The Industry Interview: James Scroggs, CEO, M.C. Overalls
Starting out with a direct to consumer approach and a pop-up shop in Soho last summer to give the new brand an identity, M.C. Overalls has recently been picked up by Harvey Nichols, and has just moved its now permanent London retail residence to Brewer Street. CEO, James Scroggs, tells us about the brand’s unconventional but steady rise.
Why have you moved from your Newburgh Street shop to Brewer Street?
It was an opportunity and an observation. Newburgh Street was quite tricky for us in that it has destination shops for very big brands, and we weren’t really getting the footfall we were looking for. But Shaftesbury, the landlords, offered us the opportunity to take over a former bar at 21 Brewer Street and turn it into our new shop, and that really appealed. I was fascinated when I saw the J. Crew Liquor Store at Tribeca in New York in the summer when we were out doing the MAN/WOMAN shows, and it just stuck in my mind. I got slightly obsessed with the notion of taking over a bar, and then this came up. It’s about 650 square foot, trading on one floor. We’ve kept the original bar, we’ve just merchandised it with our products. The large front windows open out entirely to the street, so it’s quite inviting.
When was the new shop launch?
We launched the new shop with a party last night (20 September) and five different bands playing in the store. The bands have all genuinely found us as a brand, and that’s why they were invited to play. I have this desire that anybody that we dress or work with from the artist world, whether that be celebrity artists or the up-and-coming latest band, find us, we don’t go looking for them. I don’t really respond to stylists who say ‘I gather you’re quite hot, can we put somebody in your clothes?’ I’d rather people just find us and like what we do. As a result, we’ve got an interesting and growing following.
Does Brewer Street feel like a better fit for your brand?
It does. This is deep in Soho, and we’re right in the heart of the workwear and streetwear shopping area. We’re now directly opposite Palace, Supreme and Stüssy are around the corner, and up the road there’s Champion and Carhartt. It’s like a square half mile of really good fashion stores. This feels more like our original pop-up shop on Dean Street which we did in May 2017, where we had an amazing time. Soho-ites – the working population of Soho and visitors, young and old, go through certain paths through Soho, and this is definitely on one of those routes. I have a huge affiliation with Soho, from ever since I started working. It was always my first destination as a young advertising graduate. It was where I spent most of my time, so it just feels right. It’s a melting pot of all sorts. If you could put a bullseye in the middle of the UK in terms of creative industry, enterprise and innovation, let alone fashion, culture and sub-culture, then Soho is the place. I know East London has done its damnedest to try to draw people out there, but I still think Soho has got something that the rest of London hasn’t quite got.
Have you now got a clearer idea of your customer base?
Our customer base is proving itself to be more in the way I conceived it to be. We have 17 year-old kids, who are coming in decked in classic streetwear brands, looking for something fresh and interesting, right the way through to 40-50 year-olds who are former Comme des Garçons fans, getting really excited about accessibly priced new and interesting fashion pieces that are entirely unisex. We just size down for women, and we’re about to go down to a size XXS because we’ve got a lot of petite women who love our overalls. We’re learning as we go along.
Has the trend for overalls and boiler suits helped your impact as a new brand?
I think they call it serendipity! We were launching an overalls-based brand regardless, but then the trend kind of happened. I’d love to say it was by grand design, and maybe we’ve helped the trend, but when we started the project we didn’t forecast the trend for overalls, boiler suits and jump suits, or that it would have taken off quite the way it has. And I think it’s only just really started. It transitions across men’s and women’s fashion. Women are starting to work out how to style it, wearing overalls with sneakers, or dressing them up with beautiful Celine shoes and making them look very glamourous. I think men will follow suit. I have overcome the anxiety of wearing overalls myself and, once you’re in, you’re properly in. I think men are now beginning to invest in the singular all-in-one look too.
Are you launching the latest collection in the new shop?
Yes, it’s collection number three. The poly/cotton mix overalls are a mainstay, but we’ve introduced some interesting lightweight quilted pieces for the new collection. It follows the same silhouette and colour palette, but it’s moving us into a slightly different direction. Burnt orange is our new collection for this season, and we’re doing proper heavyweight indigo denim for the first time, including a work jacket and five pocket jeans in quite a loose cut. I’ve been trialling them and I’ve found them fabulously comfortable. It’s a proper worker’s trouser.
Are more artist collaborations planned for the future?
There will be but I can’t mention them just yet. We’ve just done two, including one with an artist called Jennifer Louise Martin, who customised our overalls. She’s an ex-Central Saint Martins. She covered them in paint, appliqué and embroidery to create these amazing one-off designs.
Where does the M.C. Overalls name originate from?
The name stems from the original founders. Brothers Morris and Myer Cooper, and their friend, Louis Maister, left a village in Lithuania in 1908 and, as self-taught tailors, started making waistcoats, clothes and uniforms for factory workers. They ended up in London’s East End, and made surplus uniforms for the British Army in WWII, evolving into artisan clothing offering denim jackets, trousers and a variety of specialist trade overalls that later became known as M.C. Overalls. Their business was sold in the 1950’s, and became the Lee Cooper brand. But the name and trademark of M.C. Overalls stayed with the family, and the great grandson of Morris Cooper, Tim Roter, is one my founding shareholders and a director in the business.
So how the reinvention of M.C. Overalls come about?
I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I met Tim in a marketing agency, and he was talking about how he wanted to re-invent this age-old brand that his great grandfather founded. Our other shareholder is the head of a sourcing house and manufacturing company in Hong Kong, who has an investment arm. It enables us to be vertically integrated, and it means we can really be in control of production and have great quality assurance. It also means we have the luxury of not really having to abide by the usual minimum orders that a lot of other start-up brands have and find difficulty dealing with. We can react quickly. I didn’t come from a fashion background myself, my background is more on the music and technology side. I used to be the VP of marketing at MTV. I also started a music management company, and I’m still active with a couple of artists on that side.
When did you launch in Harvey Nichols?
They actually took stock from the back end of s/s18 at the end of July. We’ve gone gangbusters in there, and we’re really excited about how the brand has performed. We kind of knew we were in the running to get in to Harvey Nichols for about six months, and then we suddenly got the call. It’s a massive deal for us. We’ve got three rails in the men’s contemporary area in the Knightsbridge store, alongside the likes of Stone Island and Yeezy, as well as online. I’m really hoping they will start rolling us out regionally because I think we’re an interesting proposition for them. We reach a slightly younger audience, and our price points mean they can indulge in lots of interesting fashion choices and not be scared away by the prices. Our Tees are £30 and our overalls are £135.