with centuries of experience as well as English Fine Cottons in Manchester, which in 2016 opened the first new cotton mill in the UK in over 60 years.
We then built the website and found a payments partner who could work with our crowdsourcing model and we launched in November last year.
We’ve been supported by private investors who have put in around £300,000.
How does crowdsourcing fashion work?
You go on our site and want to buy our £210 Cashmere V-Neck sweater. You’ll see the price and an update on the fund – so it could be 58 per cent funded with 20 days remaining. You commit and put in payment details which will only be charged if we get the necessary demand we need to make the garment and ship it.
We have a manufacturing target in mind such as 24 pairs of a particular shoe and when we hit it we go and make it. The time it takes to produce and deliver the product varies – it could be 30 days for a sweatshirt, a week for a scarf and 12 weeks for shoes. We are certainly thinking about how to bring that last number down and shorten the supply chain.
Our shoes and clothes have a Patria, Made in Great Britain label and our logo which is an Airedale Terrier called Jack. He was trained at the British War Dog school during the First World War and served in the trenches delivering messages.
About a quarter of our customers are from outside the UK, such as Hong Kong, the US and China. We’re also selling about a quarter to women either buying for their husbands or sons or a men’s sweatshirt for themselves.
A lot of people are used to fast-fashion nowadays so won’t go for the crowdsourcing model. But we find that men are more willing to wait to get the quality they want.
What have been the challenges?
As we were partly raising money for a charity we had to go through quite an intense process getting a Charity Participation Agreement in place. That involved drafting a business plan for the approval of the Royal Navy & Royal Marines charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity who we wanted to help through the company.
Finding a payments partner who could do crowdsourcing was also a challenge until we found a US startup called Try Celery who had the exact solution we needed and could hold payments for up to 30 days.
How important is sustainability to Patria?
Very important. It is something we don’t emphasise as much as we should. The luxury goods market is pretty wasteful. The manufacturing process sees products travel around the world with threading done in one country and then finished in another.
Retail is also an issue as most hold too much stock which means you walk into a store and see 13 pairs of the same shoes which may end up being discounted. At Patria we make what is requested of us by customers. We don’t hold sales and we don’t hold stock. It is super-efficient and sustainable.
What are your future plans?
We’ve only been trading for a few months but it’s going well. We’re north of five figures for revenues per month. We’d like to be bigger and want to develop a womenswear and kidswear range.
We’ve also taken some lessons such as realising that our product range may be too expensive for a startup. Our shoes are priced up to £300 and they are high quality and great value, but it is a very high entry point. We want to make products which are a bit more accessible but not letting go of the quality. So, we are bringing in new ranges such as t-shirts, polo shirts and cotton rugby tops.
But we will remain 100 per cent British made. It is in our name and it would be wholly inappropriate to have our clothes made in China. People want British quality and will pay for it.
People also warm to our armed forces and charity links. The other day I was choking up when a lady said she “just had to buy” from us as her son had died at Sandhurst military academy.
What one tip would you give other firms starting out?
Don’t expect to be a Zuckerberg because that will only happen to 0.01 per cent of people. It’s going to be a marathon with failures but also upside. You have to be resilient and have a willingness to accept more pain than other people.
As CEO and co-founder of Crowdcube, Darren Westlake has seen the increasing popularity of crowdfunding as a financing method for startups mired by a lack of clarity around how the process works in practice.
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