Since being founded by a university leaver with no fashion experience two years ago, Tom Cridland has seen revenue grow to over 100 times the startup loan that started the business off – growth which has been achieved with just two people. Business Advice spoke to the brand’s eponymous founder to find out how he managed it.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Tom Cridland, and my menswear brand was founded with the aim of doing one thing – making trousers – really well. It has become increasingly focused on sustainability as I’ve grown it, leading me to launch a long-lasting “30 Year Collection” of sweatshirts and t-shirts as a statement against fast fashion.
(2) How long have you been around for?
My girlfriend Debs and I founded the company two years’ ago, when I was 23 – with a government startup loan of £6,000
(3) How do you make money?
We sell directly to consumers through our website, with 30 to 40 per cent of our customers in the US.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
There are only two of us, and we do everything ourselves, including our marketing and PR.
Tom Cridland is very much a brand with a mission, too. We’ll soon be launching an entrepreneur’s shirt, which will not only be sustainable fashion but will see five per cent of profits go to Young Enterprise and a further five per cent to entrepreneurs in the developing world. It will be part of a campaign to encourage entrepreneurial education into the school curriculum.
(5) What was important in terms of starting out?
We were pretty plucky. We drew up a list of people who we respected and contacted their agents and stylists to see if they wanted to wear our trousers, and it proved a successful strategy. The first big name we reached was Nigel Olsson, Elton John’s drummer. After I got in touch with him, he emailed the next day offering to try some trousers out, and he’s since done a huge amount to help promote the brand.
(6) What’s been your biggest achievement?
Most of the big names who wear Tom Cridland trousers are people we’ve reached out to, but Michael Portillo surprised us by just ordering through the website.
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
We were laughed out of the building by the first supplier we approached. I launched Tom Cridland straight out of university, with no background in business or fashion, so we’ve had to work really hard to get anywhere.
It’s not a setback, as I love being involved in every aspect of the business, but it is hard to take any time off – I try not to think about how many hours I work. Even if we go away for two days we’ll still be working while we’re there.
On the other hand, it’s great to be able to work near our suppliers in Lisbon – we spend a lot of time there in the summer. We’re very grateful that we can make a living and travel.
(8) In five years’ time, I will be…
I’m enjoying bootstrapping at the moment, but there’s only so long you can carry on growing without investment. At some point I think we’ll need investment to grow the team, and improve our logistics for shipping to the US.
(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Don’t take any notice of people who say you ought to do something else when you leave university if you want to start your own business. If you try and do a high-pressure graduate job and start a business on the side, you’re going to burn out – there are only so many hours in the day. I wouldn’t have been able to grow this company if I’d been doing another job at the same time.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
My business mentor throughout has been my dad – I probably speak to him every day. Because he runs a business himself he’s been able to give me practical advice on boring cash flow stuff and what the sensible thing to do in a situation is – but I also know he has my best interests at heart.
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