The Menswear Style Podcast

Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start

February 01, 2021 Menswear Style Episode 112
The Menswear Style Podcast
Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start
Chapters
The Menswear Style Podcast
Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start
Feb 01, 2021 Episode 112
Menswear Style

Situated in the heart of Shoreditch, Mr. Start is a labour of love for owners Philip Start (former founder of Woodhouse) and Brix Smith-Start. Originally a stand-alone boutique on Rivington Street, the brand has rapidly expanded since opening in 2002. It now comprises a separate menswear and womenswear store, an online boutique and most recently, a men’s tailoring emporium offering a selection of off the peg suiting, shirts and ties as well as a made to measure service. With highly personalised attention and a host of prestigious designer labels, Mr. Start is the ultimate shopping experience in East London.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start about his background and early career within the fashion industry. With a love for brick-and-mortar retail he decided to open his own clothing store which sold unknown and interesting brands of the time. In 2002 he opened his own label shop near his home in Shoreditch which quickly became two premises when he opened a women's shop across the road. Our host Peter Brooker and Philip also talk about shopkeeping during the 60s, London tribes, evolving into eCommerce, being self-taught in tailoring, and pivoting the business to come out of Lockdown stronger.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Show Notes Transcript

Situated in the heart of Shoreditch, Mr. Start is a labour of love for owners Philip Start (former founder of Woodhouse) and Brix Smith-Start. Originally a stand-alone boutique on Rivington Street, the brand has rapidly expanded since opening in 2002. It now comprises a separate menswear and womenswear store, an online boutique and most recently, a men’s tailoring emporium offering a selection of off the peg suiting, shirts and ties as well as a made to measure service. With highly personalised attention and a host of prestigious designer labels, Mr. Start is the ultimate shopping experience in East London.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start about his background and early career within the fashion industry. With a love for brick-and-mortar retail he decided to open his own clothing store which sold unknown and interesting brands of the time. In 2002 he opened his own label shop near his home in Shoreditch which quickly became two premises when he opened a women's shop across the road. Our host Peter Brooker and Philip also talk about shopkeeping during the 60s, London tribes, evolving into eCommerce, being self-taught in tailoring, and pivoting the business to come out of Lockdown stronger.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello and welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete broca. On this episode I'm going to talk to Philip start owner of mister start. They are specialists in casual tailoring and elegant styling. Phillip start and his team pride themselves on their love and knowledge of beautifully made men's wear. And you can find out more about the brand. And also shop the look through the website at Mr. hyphen start.com. And here is Philip. To tell the story of Mr. Start. I started out when I was young always liking fashion, I was always interested in fashion. I travelled to actually emigrated to Canada when I was 18. And sort of messed up messed around their work in lots of different jobs for always loved fashion. And when I when I came back when I was about 20, I got a job in the Kings Road as a shirt sales in a place called the village gate square shot at a chain of shops I actually was in squash shop. And then within about six, six weeks, they made me the manager of the shop. And I absolutely loved it. I loved every minute of running the shop, working in it, and I worked my way up to be the general manager. And but I really really did love it. And I was given a fantastic opportunity by a guy called Jeffrey Quintanilla, who was one of the owners who's a who's quite famous for people of my generation. And often people say they were given an opportunity by one person that gave them that leg up. And I suppose that one person was was Geoffrey Quinta, he promoted me to be a manager from a shirt salesman in six weeks. So he obviously saw a spark of something. And I absolutely love doing it. So it was a very successful time for me. And I was very lucky. And I did, I did quite well financially out of it, they paid me very well. And I had a fantastic time. And then I suppose when I was about 2728, I just sort of woke up one day. And so I'd like to do something else I'd like to start my own business. So six weeks later, six weeks ago, when I had my own business, I found a shop in Oxford Street at the wrong end of Oxford Street. And I sort of did a combination of some of the things we did at the village gate, and then some things that I felt I could improve. And one of those things really was bringing in brands that people really weren't aware of from mainly from Italy. So