The Interview: Nick Reed, Founder, Neem London
Former buying and brand director at both Charles Tyrwhitt and Moss Bros, Nick Reed launched his own brand, Neem London, in October 2021 with the emphasis on “carbon neutral modern menswear”, using recycled cotton and biodegradable ZQ Merino wool. It’s smart, versatile and sustainable clothing “for the modern worker”. Reed reveals the reasons driving his new venture.
What were your roles prior to launching Neem London?
I left Moss Bros as Buying and Merchandising Director in March this year to start Neem. Essentially, the new business is mainly me, but there’s a team of others on board such as Tony Bennett who I worked with at both Charles Tyrwhitt and Moss Bros, where he was CFO. I also have other people working on product design and social media. I was at Moss Bros for four years, and before that I was with Charles Tyrwhitt for over 15 years. I joined them in a buying, design and branding role when they were in start-up phase with about a £5m turnover and 25 employees. I held various roles such as Buying Director and Creative Director there. When I left 15 years later, it was a business with more like a £200m turnover which had seen meteoric growth. My roles have really been about product design, execution of product across the different channels and above the line brand marketing across the different channels as well.
What would you say you learnt the most from your time at both Charles Tyrwhitt and Moss Bros?
At Charles Tyrwhitt, the culture was very good. They were very data driven and strong on digital rights management (DRM), and customer service generally. At Moss, the main thing I learnt there was the agility and the trading aspect of the business, especially the speed at which they adapted for a business of a decent size.
How has the formal side of the fashion business mainly changed in your time?
The main thing is really that the suit has become more of a dressing up item - worn for weddings, proms, funerals and interviews. There’s also been a general softening of the formalwear aesthetic over the last 15-20 years, and Neem London is the manifestation of that.
How long has Neem London been in the making?
We’ve been working on it since April this year. It was fuelled by a desire to create a style that was centred around a post pandemic work uniform that was suitable for going to the office, going to a restaurant or a bar. So, comfortable, smart and elegant, but also relaxed clothing. We call it ‘power casual’. Essentially clothing that is low on carbon footprint, but high on style.
Who is your real target market?
Our target market is a 30-55 year-old man who has converted to become an electric car driver. Someone who still wants to have a fun, spirited and active life, but is conscious of their impact on the environment, and knowledgeable in their decision-making and how they can help to make a difference. In the same way they’ve converted to driving an electric car, we want them to convert to Neem from their existing brands, in the knowledge that our shirts, while being stylish and comfortable, also omit 40%-50% less carbon emissions that the making of an average shirt.
What’s your real sustainability angle?
By regenerating textiles that would otherwise go to waste, we work within a circular economy. It’s a restorative approach to fashion. The yarns are just as luxurious, and the shirts just as soft. In fact, the only thing our shirts don’t compete on is carbon emissions - they’re probably the least polluting shirts around - about 40% less than a standard shirt.
We wanted to create a shirt with the lowest CO2 emissions we could. Our recycled shirt is a blend of 50% recycled cotton and 50% organic cotton. We had to work closely with the fabric weaver on producing exclusive construction – so it was smart but still comfortable to wear. That’s not so easy when using recycled cotton because the yarn tends to be quite short and course. Therefore, you have to engineer the construction of the weave to ensure its subtle and soft.
What are the key pieces?
In the recycled shirt range, the key pieces are the sky dobby cutaway collar knitted shirt and the grey overshirt with four pockets. That’s made from a recycled cotton and wool blend. Then we have the ZQ Merino collection. ZQ works on a system of regenerative agriculture which creates a better future for the planet, safeguarding resources for generations to come. This style of farming improves soil quality and reduces carbon footprint. It means you are choosing the world’s most ethical wool and your Merino is traceable right back to the farm. The key pieces in the ZQ Merino are the T-shirt and the long-sleeved polo.
Do you carry stock or is it all pre-order?
We’ve now got some stock in, but we will always do pre-order as that allows us to reduce the stock levels and keep control of that at an earlier point. That’s very much part of our business model. The advantage of pre-order is you get a read on sales six or seven weeks before the product arrives. It facilitates forecasting as well as control of stock, but really what we’re trying to do is make sure we’re not over producing.
Do you have any retail plans going forward?
We want to do a pop-up shop in London around the back-end of next year. We’ve started to plan that already. We’re just shipping to the UK at the moment, but within the next two months we’ll start shipping to the EU and the US. We’re also talking to wholesale partners, both online and stores. Additionally, there’s two marketplace platforms we’re looking to be featured on in the New Year, and we’re talking to a couple of department stores about going in to those next year as well.
What other plans do you have?
We want to try to reduce the prices over a period of time to offer better value within this sector of the market, which we believe we can do with increased focus on the product and the supply chain.
Will there be more product categories added?
The focus will always be on the recycled shirts and the ZQ Merino pieces, but we will start to offer some softer tailoring as well, and we’re going to test some accessories such as socks and recycled hats and scarves.