Indie-loyal menswear label Luke has grown from a bedroom business into a booming brand in just six years.
Luke Roper and Simon Poole, the co-founders of menswear brand Luke, grew up surrounded by fashion. Poole’s mother was a costume designer, while Roper’s made wedding dresses. They were family friends and when Roper was just 12 he kicked off his lifelong passion for design and started making shirts.
Meanwhile, Poole opted to pursue a career in fashion sales, rising to lead French Connection’s sales team between 1994 and 2002.
The pair ended up sharing a flat in central London while Roper was training at Central Saint Martins fashion college. When Roper graduated, Poole told him he would back him to set up a brand once he had a year’s industry experience under his belt.
Poole says: “Luke worked at River Island for four months, but then handed his notice in. We ended up starting the business then, in September 2001, the day the Twin Towers came down in New York. I put £80,000 in – every penny of commission I’d ever earned.”
Poole continued to work in the industry as managing director of Boxfresh and then as brand director at Peter Werth, to help support the new venture, which was run on a shoestring by Roper and Poole’s wife Deborah for four years.
Poole says: “We called in favours from everyone and my wife never took a penny out of the business. Our goal was to evolve the business around the top 100 independent accounts in the country.”
And the business did evolve, growing from a T-shirt brand to its present-day full-line range, which includes knitwear, jackets, jeans and polo shirts. The brand is aimed at the “lad who makes an effort on the football terraces” and the smart “Saturday night crowd”.
Some 18 months ago Poole joined Luke full time, which has helped to drive sales and move the brand up a notch. Luke appeared on the Drapers Indicator list for the first time in 2007 and Poole says average order value has now crept up from £1,500 at launch to £15,000.
Luke is expanding for autumn 08, adding a premium line called Luke Roper, which launched to the trade at Bread & Butter Barcelona this week. It will retail for 20% above the core range prices and will feature merino and cashmere cotton mixes. Prices start at £30 for shirts, £35 for knitwear, £12 for T-shirts and £38 for denim, with jackets priced between £48 and £100.
Poole has also brought in Stephen Gill, formerly Boxfresh managing director and head of footwear at Ben Sherman, to develop a footwear line for autumn.
Although Luke is launching in selected House of Fraser stores in the south this spring and is testing overseas expansion, Poole remains committed to his original ethos of supporting a core of independent accounts in the UK. He says: “This year will be about consolidation. We have 125 accounts and we will concentrate on earning more budget from better sell-throughs from them.”
Luke 01296 738 591
2001: Year that Luke launched
125: Number of UK accounts
£15,000: Average order each season