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Interview: James Eden, CEO, Private White V.C.

Lauretta Roberts
27 July 2018

Transparency. It's a value that so many brands and retailers would claim to uphold in today's era of conscious consumerism, but few can say they uphold it quite to the extent that Private White V.C. does.

The Manchester-based clothing manufacturer and brand, which specialises in outerwear for men (though there are also a limited number of items for women) has even gone so far as to publicly publish a pricing manifesto on its website, so customers can see exactly which proportion of the price they pay for their garments goes to staff wages, factory costs, hardware and trims, fabric, freight and labelling. Even import duties are disclosed, though they are in fact zero since another commitment of the brand is to source and make all of its garments in the UK.

It was a brave move by CEO James Eden to disclose the information but he doesn't see it that way. "We're not looking to compete on price but we want to show we have a fair, democratic way of pricing," he explains, and while some of the brand's customers were surprised as the candour, he says the response has been largely positive.

"The younger customer in particular has been really supportive and complimentary. How can you not feel provoked?" he says, adding that the move makes customers question the true cost of the other items they buy. "It immediately distinguishes us from every other fashion brand out there," he adds.

Private White V.C.

The Private White V.C. Pricing Manifesto

And price transparency is not the only distinguishing factor. When Private White V.C. says "made in Britain", it means it. In fact what it actually means is made, largely, in Yorkshire and Lancashire. "The lion's share [of our fabric] is sourced with a 30-40 mile radius [of the Manchester factory], from Huddersfield or Bolton for instance. We like to stick with our Yorkshire and Lancashire brethren. We source regionally because, in our opinion that is where the real quality is," Eden explains.

Other brands might claim to be made in Britain because the clothes are effectively assembled here but the fabrics may be sourced from elsewhere, Italy for example, but Eden has never been tempted. "I have an insatiable thirst for quality. If I felt we could get better fabric elsewhere, I would consider it, but I don't believe we can," he says.

It's also thanks to business leaders like Eden that we can still find quality mills and manufacturers in the UK, not just because of his patronage, but because he rescued the factory Private White V.C.'s clothes are made in. In 2010 the factory, which is the last remaining apparel factory in Manchester (and indeed when it was built, it was the very first apparel factory in Manchester), was in a "precarious" state. Then known as Cooper & Stollbrand, the factory had been supplying a number of high-end British menswear brands but had run into trouble when on of them pulled an order.

Eden, who had previously been working in finance, stepped in to save it. After all, it was a factory close to his heart. It had been owned in the 1930s by his great grandfather Jack White and Eden had worked there during his school holidays, though by that time the ownership had passed out of the family.

Feeling dissatisfied with life in finance and wanting to forge a career he felt passionate about Eden acquired the factory and set about pivoting it away from making for other brands to creating its own maker's brand, Private White V.C. which is named after his great grandfather and references the medal he won for bravery in the World War II. Initially the brand was sold via the traditional wholesale routes but then came another pivot, when Eden decided to go direct to consumer.

Private White V.C.

David Beckham visits the Private White V.C. factory after being appointed Ambassadorial President of the BFC

It was yet another brave move but in Eden anticipate the way the market is moving and, besides, in having control of the supply chain he can be completely transparent about things like pricing, which is clearly important to him, and have a closer relationship with the customer. And in Eden's case he quite literally does; often it's him behind the "how can I help?" chatbot on the brand's website (it's true The Industry tested it and Eden was indeed on the other end).

"About 12-18 monts ago we could see the way customer relationships were evolving, so we decided to refine and amend the way we communicate. We wanted to be more unique, more relevant, have more control, more visibility, more ownership and a more intimate relationship [with the customer]," he said.

That customer is typically in his late 20s to late 50s with "a curious mind, an appreciation of craft, architecture and wine and probably strives to have at least one classic car", Eden says as though he knows each one of his customers personally, though given his dedication to manning customer helplines, perhaps he does. And he certainly knows perhaps its most famous customer, one David Beckham, who took a tour of the factory on his first official day as Ambassadorial President of the British Fashion Council - a position to which he was appointed in May.

As well as through its website (most of the customers of which are international) Private White V.C. is sold via a bricks & mortar store in London's Mayfair and there is a factory shop in Manchester. It has also retained Mr Porter as a wholesale outlet. "It does fit," he said of the relationship with the luxury menswear site. "Mr Porter has brands big and small but they are all desirable and they are all super high quality."

Since making the big changes Eden says business has been "fantastic" but he's not ready to stop innovating yet and has a few more disruptive ideas up his finely crafted sleeve. He's installing a gin bar and barber's chairs into his factory store, so his time poor and cash rich customer can swing by for a G&T, as well as a raincoat, and while they're at it if they fancy an impromptu factory tour, they can do that too. The door is always open. "We have an open-kitchen vibe," says Eden. "We've got nothing to hide."

Fashion doesn't get more transparent than this.

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