It takes two years for a garment to go from fashion to pollution. The landfills are today filling up with apparel at an alarming speed. One brand with belief in a better way ahead is making waves around the world and finding a legion of fans that believe it’s ‘Buy Less Buy Better’ philosophy. Within two-and-a-half years of its launch, the UK based brand Tom Cridland is already listed on the Sustainia100 and is a Fortune Magazine Cool Company.
1991 born, Thomas Cridland, has been designing clothing since the age of 18. He started this eponymous sustainable fashion brand in January 2014, with his girlfriend of 7 years, Debs Marx when they were both 23. They were backed by just a Government start-up loan and a strong belief in a better world of fashion. Tom Cridland initially specialised solely in creating the perfect pair of trousers. In 2015, Tom launched ‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’, a sustainable fashion project in the form of a luxury cotton crewneck which was backed up with a 30 year guarantee. This was acclaimed by everyone from the BBC to The Independent to The Huffington Post. Thomas continued this momentum by launching The 30 Year T-Shirt immediately afterwards. In June 2016, Tom Cridland was included in the Sustania100 and nominated for the international Sustainia Award for The 30 Year Sweatshirt by a committee led by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Telegraph stated that “men’s wear can lead the race for sustainable fashion” whilst praising Thomas Cridland’s work as “faultless.” Recently, Thomas has also launched ‘The Entrepreneur’s Shirts’ which are Oxfords made from luxurious Italian cotton and again backed by the 30 year guarantee. Ten per cent of the sale price of these shirts is donated directly to the charity, DEKI.
In an exclusive interview with Rajan Varma, Managing Editor, Images Business of Fashion, this wonderful young entrepreneur, Thomas Cridland, sheds light upon his brand and his hope for a better world of fashion.
When and how did you get interested in fashion?
I have always been interested in clothing and well made things. Ever since I was a boy, I was very selective about what I liked and always saved up my pocket money to buy garments that really appealed to me. I always treasured them and took good care of them.
You began your company specialising solely in creating the perfect pair of trousers. What did you mean by the term ‘perfect’ then?
I wanted the trousers to be in every tasteful colour you could think of, made from the finest materials we could source, put together by world class craftsmen and seamstresses and cut elegantly but comfortably. That is what I believe constitutes the ‘perfect pair’ of trousers and that’s what I think we have achieved with Tom Cridland trousers.
After the perfect trouser you went on to launch ‘The 30-year Sweatshirt’. What was your prime driver and motivation in deciding to launch this? What were your fears?
I launched ‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’ because of the rise of planned obsolescence in fashion and the fact that the industry has become the world’s second most polluting. Built-in or planned obsolescence in fashion terms is clothing being made systemically so that it will fall apart to force customers to return and buy more. It’s a sad part of the grim fast fashion empire currently dominating the industry. Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost is what truly shed light for me on how bad the situation is. We need to promote sustainable fashion to help ourselves as consumers, help our fellow human beings trapped in horrendous working conditions putting together our clothing and urgently to help our planet that we are damaging irreversibly. That’s why I decided to develop ‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’ and subsequently ‘The 30 Year Collection’.
Why didn’t you name this too as the ‘perfect’ sweatshirts?
‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’ was a much Rod Stewart in Tom Cridland apparel more relevant name due to its signature guarantee. ‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’ was the first item with a 30 year guarantee that I designed. It was an attempt to make sustainable fashion more broadly appealing and to get consumers thinking about fashion as less disposable. We also aimed to lead an industry trend to protect natural resources by making truly durable clothing. The 30 year period for the guarantee was decided upon together with my suppliers who have been making sweatshirts for over 50 years. This is a conservative and not overly ambitious length of time for us to pledge that garments of our quality will last.
How was the product received by the first set you reached out to?
I was truly overwhelmed by the reaction to it. It was incredibly touching and made the hard work that I put into developing ‘The 30 Year Sweatshirt’ more than worth it. It was life changing for me.
How do you ensure that ‘The 30-year Sweatshirt’ will indeed last 30 years? Can you please elaborate upon the difference your levels of high-spec material and production deliver as compared to standard apparel?
We had to look back to take our concept of the 30 Year Sweatshirt forward. This is a campaign against fast fashion and for sustainable fashion. The 30 year guarantee is no gimmick and invokes a bygone era when clothing was made with care. We developed the 30 year figure with our seamstresses in Portugal who have been making beautiful clothing since 1964. The sweatshirts, t-shirts and jackets are made out of luxury fabric that we source from Biella in Northern Italy, and are now crafted in both Parma, Italy and Serra da Estrela, Portugal. Technological advances allowed us to develop a special treatment to protect the garments against shrinking. We’re selling clothing of a quality you might usually find on 5th Avenue or Bond Street direct to consumer without third party retail markups. This allows us to make our clothing truly durable, which protects natural resources, and offer it to consumers at a reasonable price. The 30 year concept is the game changer, however, though our process is second to none. Fast fashion is damaging the environment, putting responsible brands out of business and ripping off consumers. We are fighting the corporations that are treating both clothing and those who make it as disposable by offering consumers something better.
What aspect of the product do you stand guarantee for and what aspects you don’t?
If anything happens to the product within the next 30 years, we repair it or replace it free of charge. The only thing the guarantee doesn’t cover is stains.
Today you have a very wide array of ’30 year’ collections. What has been the response and which of them are the best sellers?
The response to all ‘The 30 year’ collection garments has been amazing. The sweatshirts, the t-shirts and the jackets are all extremely popular, with the more classic or conservative colours such as Classic Navy, Grey Seal and Black Cab being best sellers.
