Mo Azam has spent his life involved in UK manufacturing. Now managing director of heritage outerwear brand Grenfell, he talks to Drapers about keeping the brand’s history alive and why he believes UK manufacturing is the best around.
Established in 1923, based around a newly developed technical fabric, Grenfell started life creating outerwear for explorer and missionary doctor Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Later, the heritage brand went on to kit out mountaineers, royalty and Hollywood film stars. Today, the brand is known for its iconic British styles. Retail prices range from £250 for a Harrington jacket to £1,495 for an alpaca trench coat, and the brand is set to make its debut in Harrods for autumn 17. Drapers speaks to managing director Mo Azam about keeping Grenfell fresh.
How did you come to be working in fashion?
My father has owned clothing manufacturing factories in east London since the early 1980s. From as young as I can remember, I would be at his factory playing with fabrics and looking at what the production staff were doing. I first started working in our factory during my early teens, helping the cutters lay the fabrics, attaching leathers to toggles and other small tasks I was able to help out with. Once I left education, I joined the business full time.
How would you describe the brand’s ethos?
Our brand ethos is to break boundaries, through innovation and style, in fabrics and clothing. Grenfell started as a wonder fabric for medical missionary Sir Wilfred Grenfell who required a technical fabric to withstand the extreme conditions he would travel through. The brand has been involved in some great feats, such as mountaineering expeditions, golfing, aviatrix and military to name a few, which all required fabric and clothing that are functional, technical and looked good.
Why is manufacturing in the UK (and London) important for you?
The UK is the best when it comes to manufacturing, as many factories use both old manufacturing techniques, which offer excellent unique finishes, and also state-of-the-art machinery that offers efficiency and quality. Most UK brands choose to conceive their ideas in London and execute them elsewhere. With Grenfell, we feel there is a major advantage in conjoining the two sides of the process, which is why all products are designed and made in our London factory.
Oxford shearling sleeves
How do you maintain the heritage aspect of the brand for the modern day?
Our heritage is an important part of UK style and has laid the foundation for the success of many styles you see today. Since the early 1930s, we have been creating iconic pieces, such as our Grenfell golfing jackets, the Golfer and the Harrington. Whenever we create new collections, we always refer to our archive books and pieces so every item in the new collection has a relation to our history and heritage.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
The way technology has developed means that customers expect the brand experience to be expedited. I feel there is so much more behind a garment and a brand which should be educated to the wearer as it can contextualise the product in the brand history, and in turn becomes more meaningful to the customer. We’re always developing in-house methods to tackle this hurdle and engage our customers in a more involved fashion.
What are some challenges you face on a day-to- day basis?
I’m constantly brainstorming how we can pull from the Grenfell archives and reinterpret the history in a relevant way. Given the breadth of history it’s a big task, but little by little we find ways to incorporate Grenfell’s history into what we’re doing now.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
I really admire Jeremy Hackett and what he has achieved. He began his career selling second-hand clothes in west London and has built a global British clothing brand.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
No product is perfect. There are always ways to improve a product, and knowing this is enough to keep you chasing perfection.
Favourite clothing brand?
Edward Green. I love the classic style and quality of its footwear
Favourite place to shop?
Harrods. I always enjoy visiting the store and seeing its curation of designers and buys
Last fashion purchase?
Cutler & Gross sunglasses
Last book you read?
The A Song Of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin
Last film you watched?
The Big Sick
Summer accounting internship
Formula 1 driver. I love the speed and danger of driving a car around the track. The travelling and lifestyle wouldn’t be so tough either
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Playing sports, hanging out with friends, driving somewhere in the country