The Interview: Martin Brooks, co-founder and CEO, Shackleton
Off the radar of launching the ‘Escape Expedition Jacket’ last week, celebrating four inspiring adventurers, outdoor specialist brand Shackleton – named after one of Britain’s greatest ever explorers no less – is still planning to open another four-month long pop-up shop, this time on London’s King’s Road by Sloane Square, COVID-19 restrictions permitting, on 3 December. Shackleton co-founder and CEO, Martin Brooks, talks facing up to adversity
What’s the situation with opening the new pop-up concept store on the King’s Road?
We desperately hope we’re going to be able to open in a couple of weeks, and that we don’t get another lockdown. We were actually planning to open over a week ago, so we’ve lost those sales, but I guess with the weather being so mild for this time in November it’s not such a bad thing. Anyway, it’s exciting, and we’re planning to launch on 3 December, depending on what the government says next. Our plan is to open until the end of March, 2021. The shop is at 11 King’s Road, just off Sloane Square – opposite Peter Jones. It’s 3,000 sq ft over two floors. We’ll be selling all our expedition grade outerwear and knitwear. The most noteworthy thing about the pop-up is we’ve got a perfect replica of the 23ft wooden lifeboat that Shackleton escaped Antarctica in 100 years ago – sailing an epic 800 miles. We’re going to be taking the whole glass front off the store to get it in.
How did the previous pop-up store on Duke Street in Mayfair go?
That was also planned to run for four months from the end of November last year, but actually ended up only being three and a half months because we had to cut it short due to the lockdown back in March this year. That store was brilliant. It was the first one we’ve done. Obviously, we wanted to sell some product, but the main thing was using it as a test to engage face-to-face with customers and to find out what they thought of our products. When you’re a direct-to-consumer online brand, as we are most of the time, you don’t have that contact, connection and conversation going in the same way as you do when you have a store, and when you’re physically around product. It’s also about having an environment where we have control over how we present the product and tell the story. Having a store was therefore a great opportunity for us to meet customers, see them trying on product and hear them talking about the Shackleton story with us. It was also a way for them to find out about the expeditions we’re running, and what we’re putting in to designing and developing our new product. It’s about proper engagement with customers.
In these dark times it’s good to hear that bricks and mortar retail still holds value, what are the real benefits?
When you have a shop front it’s a whole extra way of driving awareness. The store worked really well for us, and we sold products well, but a lot of other benefits came from having that store, in terms of interest in the brand from an industry point of view, but also from investors and explorers – all kinds of people. When you have a physical location, it just makes it more real and trustworthy. So, we definitely wanted to do it again. We were looking all over London, but obviously with COVID-19 striking and the lockdown it’s proved problematic. We were offered some incredible places on Jermyn Street, and even on Savile Row and in the centre of Mayfair, but if you’ve walked around there recently there’s just nobody there! There was one place that we looked at that was Diane von Fürstenberg’s global flagship store on Bruton Street that they mothballed – opposite a Bugatti dealership right in the heart of Mayfair, but there’s just nobody about. There’s no tourists, no business travellers and no hedge fund managers. All the people that are normally about or working around there are just not there at the moment, for obvious reasons.
Why the King’s Road then?
We really wanted to be somewhere where there was a strong residential population, and the great thing about the King’s Road and Sloane Square is there’s a lot of people that live in Chelsea – and a lot of our target market. There’s plenty of footfall because of the tube station too, and a lot of people drive down the King’s Road to get out to Fulham, Chelsea, Putney, Clapham and Wimbledon, so knew we’d get a lot of people driving past the store. We’ve actually already started to see an increase in online sales from people living in South West London, which we’re attributing to them seeing our store front. We’ve got a temporary hoarding up with a ‘coming soon’ message. In fact, the message is a famous quote from Sir Ernest Shackleton himself, as he was also a great writer and poet as well as an intrepid explorer. It reads: “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” Very apt for now I’d say. His motto was actually “by endurance we conquer.” What’s more, the whole Shackleton story is being told in a blockbuster film they are making now – due for a 2022 release – which will be the centenary of Shackleton’s death, with Tom Hardy playing the lead role, so there’s a lot lining up for us quite nicely as a brand.
How did you get to use the Shackleton name in the first place?
We approached Alexandra Shackleton, Sir Ernest’s granddaughter, for her blessing and she said it was fine to use his name. So, we went and registered Shackleton as an international trademark in lots of different categories, not just clothing but luggage, watches, jewellery – all kinds of things. That was in 2016. We started with a jumper based on one that Shackleton himself wore on one of his expeditions. Our plan is to build a multi-category product and service brand, all built around the life values and achievements of Sir Ernest Shackleton. I had a picture of Shackleton on my wall at 16 years-old, so he’s been a kind of lifelong obsession of mine. I’ve even sailed the Atlantic and been down to Antarctica inspired by him. And, Ian Holdcroft, who is my business partner, is a very hardcore adventurer who’s even rowed across the Atlantic in a rowing boat. My background prior to launching the brand was in marketing, advertising and branding. I always had this idea of building a brand around Shackleton, and Ian was a serious adventurer – who originally worked in the city but spent all his spare time doing crazy acts of endurance.
Are you and Ian old friends?
We actually just happened to meet randomly on holiday on a Greek island about eight years ago. We were both with our kids. I walked around the swimming pool and there was this bloke there reading the biography of Captain Scott, by Ranulph Fiennes. There’s a lot of rivalry among various people as to whether Captain Scott or Shackleton was the greatest hero, and I just walked past him and said ‘I’m more of a Shackleton man myself!’ That was the start of our conversation.
What’s the story with the new "Escape Expedition Jacket"?
It’s been developed for people with a built-in instinct to escape the ordinary. It launched on Saturday, 14 November, priced at £795. It’s an insulated essential that protects and warms down to -15ºC, but is also the versatile companion for every kind of journey. To launch the ‘Escape’, we invited four of today’s most inspiring adventurers - including my business partner Ian - to try the new jacket and to share where they escape to, in mind and body, when compelled to get away. This sentiment, in a time when most exploration is on hold, is more prominent than ever. The other three men are explorer Mario Rigby, sailor James Aiken and photographer Conor McDonnell. The jacket is filled with 800 fill-power 90/10 RDS-certified goose down. It’s available in four colours and garment-dyed in Italy to give each individual jacket a deep and rich tone, and no two jackets are exactly the same. It features a detachable hood, a windproof and breathable shell, fleece-lined storm cuffs and an evacuation grab-handle. Today's pioneers are driven by similar values as those from a century ago, but their motivations are very different. Back then, explorers were trying to discover new worlds. These days, many are trying to save this one.
Are there any other new products launching this year?
We’re launching the "Antarctic Protector Parka" in early December – hopefully with the store launch. It’s a fully recycled parka that we’re making in association with the Blue Marine Foundation, an ocean conservation charity. We’re doing a big thing with them about protecting waters in the ocean around Antarctica. That will be our top of the range jacket, priced at £1,795. Our "Endurance
parka sells at £1,295, though most of our outerwear sells for between £1,000 - £1,200, depending on the make-up.
Would you say the spirit of Shackleton lives on?
It does indeed. What’s lovely for us is that we’ve got many pages of fantastic writing and quotes from Shackleton. His attitude was that life is going to throw many difficulties at you, it’s just how you deal with them - and overcome them. Us setting up a store in lockdown on the King’s Road is in tune with that spirit. It’s how you deal with adversity. Difficulties are just things to overcome. The point of our brand is about inspiring people to live more courageously. We want people to put on a Shackleton jacket and think that there’s nothing they can’t do.