famous brands like stone, Ireland, CP company, some Germany, jump or go to a things like that, that that we started selling in conjunction with my own brand, which it was really just an interpretation of all the things that I saw. And then I would travel to Italy, probably every six weeks, I visit the factories I did business with, and then take a car and try and find brands that nobody had ever heard of which I'd go into small shops and look at look for brands, and I'd find where they where they were and I'd go and visit them. And I'd bring them back. And then I actually became an agent at one time for a brand called manual Ritz paper, which are sold in the shop. And so that was sort of the history of Woodhouse a combination of my own interpretation of brands and manufactured myself and interesting brands that I saw complimented it. So start really potted history. This is it. It's more. No, it's fascinating. I was going to ask him and you say like these famous brands like stone Island, for example. I mean, yes, well known now, but I'm guessing not overly well known at the time, and you're introducing these brands into the UK. Was anybody else doing this? At that time? Was anyone else creating umbrellas? Yeah, there was a you know, there were a few people in the very early days, but in the very early days 1975 I started the I started Woodhouse, there really wasn't much stable cessful G, but they were really kind of almost typified the generation before me. And there was Jones notes, Quincy Quincy shirt Malloy, who went on to start Jones as well. That was a company called Jasmine. There was a there was a few people doing a bit little bit more interesting, but it was a very small business and you have to remember at the time Someone like Selfridges was really an old school shop. It was like, Are you being served? When he went to the ground floor, it would be selling, you know, sort of old fashioned underwear and Nikkor. elastic. And it was, it was. Yeah. So anyway, I started this shop. And within about it was almost successful almost straightaway. And I got some great publicity for the evening, Evening Standard for the knitwear that I was selling. And they did a double page spread on the shop. And that was six months after I opened it. So. So it became very successful and then opened in fairly quick succession, another two or three shops over the next couple of years, another one in Oxford Street. So that that sort of brings you up to speed, the date, the speed of where we are, would have started anyway. So when the 60s people say like the 60s was kind of the high time, especially for retail, so the London being the epicentre for that with Carnaby Street and Kings Road. When you dial your mind back to 60s, late 60s, are these fun memories view? Is this kind of nostalgia? Do you feel like well, these were the peaks of retail and fashion at the time? Well, yeah, I mean, first of all, it was a lot easier, or appeared easier maybe because we were the young people doing new and interesting things. And I suppose we were pioneering and there was a small band verse that with people like Paul Smith, I remember Paul Smith because he was a he was an agent for a guy called Nigel cable who's still still around as you know, a great brand. And Paul Smith, Paul, Nigel k born to me, so we ended up buying it for the for the squash soccer, I worked in that group. And lots of questioning. Just as well, I guess getting the feel of it. I mean, were you were you Oh, yeah. Yeah, well, you around, like, for example, when the likes of the Apple store was opening up and the kind of the huge mosaic was going up on the side of buildings, and then consequently, against Yeah, and for getting it painted over again, you know, things like that there was when I was based in the Kings Road that I mean, all of that. I mean, I had a girlfriend that she she was a clothing designer, she worked for a company called blades, which was Mayfair. So you've got in Mayfair, you've got Mr. Fish, got Tom gilby. People like that doing interesting things for us different market. Kings Road, there was tonnes of things going on, you could be a hippie, you know, you could you could be in a tribe, of course, and there was a shop. So you could be a hippie, you could be glam. You could be, you know, a teddy Boy, you could you could be sort of whatever tribe you wanted, there was a shock for you. Yeah, the minute you know, it was a heady mixture of hard work and working, enjoying what we did, because it was, you know, we felt didn't feel like work. And I suppose all the interesting people that were around at the time, so yeah, it was Yeah, I mean, I lived near the Kings Road. So I really sort of laptop the whole the whole time. And in my mind, I guess in my kind of my fantasy world, imagine you and the likes of Paul Smith and Rupert Lysa. Green, you're all in a whatsapp group together sharing photos of times Kumbaya. Is that? Do you stay in touch with any of the old brands and the founders back in the days? Well, I mean, I know Paul Smith. So you know, I mean, we're not close friends, but we're for, you know, friends and bump into each other say, hi. Yeah, I mean, I know most of the people that were around I used to know