Despite its Mancunian origins, Henri-Lloyd took a detour via Italy before truly making its mark in its home city. The men’s lifestyle brand’s sailing jacket appealed in the 1980s to the “Paninari” - the Milanese rich kids - who took what was essentially a functional garment to the streets of Italy.
“We went from selling 1,000 pieces a year to 50,000 within three years,” says Manchester-born joint chief executive Martin Strzelecki. The jackets were still being made in Manchester at the time.
The Manchester heritage had a noticeable impact on the Italian customers. “Ah, Manchester, what an interesting city,” Strzelecki mimics in a fake Italian accent. “Outside of London, Manchester is cool.”
Despite extending the product categories to include woollen fleeces and Egyptian cotton shirts - to name a few - a limited distribution structure in the UK meant Henri-Lloyd struggled to move beyond sportswear and into fashion stores. “We went to the trade shows and tried to do it the right way, but only one indie in Exeter could see there was more to a man’s wardrobe than a Hugo Boss suit,” says Strzelecki.
It was a chance meeting with Nigel Lawson, co-owner of Manchester menswear indie Oi Polloi, that set things in motion. “Nigel saw that what we were offering wasn’t available anywhere else in the market and decided to give it a whirl in his Affleck’s Palace store.”
Soon after came the birth of retailers like USC and Scotts, “who saw that men wanted branded clothing that wasn’t just a suit,” explains Strzelecki.
But by the early 2000s, Henri-Lloyd’s strategy changed again to focus on its heritage while still nodding to the season’s trends. “If fashion says a narrow leg is in, we do it, but not too narrow,” Strzelecki says.
“But our strategic alliances are with racing and sports. Our technical heritage is unsurpassable - we’re world leaders. We were the first company to use Velcro.” He is optimistic about Manchester’s fashion future. “Creativity and innovation continue in different forms, led by football and music.”Red or blue? Red.
Martin Strzelecki is joint chief executive of lifestyle brand Henri-Lloyd