The Interview: James Holder, Founder and Creative Director, JACKITCo Ltd

James Holder Jack1t
James Holder

Best known for being the Co-founder and Creative Director of Superdry, James Holder is now charting new waters with the launch of a raft of new more premium brands, which began with direct-to-consumer website launches for Trench London and JACK1T in AW19, and will continue with more throughout 2020 and 2021 under his new JACKITCo Ltd company. We caught up with Holder to discuss his new direction on the final day of the Trench London Regent Street three-week pop-up shop last week

How does Trench London compare to Superdry?

Superdry is an incredible, cool mainstream brand and it operates within a particular price point. Trench London is a more premium priced product. As I’ve got older my tastes have probably got a bit more sophisticated, and I needed to have a vehicle to design things which didn’t have a price limitation. Once you’re in the premium sector you’ve got a lot more freedom.

Is it intentional to go quite big on the branding?

It is. We set ourselves a target to launch 10 premium brands in the space of 12 months, so we have to get it in to people’s consciousness as quickly as possible.

When will the other brands been launching?

We’re two brands in to a 10-brand launch, having already started with websites for Trench London and JACK1T. Trench London was the first to launch – on August 1, 2019, and JACK1T, which has a focus on down jackets, launched on September 1, 2019. We also had a Jack1t stand at Pitti Uomo in June 2019 as more of a marketing move. Then over the next 10 months we’ve got eight more brands coming out, each of them category specific. For example, an organic denim women’s brand and a sustainable Italian technical sportswear brand. I can’t reveal the brand names just yet, but each one will target a particular product category and a particular customer, all with premium price points. We are launching another three brands this September, and more in January 2021.

Trench London James Holder

Why are you particularly targeting the premium end of the market?

I’ve been in the rag trade for a long time, and I could see that there’s going to be a consolidation of the top luxury brands. There wasn’t really anything for the customers of the cooler mainstream brands to trade up to if they can afford it, so that’s what I’ve been looking at. Also, it’s reassuringly expensive enough for wealthy clientele to buy in to it as well.

Who is the target market for Trench London?

The target market is a fashion aware, premium international clientele aged between 18 to 55. The accessibility of the brand means that customers who may traditionally buy Stone Island or Hugo Boss are able to invest in the brand, along with the luxury customer who may otherwise be wearing and buying Burberry. I started to think about it about two years ago, because I could see a potential opportunity and a gap in the market because of Burberry’s decision to slightly drift away from their British heritage and their core trench coat, to become more of an all-encompassing true fashion brand.

Is it all self-financed?

I have self-funded the start-up for the brands, and we are literally now approaching Series A investors, which will be the first round of investment that we are going to bring in to this company. Launching 10 brands in a year is not cheap to set up. We’ve got two options in that we can grow organically and remain pretty much self-funded, or we can capitalise on a moment of opportunity and go with some serious strength. To do that takes a lot of money, and we are now talking to some very high-level investment companies.

How have you found the brand launches so far?

What we thought we’d do, is launch a portfolio of brands which operate 90% digitally. It’s been a steep learning curve for me because I’m not a social media person, and I’ve never bought anything on the internet in my life! There will be a website for each of the core brands, then they will also all be sold on one online marketplace, called L1ne.com – launching January 2021 with the full brand portfolio. With our social media activity, it’s being curated so there’s the raw organic collateral and also campaign grade quality which we pump out on a daily basis. We’ve got an internal creative team, so it’s very fast, and we have a massive macro influencer programme. However, we have also taken the traditional print advertising route with the likes of Vogue and GQ.

Trench London
Regent Street pop-up

How was the Trench London three-week pop-up at 124 Regent Street received?

We wanted it to coincide with London Fashion Week. I just literally happened to be walking past the shop and saw that the previous tenants had vacated it. I thought it was the perfect spot, opposite Burberry – one of our major competitors – and on such an incredible street, which I’m very familiar with due to the epic and incredible Superdry store further up the street. With Trench London, we needed to be in a key central London location, so we took this on and did a two-day shop-fit. It’s had maximum impact in the quickest and most agile manner possible, for the cheapest cost. It’s been amazing. Because it’s a single category product, it’s very clear for the customer to understand, so they look in the store knowing exactly what they are going to get. We’ve also done a pop-up with JACK1T in Courchevel in France, one of the poshest ski resorts on the planet – above the Prada store and next to Chanel. It’s all adjacency driven, and pop-ups are a real part of our strategy for marketing.

How do the Italian leather jackets fit in to the Trench London offer?

