A near-death experience at sea inspired the industry veteran to launch his own menswear brand, Cro’Jack. He tells Stephen Spear why
How did you get into fashion?
I studied graphic design, and went to work for [fine china manufacturer] Wedgwood for exactly one year. I had loads of fun but was more interested in clothes. I saw a lease on a little shop in Stoke called Threads in 1979. My dad and I put in a sealed bid for it and won. It sold high-end brands like Cricket, Nigel Cabourn’s first label. The bid was £3,000 a year rent. After that I did a bit of everything but have always been a salesman and a fan of fabrics.
Now you have your own brand, Cro’Jack. How did that come about?
On September 2, 2008, I went out on a friend’s 42ft Bavaria - a racing yacht - from Dartmouth to the River Hamble in Southampton. When we left the weather was blowing up and no one else was leaving the harbour. We ran into a force nine gale and got stuck in it for eight hours. The wind was so heavy, we couldn’t stop and the mainsail ripped out, the engine failed and the rudder broke. We made the national news after washing up on Weymouth beach. Next morning when the press came to see us they commented on how bright red our eyes were. Eight hours of saltwater does that.
But how did that lead to Cro’Jack launching for autumn 10?
It was then, during that storm, that I thought if I got out I’d start my own thing. The brand’s name refers to a piece of sailing equipment for a reason.
Tell us about the Cro’Jack handwriting.
The look is all ‘brown bread and muesli’ mixed with nautical influences. It’s grown-up, earthy, tweedy and waxed. Expectations are high, people are expecting great things, but we’ve got good resources. My wife Lisa does all the illustrations. She’s the unsung hero and so humble that she will always leave it up to gobby here to do the talking.
How did Cro’Jack team up with retailer Fat Face?
Fat Face’s chief executive Anthony Thompson was shopping in Leeds with his wife last Christmas and bought one of my jackets from [denim indie] Kiosk 78. He tracked me down and told me he wanted to create a capsule with us. We put together two men’s jackets and three women’s, plus sweaters, a scarf and a hat. It’s their Brit heritage collection and is called Cro’Jack for Fat Face. It will be in 15 stores and prices are in line with ours, at about £230 for a jacket.
What’s the landscape like for British manufacturing?
Everybody wants a piece of it now. My only worry is whether people are doing it for the right reasons. They say they’re being patriotic but actually prices have gone through the roof in Europe - between the euro, freight costs, insurance and lead times, it’s no more beneficial [to manufacture in Europe] than the UK now.
So how’s it all going for Cro’Jack?
We’re three years in and it’s going very well, selling to UK indies and I’m looking to export more to Japan and the US. We’re already working with [Japanese retailers] like Beams and Journal Standard, who are nice partners.
- What’s the key Dean Batty outfit? I’ve got a love of denim, so the right denim with chunky British utility boots and a short army-style vintage blouson like Cro’Jack’s Uffa.
- Favourite menswear destination? Paris is still cool but it’s got to be Tokyo. They’re so into vintage and all the big players are there. It’s got the biggest Polo Ralph Lauren shop
- with the most amazing RRL department.
- Who is your style icon? Everybody says Steve McQueen but I can’t get away from it. I named Reiver [Batty’s former shirt brand] after one of his films [The Reivers] back in the early 1980s.
- What is the best garment you’ve ever worked on? It has to be outerwear and the vintage washed wax jacket called Blimey we’ve created with [UK manufacturer] British Millerain for Cro’Jack. We washed it, shrunk it and beat it up to get it right.
- It was hard work but a real labour of love.