When Ellis Franks bought Aertex from Coats Viyella seven years ago, he began trawling its archives in a bid to revive the British heritage menswear brand, believing Coats Viyella “hadn’t done anything with it”.
So when revered Manchester menswear indie Oi Polloi began stocking the brand in 2006, Ellis knew his work was done.“By complete chance, a woman in France sent us an original Aertex shirt and it became the first shirt we redesigned,” says Franks, who has modernised the 122-year-old brand and capitalised on the recent heritage trend.
Aertex was the brainchild of Lancashire mill owner Lewis Haslam, who in the late 19th century began trialling his theory of aeration - trapping air within the warp and weft of fabric. The result was a cellular cotton fabric that protected the warmth of the skin from chilly temperatures, and it was used in British Army uniforms.
Franks has made the most of Aertex’s Manchester roots and its thriving music scene to appeal to a younger consumer. Pop band JLS have been seen sporting the brand.
A repositioning to a younger customer was also a necessity, as some of Aertex’s traditional stockists - menswear indies - fell victim to the burgeoning high street. “In its heyday, Aertex was stocked by every men’s shop in the country,” says Franks. “But they no longer exist so we had to rethink our strategy and slowly build up a network with key indies, such Sarah Coggles [in York] and Xile [in Edinburgh].”
Aertex has strengthened these relationships by producing exclusive collections for indies including Jump the Gun in Brighton and Sa-kis in Sheffield.
But Franks doesn’t want to let go of Aertex’s sportswear heritage, referring to the 1970 World Cup, when Umbro made Aertex shirts for the England squad.
“We were in long negotiations with Umbro for this year’s World Cup shirts but they fizzled out. We’ll keep pursuing other opportunities though,” he says. “The football thing is mega here and other UK cities are noticing Manchester more and more. We have 75,000 people going to see Manchester United play every week. These guys go shopping.” Red or blue? Blue.
Ellis Frank is the owner of heritage menswear brand Aertex