the Browns people very well. I mean, I knew I knew most of them, you know, some are the other way around. Most of them are not around anymore. If there's a few I'm trying to do a poster around, of course, and it cables still around. And, you know, there are a few people that still work, especially if they were a bit younger than me. Yeah, it was, it was a great time. I think the thing that you probably miss more than anything from that is that is the tribes is the fact that you could you could have your look and you could you could work with within a tribe. And there were lots and lots of different tribes. Right. Some of them quite aggressive, you know, that went on to be punks. And some of them sort of bother boys that wore braces and hobnail boots but but somehow that was the charm of it all. And then the next one would be a hippie or, you know, as I say glam rock, all sorts of people. Have you ever written a book? No, have not. Have you ever thought about it? passing salt, because I mean, we spoke off mic about how many people can relive some of these days through images and perhaps other books but not everyone. In fact, very few people have actually lived for And have these these stories so I think it's very important for these memories and tales to be preserved and passed on. Okay, well, it's it's part of British fashion history and I'm lucky that I'm that the, the age where I remember even when I was too young really sort of 1011 were the sister of a friend of mine who might be five or six years older was, you know, was a was a beatnik or was it? Someone was a teddy boy and I was a fraction older, too, too young for those. But, of course, it went along with the music. I mean, the music, there was new music that was coming along all the time. So well, interesting. Thank you for indulging me with nostalgia and the memory. Okay. Let's move on. Tell me a little bit about Mr. Star. And when when did that actually launch? Well, the history of upstart and Mr. Scott, Can I just tell you quickly, I used to live in West London and Ireland the last lift in Notting Hill. And my wife and I got a bit bored with Notting Hill it was just become a bit a bit too, too much Notting Hill for so good. And I always wanted to live in a big loft space. So we decided to move I found a big loft space, actually, my wife found it and where I still live, I mean, that's been here 20 years. And so we ended up in in Shoreditch and about the same time I ended up out of work I left the last project I had been involved in which was working with then srg who then bought bought the tail end of Woodhouse out in about 2000 and I worked with them for a while running Woodhouse for them and when that fell apart in not particularly nice way but it fell apart I didn't ever need to do so my wife said to me, you know, Philip has nowhere to shop around here. So let's open a shop so 2002 we opened the shop in the shortage triangle which around and there was nothing around there. I mean, everyone thought we were mad to open the shop there anyone that knows the shortage triangle until year 2000 it was just a desert there was no no footfall I didn't know even if people must live there but somehow had an inkling that it was worth it worth a crack. So we opened we opened a shop 2002 and believe it or not, in the first day it was successful. And people came you know, it's one of those things you can you know, build it and they will come and so it started off with one one shop the men's wear and ladies shop and my wife and I ran it together you know really it's like a mom and pop shop so after having worked in a big check in or ran a big chain of shops multi million pound turnover, we're back to struggling to see if we can take 10,000 pounds a week which funnily enough we did anyway. And this year as well so it's in 2002 I'm guessing there's no online landscape for you guys so No, no, no no, that's that's some serious numbers for like you saying a place that has no footfall has never been known for, I guess, fashion or retail or anything like that to be doing the kind of numbers so yeah, yeah, I mean, it really was it was it was literally nothing around and I suppose that's what was interesting about it because there was nothing around there. There were people that live there that will quite wealthy people who were on the edge of the city so there were a few people came up from the city, but it was mostly people that lived around in East London and there weren't any shops. I mean, when I say there weren't any there was zero shops. The only thing around there was Tommy crumbs, the hairdressers, which was then the sort of trendy shortage hairdresser that gave everyone those cups of hair which I forget what they call them. And they were was a special shortage, something it was called anyway, they were the only people there and if it hadn't been from for them, I don't think I would have opened the shop there was just that there was just that glimmer of hope. And so we went on to it was so successful, so we'll open another one. So open another shop across the road from it because I thought well let's see if they can come to this, they'll come to the other one. And we made that a lady shop. I don't know if you ever