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My fashion life - John Sharp

The Ma Strum owner revived Massimo Osti’s Boneville brand as a labour of love, but he’s still an entrepreneur at heart.

You bought menswear label Boneville in 2012 to reintroduce it to the market after almost a 20-year absence. Why?

For years, I’ve been a huge fan of Massimo Osti [Boneville’s founder, who died in 2005. He also created Stone Island and CP Company]. When the opportunity arose to be part of his story, it was simple. This endeavour allows us to remember Osti in the right way and champion his design ethos for years to come. It’s a special thing to help further the rich history surrounding the Osti name.

Your company Global Design & Innovation also owns Massimo Osti-inspired menswear brand Ma Strum, in which you first invested in 2011. What can you tell us about that?

It’s doing very well indeed. The brand was set up in 2008, and stands for ‘Master of Arts, Rhythm of Life’. This year, I acquired full ownership of the brand [from former business partner Donrad Duncan]. I previously held 50%. I’ve built an in-house team to realise our collective brand vision. Though aesthetically different, Ma Strum does share the same design ethos as Boneville; we’re focused on producing wares that embrace new technology.

What is it about Osti that makes you such a fan?

His willingness to defy convention. Osti was a rule breaker, a risk taker - a man who most certainly walked his own path and gained appropriate plaudits for it. His investment in his work is unrivalled within his field, and that true love for what he did was so wonderfully evident throughout his work.

What other designers do you admire?

Those who display a particular bravery in their field and aren’t willing to settle for run-of-the-mill goods.

When did you realise you were a born salesman?

I remember being aged 10, buying and selling in the markets of Canning Town, east London with my dad, my uncle Dennis and others. Even at that age I can still remember the buzz, it became addictive. That environment helped form my earliest understanding of business.

Through your sportswear wholesale firm Branded Stocks you work closely with a lot of sportswear labels like Umbro. Are you a sportsman yourself?

I like to think I was a bit of a footballer in my younger days. Now I love to relax by having a game of golf and sailing.

What about other hobbies? Any that might surprise us?

I enjoy adding to my watch collection. I’ve been lucky enough to acquire several rather rare, beautiful timepieces.

Have you got any good jokes?

None you could put into print.

What about a favourite song?

I’ve not exactly got a favourite, but I do love a bit of Marvin Gaye.

You’ve made some impressive moves in your career, but did you make some mistakes along the way?

Many. If you take risks you will always make mistakes, but the only real regret is that I didn’t set this business up earlier in life.
I was encouraged to ‘get a career’ and trained as a motor mechanic in my teens. 

What’s your biggest success story?

Building Branded Stocks from the ground up to its scale today.

What is the first thing people always ask you about your job?

Who are you? What is it you do? We’ve always kept a reasonably low profile and concentrated on getting the job right rather than shout about it. 

If you could start your career over, would you change anything?

Not at all - you are a sum of all your experiences, and each one has helped me get to the point I’m at now.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

It’s simple but so very true: never give up. A piece of advice given to me by friends and family over the years. To make it in any business you need absolute dedication, stamina and a thick skin.

What’s the hardest part of your role?

Finding the right people to work with and knowing who’s worth investing your time in. This is a global business and we always want to seek out those who share our vision, and that in itself can be particularly difficult.

And the easiest?

Having a roundtable with my team. We’re a loud bunch and very open, which is essential in the environment in which we work.
I know that whenever we get our heads together something positive will occur. I consider myself lucky to work alongside my business partner Stuart Rodgers and my son, Charlie.

If you were in a different industry, what would it be?

I don’t necessarily think I’d jump into another industry, but I would like to have tried my hand at training in design. Though I have an active voice and creative input across much of our wares, I’d love to be in a position to be even more hands on and design from scratch.

After two decades in fashion, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?

The decline of manufacturing in the UK. It’s truly one of my burning ambitions to help the UK thrive once again and serve both domestic and foreign markets with the fine wares I know we as a nation are capable of producing.

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