‘I paid myself only £21k over three years’ – Patrick Grant
Designer Patrick Grant tells Angela Wintle that despite his industry’s glamour he never had ‘two brass farthings to rub together’
Patrick Grant, 46, perhaps best known as a judge on the BBC Two reality show The Great British Sewing Bee, rejuvenated the fortunes of the failing Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons when he bought it in 2005. After launching the ready-to-wear label E Tautz & Sons in 2009, he was named Menswear Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2010 and is behind the menswear line Hammond & Co at Debenhams. He lives in London.
How did your childhood influence your work ethic and attitude to money?
The idea that you have to work hard to earn money and it isn’t to be treated frivolously is very much part of my family’s ethos.
My father was an accountant and my mother the administrator for the Graduate School of Social Science at the University of Edinburgh.
Although we weren’t hard up, they worked hard and sacrificed quite a bit to ensure that my sister and I went to really good schools. This has rubbed off on me. I typically work a 60-70 hour week. My record was 112 hours.
How did you break into the fashion industry?
By chance I read the businesses for sale section in the Financial Times and noticed the family-owned tailor Norton & Sons was up for sale. My only fashion experience had been working as a sales assistant at Gap as a student, but I was so intrigued I arranged to see them.
Like many Savile Row tailoring houses, it had a rich history. Founded in 1821, it was an amalgamation of multiple old houses because Norton’s had taken over Hammond & Sons, E Tautz, Hoare & Sons and Todhouse Reynard & Co. Between them they had held four British royal warrants (George IV, Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V), as well as those to Prussia, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Belgium.
When I bought the business in 2005 it was struggling to pay the bills and had had to come to an arrangement with its creditors.
It had one in-house tailor and a part-time cutter but very few customers, despite what they told me!
How did you raise the money to buy the firm?
I sold a house that I’d bought when I lived in Liverpool, before the city’s regeneration, which had nearly tripled in value. I also took out a business loan through what is now the Government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, using my home in Oxford as collateral, and persuaded seven friends and my former boss to invest.
It didn’t feel like a financial gamble. All I could see was potential. Even though I probably paid more than the business was worth, I was surprised that a house of that reputation could be bought for a relatively small sum. It had been selling guns, gun-cleaning paraphernalia and sporting holidays and I took it back to its roots – exceptional quality bespoke tailoring.
Has there ever been a time when you struggled to pay the bills?
Yes: I paid myself only £21,000 over the first three years. Throughout the whole of July 2006 the front door opened just once and I watched my bank savings trickle away. Once I’d paid my employees, the rent, my tax and the bank, there was sometimes nothing left for me. When you work in a luxury business you have to remember that you are not your client and you don’t have their lifestyle. Some people who get into this industry fail to remember that and that’s when things go wrong for them.
Our industry is full of smoke and mirrors. I came up through the British Fashion Council’s ranks in menswear with the likes of Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane. None of us had two brass farthings to rub together, yet from the outside it all looked extraordinarily glamorous. I’d go to events and drink champagne that other people had paid for and then get the bus home.
When did your business pick up?
By 2009 Norton’s customer base had increased to several hundred customers, tripling our revenue. This, in part, was thanks to two bits of enormous good luck.
In 2006 the BBC made a three-part documentary called Savile Row in which we featured heavily. It garnered a huge audience and had an instant and positive effect on our business.
Secondly, Kim Jones, then a relatively unknown fashion designer, asked us to make some pieces for his collection and we worked with him for a couple of seasons. Through him we worked with other young London designers and attracted Alexander Mcqueen and Christian Louboutin as customers.
What was the biggest financial turning point for your business?
After relaunching E Tautz & Sons, I won Menswear Designer of the Year and Debenhams approached me about doing a relatively modest collection of formalwear. I felt this was an opportunity to do something bigger, so we launched Hammond & Co as a complete menswear line in 2012.
It has been an unbridled success, even if I do say so myself. The overall sales between all the businesses are now somewhere in the region of £30m.
To what extent did appearing on The Great British Sewing Bee boost Hammond & Co – and what did you get paid?
It undoubtedly helped, but it’s hard to gauge. When I first did the show I was paid a couple of hundred pounds a day, but it’s gone up since then. I did it because I thought it would be good fun, and so it proved.
Do you have further expansion plans?
In 2016 I started a social enterprise called Community Clothing, which is, in essence, a manufacturers’ co-operative, now working with about 19 factories in the UK. We make excellent quality, affordable, everyday clothes during the quiet periods in our partner factories, helping them fill their lines year-round, thereby raising efficiency and sustaining jobs. I would like to think this could get bigger than Hammond & Co is now, for sure. But I also think there’s big potential for Hammond & Co to expand in Asia and America, and we’re looking at this now, too.
What has been your riskiest investment?
In 2015 I bought Cookson & Clegg, a clothing manufacturer in Blackburn. Established in 1860, it had been a supplier to the British military since the mid-thirties, making leather flying helmets and dispatch jerkins. It had been a thriving business, but in 2009 it lost its Army contract and things went downhill fast.
When I took it over it lost about a third of a million pounds in the first year. We’ve already cut losses and I’m confident we’ll make the money back, but none of my decisions have ever been financially motivated. I took that decision on a mostly emotional basis because I knew the factory, the people who worked there, its history and capability. I have a strong belief that modern manufacturing in the UK has a sustainable future.
How would you sum up your financial philosophy?
I’m not a materialistic person and have never worried about money because I’ve never had much. I read an article recently about two old chaps who’d reached the age of 110. One was Scottish, and when asked about the secret to success he said: “Having a job you enjoy and a daily bowl of porridge.”
That could be my philosophy. Don’t be wanting for too much and enjoy your work.
Patrick Grant bought Norton & Sons in 2005 and won Menswear Designer of the Year after launching E Tautz, below and bottom left