In true entrepreneurial style, if you know that something is going to be hot, you capitalise on it. When we launched Trench London, within our second month we somehow had hundreds of female customers in New York – buying it direct online – pretty much wiping us out of all of our stock. So, we thought, right, well this brand has got potential and the brand name has been accepted. From that, we then went in to bolt-on categories including a Harrington jacket, two Italian leather jackets,  Italian made footwear including leather and suede Chelsea boots, and shirts. It’s all the real deal. It’s a very calculated category expansion, but still incredibly clear for the customer. For example, with the shirt – which comes in a recyclable box and retails at £200 – there’s two blocks, but with 10 collar options for each. It’s just a white shirt and a black shirt to begin with, impeccably cut. Even though we’re brand junkies, the absolute priority to anything we do is the face product. We put as much into the tiniest detail of say a piece of sustainable packaging, as we do to a £500 trench coat, or £1,000 leather jacket. It’s an obsession to give a 360° authentic experience to the customer. So, as soon as they receive our box, they get exactly who Trench London are. It’s about setting the tone of the brand from the very first moment.

Does Trench London lean more towards women’s than men’s?

Yes, it has slightly more of an appeal to women at the moment, but men’s is really ramping up. It’s actually easier for us to expand in to different categories for men than it is for women. Women are definitely more of a core trench coat customer, but with men we can drift in to other categories as men are easier to satisfy. There’s two fits of trench coat for men, ‘The King’ and ‘The Rake’. In terms of fits, ‘The Rake’ is a very skinny fit, which sits mid-thigh, and ‘The King’ is a tailored fit – which sits just above the knee. Then there’s a third block, called the ‘The Knight’, which is a slim-fit classic mac, or car coat. For women, we have ‘The Queen’, ‘The Slim’ and ‘The Sloane’. Fit-wise, ‘The Queen’, and ‘The Sloane’, which is a longer version, are tailored fits, while ‘The Slim’ is a super skinny fit which sits mid-thigh.

Trench London
Inside the Trench London pop-up

How do you go about production?

We make the trench coats in Istanbul. It may not be the most process driven or glamorous way of doing it, but it’s very quick and effective. So, we have to work with people who can work in our way, which is actually a very old school way of doing it with lots of hand drawings, lots of marked garments and less computer work. We take very traditional tailoring techniques and apply them to really contemporary product. Our time lines are pretty aggressive. We’re not at Inditex speed level, but we’re certainly pretty quick and, for a product of this level of complexity, it’s unheard of.

What’s special about the product?

We’re product obsessed. We’re never going to produce something just for the sake of making money, every single product has to have a reason for being and is like a work of art. We make things very clear for the customer. For example, with the women’s we’ve got three fits and in men’s we have two fits. The branded double collars have such structure and are really empowering, and there’s details such as the detachable branded button-on Union flag patch on the sleeve on one model. Also, the fabric is absolutely incredible. It’s a cotton gabardine fabric which has a real structure to it that sculps around the wearer. On certain colours the coats are showerproof, and going forward all the coats will be showerproof and made from organic cotton. The coats are all limited edition too, with only 100 pieces of a particular colourway. Everything is high scarcity. There’s also constant newness. It’s ironically taking a very raw business model from when I was doing skate-wear back in the day in the late 80’s and early 90’s with Bench. Back then you had the likes of Supreme and Stüssy, and it was raw with new stuff all of the time. I’m kind of doing exactly that sort of skate model, just with premium clothing. Also, we only want to do iconic designs. We identify what is an iconic silhouette, that’s not going to date, and we adapt and evolve it, and turn it into a new contemporary classic.

What are your standings on sustainability?

As I mentioned before, all of our packaging is completely recyclable, and we are only going to be using 100% organic cotton by spring 21. We actually have our first organic cotton trench coats coming out this August.

Are there plans for wholesale?

We’re literally just going to retailers now, targeting a very small amount of top tier wholesale customers with Trench London. It’s an adjacency driven model, so we’re next to the right brands. In a similar way to the pop-up shop, in that it’s directly opposite Burberry, if we’re approaching the likes of Selfridges and Lane Crawford, we want to be in with the right crowd. It could sit alongside the likes of Stone Island, Givenchy, Burberry, Louis Vuitton – all the top premium brands. I’d actually love Flannels to have it, I think it would sit perfectly in there. They are an amazing company and they typify where the British fashion punter has gone. It’s the epitome of what’s happening out there with very modern thinking.

Are you still involved with Superdry?

I’m still the second largest shareholder in the company, and we are contracted as a consultancy, Holder Design, to do a certain amount of designs for the brand per year.