The number of independent fashion retailers has been in steady decline for years and, faced with rising costs and slowing footfall, many new businesses struggle to stay the course. But a new shop in the small village of East Boldon, just north of Sunderland, is bucking the trend.
Simon Whitaker outside Master Debonair
Simon Whitaker founded Master Debonair online in March 2016, selling brands such as Marc Darcy, Claudio Luigi and Guide London. He opened the shop in April.
Since then, it has enjoyed phenomenal success. It has more than 35,000 followers on Facebook, while the shop has become a destination for menswear aficionados and regularly attracts customers from as far afield as as London, Dundee, Liverpool and Essex. Master Debonair is already set to make a profit in its first year, on sales in the seven-figure mark.
Whitaker believes this early success is thanks in part to a general malaise with the high street. “Guys are looking for something a little bit different,” he says. “People are constantly talking about how we compare to the high street retailers, saying they’re bland, boring.”
His customers are seeking a more unique look, and Whitaker takes full advantage of this by styling different looks and promoting them on social media. “We create a lot of looks and a lot of styles on Facebook and the website, and they want that look. Womenswear [indies] have been doing that for years. Now I think guys are starting to experiment more.”
With over 35,000 likes on Facebook and a slick website, Master Debonair has built a powerful online presence. However, it was the opening of the bricks-and-mortar shop that triggered the business’s rapid growth. When it opened, Master Debonair’s online sales quadrupled.
The shop is situated in Simon’s local village and was designed by his wife, Eve, and a friend. The interior is a twist on the classic menswear look, featuring bowler hat lights and reclaimed leather armchairs.
The relatively remote location has turned out to be part of its draw. “Some of the feedback has been that people are delighted they don’t have to go into a city centre to shop,” explains Whitaker.
He believes another reason for the shop’s early success is its customer engagement via social media. “Facebook is the face of the brand,” he says. “For us it’s about the persona. Looking at some of our competitors, it’s all about pushing out the product and that doesn’t work. There has to be a dialogue there.
“We haven’t gone and created something that isn’t us. The words that come out on Facebook are how I would speak – it’s a different approach to the high street.”
While the business is less than a year old, Master Debonair’s success is such that they are already considering how to expand. ”We get asked every week whether we have shops in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester,” says Whitaker. But he adds: ”We are looking to grow the business, but we’re not looking at more shops. I believe people will continue to travel to us.”