went there to the ladies shop but it became a sort of art form for us and we were we were famous for the creative displays the windows, it was all sort of crazy and it was a little bit reminiscent of the of the 60s. This way you could sort of kind of make it up as you went along, you didn't have to conform to any standard of, of the concept of the shop and and we even had the pre Dover Street. We even had the the con the castle, people come down in, including Mrs. conda, Gasol herself came down to look at the shop and ended up employing the guy that I worked with, it was a sort of designer, finder of things interesting maker of scuff, right to do to do the Dover Street, the first Dover street show. So we'd like to think there was a little bit of what we did there in the Dover street concept, because we did use the old shop fittings and crazy lights and all sorts of things. Right. So. So again, the talking of the internet, the internet scene started to emerge. And we found over the next few years, it was very successful, probably for the first five years, but then you could start to see the writing on the wall people became, I suppose, time poor, or let, or had less time and as much as they love coming to a destination shop, they, you know, they were busy, they go online, you know, that new sweater that they were looking for, they can find it online, didn't have to come to the shop, and What year are we talking about here now, but it's so when you first start noticing the online presence, kind of incepting peoples as I suppose 2008 910 around there, right? Okay. So that sort of period maybe a bit later. And, I mean, we had our own online shop, and we even were one of the first people to go on the Farfetch site. So that's another part of you know, that the history and Farfetch was also good. And we had our own site, but people never particularly good at it. Because it wasn't our, we hadn't grown up with it, or something we had to learn from what was already going on. So we had a shop, an online shop, and as I said it was reasonably successful. And then in 2008, we started to do a little bit of tailoring in the men's store. And a shop became available again across the road. So we had three shops or next to next to each other on the opposite corner. And it was the shop I'd always loved. And I thought I'm just going to buy that shop. So I bought the shop, bought the least for the shop. And I didn't really know what I was going to do with it. I had a few ideas and then tailoring was emerging as sort of more of a fashion statement, there was a new feel and the look about tailoring. And so I decided that at the time we shop, so I'd always been involved in tailoring all through the Woodhouse days, we always sold suits, I always was interested always had helped design suits and created them chosen the fabric. So I knew all about that sort of part of it. And so we found a maker that that we had worked with a little bit previously. And we designed this I designed to suit with skinny lapels and a little bit short fitting and slim, one button fit slim trouser. And fill the shop up with it. And again, it was the first the first day we open without any publicity, I'm pretty sure we took four or 5000 pounds. Wow. completely out of the blue. I don't know where the people came from. And it became super successful game. so skinny Suits, Shirts, narrow ties, it was pretty much only that we did had a major measure. I knew nothing about me to measure at all. I've never been involved in it and you're ready to wear. So I although I didn't work in the shop, particularly at that time because it was running all the other shops. And you know, I knew I had to know I had to learn a little bit about it, which as I said I didn't know before. And there's another story about the tailoring a bit later. And it was it was successful as other people came, you know, even my old people that I worked with at srg, which was discount suiting as you probably may not may know. They came sniffing around to have a look all sorts of people and we did you know we had a very, very good business. That's circa 10 years ago. Now, would you say that the style has changed I mean skinny suits and skinny styles that can suppress silhouette was very much in vogue. At that time, especially around 2012, I started to really notice that view actually fluctuated your style with what's going on now, have you always stuck to that silhouette? No. Well, the original suit which we call the Rivington, original silhouette still exists, and it's still a very good seller than the main feature is that is those things you just pointed out with a very slim lapel. we've adapted a little bit, we soften the shoulders a little bit, but really, we've changed almost nothing about it, since we started, which was 2008. And it was designed. But we now run two other models, which one is a slightly more classic model, I call it a West End suit. So it's a sort of suit you might find in, in several rope, but we've tweaked it a bit to give it a bit more attitude. And then we run another model, which is really what you'd call contemporary today, which is a much more flexible model of soft, soft tailoring, where it lots of different ways you can