Profile: Can Shackleton become Britain's answer to Moncler?
Originally inspired by the polar explorer’s morale-boosting banjo, the Shackleton label could quickly become Britain’s answer to Moncler.
The brand had a previous and rather eccentric incarnation under original founder, Simon Middleton, who recreated Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous banjo rescued from his ship "Endurance" before it was crushed by the polar ice in 1915. The nascent brand expanded into British-made knitwear and that’s when current founders, Ian Holdcroft and Martin Brooks, spotted an opportunity.
“I met Middleton at the Royal Geographical Society, roughly three and half years ago, and he was talking about British manufacturing,” says Holdcroft. “At the time, he was making the banjo and talking about the story of Shackleton and how Ernest Shackleton rescued the ship’s banjo when the Endurance was crushed in the pack ice. He wanted it rescued because it was going to provide ‘vital mental medicine’ for his men when they were standing around on the floating iceberg,” he says.
“Simon was talking about building a British brand and I approached him and talked to him about what plans he had for the name and business,” says Holdcroft. “We just saw a much bigger opportunity and potential in being more of a modern, contemporary brand rather than a heritage, dress-like-an-Edwardian/Victorian, explorer.
"There was a bigger opportunity to build a British brand not just around heritage clothing, but around adventure travel, luggage and accessories."
Ian Holdcroft, Shackleton
“We just thought, the power of the name, Shackleton’s legacy and with everything he represented, like optimism and courage, there was a bigger opportunity to build a British brand not just around heritage clothing, but around adventure travel, luggage and accessories,” he says.
“We got rid of everything else, focussed on apparel and, now, you see where we are two and half years later,” says Holdcroft sitting in his new pop-up space in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. (Middleton no longer has anything to do with the business).
Formerly a derivatives trader, Holdcroft says, “I used to work in the city. My big passion outside work was ultra marathons, adventure racing, desert marathons, mountain marathons, that sort of thing, and I was a bit obsessive with kit. Therefore things like weight was a consideration; certainly versus performance,” he says.
“Martin [Brooks - Co-Founder] used to work in advertising and marketing. He ran one of the biggest digital marketing agencies in London. We met 7 years ago with our love of exploration,” says Holdcroft. “I was reading a book, which was ‘Race To The Pole’, about Scott versus Amundsen, and Martin walked past me and said, ‘I’m more of a Shackleton man, myself’.
“Martin is a sailor; he’s been down to Antartica, he sailed the Atlantic, and one of his boyhood heroes was Shackleton, so we got talking about it and effectively took over the business and got some interesting shareholders,” he says.
The shareholders - read more here - include the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton. She’s the closest living relative being Shackleton’s son’s daughter and is a direct link to the great man.
Sir Ernest Shackleton died in 1922 at 47. He is buried in the Falkland Islands. He was quite a superstitious man, and the figure 9 recurred throughout his life. He adopted the nine pointed star as his emblem, and had a silver figure 9 made, which he fastened to the door of his cabin on the "Quest". His granite headstone is carved with a nine pointed star and that is replicated in the brand’s distinctive logo.
Shackleton is growing quickly from a small base. “Our target for this year is £500,000, and that’s an increase of 150% from the previous year, and then we’re looking to double that again next year,” says Holdcroft.
“Essentially, we want to be a direct to consumer and digital first model. However, part of our marketing and PR strategy is to have strategic relationships with the likes of Harvey Nichols."
Ian Holdcroft, Shackleton
“Essentially, we want to be a direct to consumer and digital first model. However, part of our marketing and PR strategy is to have strategic relationships with the likes of Harvey Nichols because we need a presence and we need people to actually come in a see the product,” he says.
Shackleton has just unveiled a pop-up in Harvey Nichols’ Knightsbridge flagship. Situated in the lower ground floor menswear department, it is there until the beginning of January. This follows a previous successful one in Harvey Nichols Edinburgh last winter.
“We were in Edinburgh, last year, and our online sales to Scotland spiked massively,” says Holdcroft. “It was because people were going into Edinburgh, seeing the brand for the first time, looking at the product, going home, checking us out, having a look at the website and having a look at our social media feed. Because they knew we were in Harvey Nichols Edinburgh they had the confidence to buy online,” he says.
“We see three very distinct channels; one is our own website, the other is our bricks and mortar relationships with retailers like Harvey Nichols and third is, online platforms like Mr Porter and The Rake,” says Holdcroft. “We have to remain disciplined and only really partner with people who can offer value,” he says.
“Our ambition is to be a £100m brand in ten years,” he says “Which is obviously ambitious and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. We’re being ambitious, but balanced with something that is realistically achievable,” he says.
To put this into the context, in 2017, Moncler recorded annual revenues of €1,193.7m ($1,471.4m) and Canada Goose expects full year revenue for this year to be nearly $600m Canadian dollars.
“We’re looking to develop product around climatic zones and environments as opposed to traditional fashion and retail cycles of spring/summer and autumn winter. So, polar ranges, desert, tundra, tropics, ocean, that sort of thing,” he says.
Adventure travel is one area they see growth in; offering the full experience plus all the kit in the most extreme conditions. “A lot of people are now looking to buy experience and emotion over status and material assets,” says Holdcroft.
“We’ve just signed a deal to supply 1,500 jackets to an Antarctic cruise ship company, so we’re supplying all their crew with Shackleton jackets plus all their clients when they book a place on one of the cruises going around the Antarctic peninsular,” he says.
“Wealthy Chinese, North Americans and Europeans are going to Antarctica, in part, because of people like Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen, and the history of polar exploration,” he points out.
Shackleton is supporting British manufacturing and everything is currently made in the UK. The super-light weight and technical ‘Endurance’ parkas are tested down to minus 30 and are made by a bespoke expedition manufacturer in Cheshire, while the knitwear comes from Greater Manchester, Leicestershire or Scotland.
“We are a British brand and want to work with British manufacturers as much as possible,” says Holdcroft. “If we go overseas it’s because of technical and performance capability issues rather than wanting to cheapen the product.
“If anything, we want to make the product more expensive because we’re introducing innovative materials and build quality,” he says. “But, we are scouring Britain for highly specialised manufacturers who can do this type of thing as well. Quite often, it’s manufacturers who aren’t necessarily in the fashion space”.
Forthcoming products include merino wool base layers woven with graphene or silver. “The thinking behind this is, and, this is just a prototype, silver will conduct heat. So, if you put it this around your vital organs, that create the most heat, it will move into the areas you need it most like your arms and and down to your wrist points, says Holdcroft. This is being made in Leicestershire and contains 12% silver.
Shackleton’s product is clothing contemporary explorers also. Right now, Lou Rudd is attempting to become the first person in history to complete a solo crossing of Antarctica, unsupported and unassisted. He will travel for 70 days over a distance of 1,500km, from Messner to the Ross Ice Shelf via the South Pole while wearing Shackleton.
Focusing on the technicality and performance of the products also increases their price, but the luxury parka market seems insatiable and this feels like authentic product Sir Ernest would have worn today rather than a romantic and heritage heavy look to the past.
“If you step away from the fashion sector and look at most things made in this country, it’s actually very high-tech and very niche.” says Holdcroft in pioneering spirit. “We’re pretty much at the forefront, globally, of innovations and modern technology,” he says, and this is exactly where Shackleton is positioning itself.