Creating the many lines would have each called for specific set of innovations. Can you run us through some which you had to work upon and how these will benefit in the long term?
We put the same attention to detail into all Tom Cridland and 30 Year garments, whether they be a 30 Year Sweatshirt, The Entrepreneur’s Shirt or Tom Cridland trousers. The focus has always been on developing unique colours, perfecting the cut, sourcing world class fabrics from Italy, using world class craftmanship to put the clothing together and using technology to reduce the possibility of shrinking, piling and fading.
Why do you sell your collections exclusively online? Why haven’t you opened your own stores till now? Any plans to do so in the future?
We have no current plans for brick-and-mortar retail. The reason we sell direct to consumer online only from www.tomcridland.com is to cut out necessary retail markups and offer truly luxurious clothing at a more affordable price point.
What are your plans on introducing more products/lines? Will they all be on the 30-year concept?
We are always happy to repair any faulty garments but ‘The 30 Year Collection’ specifically comprises wardrobe staples that will never go out of fashion: plain coloured sweatshirts, t-shirts and jackets. Our next collection will be called ‘The Real Music Collection’ and features a wonderful print of my favourite rock n’ roll musicians of all time, as if they’re all playing together in a supergroup. 100 per cent of the profits of this collection will go to support the charity is help musicians.
Who are your core customers? Which parts of the world are you strongest in?
There is no typical Tom Cridland customer and that is a deliberate thing. Our clothing is for everyone, no matter your background, age or nationality. We sell to customers on every continent, though we obviously have big following in the UK and the US.
You have been called ‘a tailor to the stars’ why do you think the stars support you?
It’s been a huge honour to make clothing for people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller, Rod Stewart, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Piven, Nigel Olsson, Brandon Flowers, Robbie Williams, Nile Rodgers, Michael Portillo, Stephan Merchant, Frankie Valli, Daniel Craig, Neil Young, Danny McBride, Miley Cyrus, Clint Eastwood and Kendrick Lamar. That said, I can’t speak for them as to why they were interested in Tom Cridland clothing!
Tell us more about your love for music and ‘The Tomicks.’
‘The Tomicks’ is my rock n’ roll band. We have just recorded an album at The Village Studios in LA. I’m a lifelong fan of ‘70s music and I started making clothes for Nigel Olsson, Elton John’s drummer since 1969, three years ago and got inspired by him to take up playing music myself. I taught myself the drums by ear and began writing with my bandmate, a piano player whom I met backstage at an Elton gig. The writing went so well we started taking it more seriously and when Kenji Suzuki, Simply Red’s guitarist, liked our demos enough to agree to play bass and guitar on the recordings, I decided to use my business earnings to self-fund making the album properly at The Village. My girlfriend of 7 years, Debs, and I are lead vocals, Kenji’s on guitar and bass, Nick’s on piano and keys, I’m on drums. I wrote the lyrics. Nick and I wrote the music together. It’s currently being mastered at Metropolis in London and it’s by far the thing I’m most proud of in my life so far. The record will be released later on in 2017.
Tell us a bit about your team – design, production and retail. What parts of the business are shared between you and Debs Marx?
The production team are based in Portugal and Italy. We have logistics and fulfilment centre in England, an accountant, a graphic designer and a photography firm also in the UK. We then have one full-time employee, our Sales Manager, Becca. Debs and I design all the clothing and run all our business ventures together.
You are associated with many causes and you support many by sharing part of the sales proceeds. Which are the ones you believe most in? How do you decide what to support and what not to?
There are so many worthwhile causes out there that are worth supporting. I actively try to support charities doing things that I can relate to personally, helping people in need who are entrepreneurial or musical.
Also, tell us a bit about DEKI—that seeks to help entrepreneurs in the developing world and who you support from sales proceeds of ‘The Entrepreneur’s Shirt’.
DEKI is a wonderful and unique organisation based out of Bristol, where I went to University and met Debs. They wrote to me asking for support and saying yes to them was a no brainer. DEKI helps people in the developing world build long term sustainable businesses through funding and mentorship, giving them a hand up, not a hand out. It’s a fantastic idea and we want to do all we can to help them grow through sales of ‘The Entrepreneur’s Shirt’.
Please share your beliefs about the fashion business. Do you feel that the fashion industry is at a crisis point?
Sustainability is quite clearly not being treated as a priority in the fashion industry. One only needs to watch ‘The True Cost’ by my friend, Andrew Morgan, to unravel the grim world of fast fashion. Tom Cridland is now a brand that I not only want to make luxury clothing accessible to people with at a value price point. I want it to be the world’s number 1 sustainable fashion brand and for it to make sustainability fashionable in itself.
What are the key challenges in being innovative in fashion and what should be the right approach to fashion R&D across the value chain?
It is not hard to be innovative in fashion if you are a talented designer, as it is a creative led industry and there are an infinite number of lovely prints and patterns that can be put together. That said, the Tom Cridland innovation has been largely conceptual. The right approach to R&D is simple -—to focus on making the best clothing you possibly can, rather than trying to cut corners. We’re a small, independent brand and not driven by corporate greed. We’re free to design further things to keep our customers coming back to buy more. We’re not, however, willing to compromise and move towards the destructive fast fashion ethos.
And finally, please share your plans for India?
We plan to bring our world Sustainable Fashion Tour to India in 2018. The Indian press have been extremely supportive of our sustainable ethos and India is a wonderful country that I have visited before.