split it up, or when the jacket has the jacket, the jacket has a jacket or the trousers separately. And so we've adapted it, but it's interesting that the original suit from 2008 still exists and still sells and then we have customers that that swear by it. I come back and back for it. You said you had another tailoring story. Well, the tape the tailoring story is is that as I said, I didn't know anything about metre measure. And I'm not a tailor menswear designer, and retailer. And but when we, we we in 2016, we closed we closed the whole business down, we decided to close the other part of the business down completely. We weren't going to close the Mr. stores that store down. But in the end, I did, I did close it down, we felt that it was just not worth continuing, I could see the writing on the wall with the internet. And before we were forced to get out, I thought let's get out because it's it's not working anymore. It's too much like hard work. So in the end, we ended up closing the mister start store for three months. So to rethink it. And it was I must say it was quite traumatic to do that. And it always has interest you closed down the stores. It's like it's a one liner. But actually closing the store is quite hard work. So when we read, when we restarted again, it was a much smaller team. It was really me working in the shop, which I hadn't really done before. And there was a major major business now, I knew nothing about major measures I've said a few times. So I had to teach myself to be come a tailor, which I did. So I taught myself and it's I do the lion's share of the major measure now. And I'm happy to say that I'm pretty good at it. And I have a lot of in happy customers. Or rarely. When people come and collect their suits, there really is any alterations to do is know, people people say, oh, when do I come and get my first fitting? And I say well come to your fitting, but we hope there's nothing to do. And more often than not people walk out with that suit that doesn't need anything going into it sort of fairly proud of that fact. Because that's a testament to the suit or testament to that being made to measure and not a bespoke suit. Well, it's testament to the process, but there's also a precedent. It's also the skill of measuring someone and making sure it fit. Yeah, interesting. Philip about the brand now I mean, people can visit the website, by the way, how it is at the moment, which is Mr. hyphen, start.com to check out the jackets that you've just described. There's, there's a lot of you in there, which I think offers a great insight and some transparency to the brand. Was this always part of the plan? Well, I suppose I didn't decide, I suppose I was pushed by other people. They always said, Well, you know, you fit the suits. Well, you you sort of got the look, I always thought Well God, I'm just too old to do it. They don't want to see you know, someone my age wearing wearing, tailoring, or wearing the garments. But in the end, I sort of took it out and I started to do it we will we always got good results from social media when I did it better results. And we knew this already had a model even though that you know maybe better than me. And so it's just a role that I now take you know, it's I take ownership of and I also do the videos as well. And I've seen that on the Instagram. Yeah, thank you for teaching me how to do pocket squares. Much better than I have been doing. Well, most of these things is is really not trying too hard. Most people try quite hard to put a pocket square and you just put it in and it is what it is. But yeah, so that's so that's what I do now. Yeah. And do you enjoy this? I've always been, I've always enjoyed what I do. Yeah, man. I mean, as the people say, Do you still enjoy your work? And I said, Well, I like the good days. But who doesn't? And shortage now? So I mean, you've How long have you lived in shortage? 20 years? So 20 years, when you when you first came in? What do you think of the area now, and especially now that the landscape has changed so dramatically over the last couple of decades? Well, when I first when we first had our first shop in the early 2000s, I mean, a lot of our customers were DJs, and people involved in music and art and artists. And of course, a lot of those people have disappeared, a lot of the clubs have gone from around, they're really, really good ones. And so it's morphed into a completely different area. But it's a it's a changing area. I mean, it's obviously been completely changed by the lockdown. But as as has so many other places. But I saw this because it is changing all the time. And yes, it's not such a a party scene kind of place that it was back then. But in the people that live there now are much more mature people by and large plus, probably because the property prices have now increased. I mean, I think it's a, it's a wonderful area still still got lots of interests and lots of potential. And I'm sure once we get out of this terrible situation that we all are it will redevelop, like fashion world, but like a lot of other things will have to change its tune have to look feel, act differently the way it is. And that's the challenge of life and challenge of business as well. And I guess I'll end it. I don't want to end on a sombre note, but I did want to ask you about lockdown and how you've adapted or how it's impacted you personally in the business, maybe you can just give us a little window into that. Well, I mean, obviously it was traumatic, we're coming up to nearly a year now since we closed the shop Originally, I honestly thought that when we closed it down in March last year, we would probably never reopen. That would be the feeling I just couldn't see how we could, we could open but the government has been you know, reasonably generous, we've got more money, we've had opportunities for the business to borrow money if it needs to, they're a fairly reduced rate. We've had the odd chance where we've been able to open we have to you have to pivot and we had to pivot more online. We're not really a type of business that online suits particularly. And tailoring has not been the flavour of the month for for people to buy. But we do sell a lot of other things. So we're not strictly speaking of tailoring business 100% we sell we have a very good shirt business a very good knitwear business accessories business. So we've got other things that we can pivot to. Yeah. And we've we've spent money time and energy on the on the webshop. So that's, that's what I do. You don't have to do the videos online I write some of the copy I've got a small company which is actually based in Sweden, that does the mock some of the marketing for me, especially especially the more technical marketing and we make it work we jog along we keep our head above water and now what I'm trying to do is pivot the business again so that when we come out of lockdown we're not just perceived as solely a sort of work work environments, closing outfitter and other words suits that I believe that when we when we do come out to this person or people will want to dress up a bit more they won't want to wear this sweat pants to Oh yeah. Oh yeah favourite restaurant or anything like that. So I think the tailoring could have a little bit of a renascence but tailoring is going to adapt and we have to adapt the product to to meet that customer and that's what I'm actually working on at the moment. So right behind the camera here, but whole pile of stuff I'm working on ready for the factories and that they're working with. So it was it will be a formalist look still it's going to be a different look at these factories, so to interrupt you feel for these factories. Well the factories all over the place. I mean, we make we make shirts in Poland and Lithuania buy the fabric from from Italy by and large. We make all our knitwear either in Italy where we make the fine gauge the very thin ones like this, or the slightly heavier ones we make in Scotland. tailoring we make in Portugal. Also, we have a factory that works with a lot of several real people that's in Mauritius. We still have a time scarf and handkerchief maker that makes in the UK as so all that's made. So there's a fair bit of stuff made in the UK still. And there's a bit of a renascence about that as well making in the UK. Yeah. So all over the place. Well, I can't wait not only to get get out, but one of the reasons why I really look forward to these interviews not only to pick your brains, Phillip, but also I get to wear a tie. I mean, I've got a whole drawer of ties. I've no idea how I've got into ties of the last couple of months, but it feels like the only excuse I really get to wear one is when I come on camera, but it's it's one of the well tie let me let me just say something about ties. I mean, I know ties is the sort of thing that people feel they have to wear. But I think ties are really nice. You know, I think they look great on people. And again, I think something that you might see as a bit of a renaissance is that dressing up and feeling putting a title because of an open next shirt doesn't quite cut it just in my house. Philip it's been great talking to you and getting to know more about the brand and listening to some of those stories. Thanks for indulging me and taking the time out of your day for people that want to visit the online store before we managed to get down to see Phillip in person It's Mr hyphen starz.com and and also get those tutorials over on Instagram. He's underscore Mr. dot start but we'll put all the show notes over on the website so people can find you there. But in the meantime, thanks Phillip enjoyed it. Thank you, Philip. Well, quite the story quite the legacy and like I say many people can talk about the 60s but only few folk can talk about it from personal experience and even fewer still left in the game and going strong. So Mr. Star Sir, we salute you. Thanks for tuning into this episode of The menswear style podcast. If you like what you hear, why not leave us a review it does help our egos Don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode and all content pertaining to watches travel, lifestyle fashion, as well over at WWE menswear style dot code at UK and we're on the social at men's wear style. If you want to be a guest on the show and tell us about your brand and your journey. You can email us here at info at menswear style Koto UK and until next time