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The Interview: Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons and Community Clothing on Savile Row, sustainability and Sewing Bee

Tom Bottomley
01 May 2024

Patrick Grant acquired Savile Row bespoke tailors Norton & Sons in 2004. Twenty years later, and just turning 52, he has a lot to say about clothing, who makes it and how it’s made. That’s the subject of a new book to be published on 9 May called ‘Less: Stop Buying So Much Rubbish: How Having Fewer, Better Things Can Make Us Happier’.

It will follow another book he had published last week called ‘The Savile Row Suit’, which invites readers into the inner sanctum of Savile Row and unveils the secrets of bespoke tailoring. It includes a meticulously detailed and illustrated step-by-step ‘how to’ guide for the first time, as well as his own experiences of working on Savile Row.

He's still a Director of Norton & Sons, though these days he’s not hands on behind the scenes and on the shop floor – as he was for the first few years of taking it over. He’s also a Director of Cookson & Clegg, a clothing factory in Blackburn he rescued from going bust in 2015. And he’s the founder of Community Clothing, which is not only a clothing brand but a social enterprise which supports thousands of UK jobs through making and selling affordable high quality clothing, which he launched in 2016.

Growing Community Clothing is his main focus nowadays, though Grant is also still a co-host and judge on the BBC’s ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’, the TV competition for amateur sewers which has a 10th series airing this spring.

He enlightens us on all he’s had going on, kicking off with ‘The Savile Row Suit’ book which he will be doing book signing evenings for this summer with publisher, gestalten.

Savile Row street view from The Savile Row Suit. (Illustration: Oriana Fenwick c/o kombinatrotweiss.de)

How would you best describe your newly published book, ‘The Savile Row Suit’?

The book is two things really, it’s my personal reflections on my time working on Savile Row, as well as a detailed account of how it all works – the art of bespoke tailoring. Savile Row is such a unique and fascinating place and there is no community like it anywhere else on the planet. It’s the most incredible assemblage of craftspeople you will find anywhere. It’s also a place I really love. I wanted to write something about my time working there and I wanted to write about the people who really make it tick. Most of the books about Savile Row, and there are some very good ones, are written about the businesses and the people they make for, and not so much about the people behind the scenes who actually make it all work. This is a book about Savile Row from the workshop point of view. It includes, for the first time ever, a complete set of instructions on how to make what we do.

How have you done that?

There are four chapters about making and in each one we have documented the entire process from a group of Savile Row makers. We’ve taken one jacket maker, one trouser maker, one waistcoat maker and Emma Willis (who has a shop at 66 Jermyn Street) very kindly let us go and sit in her shirt-making workshop in Gloucester, so we’ve also done one shirtmaker to round it off. It’s a fully documented complete record of how we craft a handmade suit. Nobody has ever done that before, partly because it’s unbelievably difficult to do! It’s a lovely historical record of the craft of bespoke tailoring and also hopefully a nice personal reflection from me on the world of tailoring.

Patrick Grant

A Savile Row tailor at work in The Savile Row Suit (Oriana Fenwick c/o kombinatrotweiss.de)

How is it presented?

The book features high end technical illustrations as well as illustrations of people, places and different looks from different eras by an excellent illustrator who the publisher, gestalten, has used before. Everything is made by hand, so it’s fitting to illustrate everything by hand – as we’ve done at Norton & Sons (16 Savile Row) in the past.

The four main chapters are written by me, freelance writer and editor Josh Sims wrote the timeline and Riki Brockman, who is an amazing cutter I’ve worked with for years and who trained at Gieves & Hawkes and who once won the Golden Shears Award, did the technical writing sections for the jacket, trousers and waistcoat.

Who is the book really intended to appeal to?

It’s a beautifully printed book, a real coffee table job that’s been a real labour of love. I think it will appeal to anyone who loves craft, anyone who loves the idea of Savile Row as a place where exceptional craftsmanship happens and anyone who wants to understand how Savile Row works behind the scenes. It’s a personal reflection on how it all happens. It’s not really about customers, though there is a little bit about some of the famous clients at some of the houses. There is also a historical element to it, as I’ve included a section on all the proper bespoke houses that have been my neighbours for the last 20 years. One of the reasons why Savile Row is such a great place is because all the houses have something different to offer.

It will also appeal to anyone who has an interest in sewing. It’s a completely unique book for them as it’s a complete step-by-step instructional set on how to do it. I imagine most readers won’t be attempting to make their own bespoke jacket, but you could very easily have a go at making a bespoke shirt. It’s doable with a little bit of skill.

Savile Row-made Post-War Demob Suit (Illustration: Oriana Fenwick c/o kombinatrotweiss.de)

What is the second book you have coming out this month?

The new book is really about the philosophy behind Community Clothing. The full title is ‘Less: Stop Buying So Much Rubbish: How Having Fewer, Better Things Can Make Us Happier’, published by HarperCollins on 9 May. As the title says, it’s about the idea that we don’t need so many things – we can do with fewer things that are better. It’s a discussion about how the clothing industry has evolved, specifically in the UK, and how we now have way too much stuff – and most of it is rubbish!

Patrick Grant

Patrick Grant wearing Community Clothing

How does that really link in with Community Clothing?

The whole idea of Community Clothing is we’re here to do the basics, and do the basics well. We don’t do seasonal collections, it’s about making the very best quality everyday stuff. Just like customers do when they come to Norton & Sons, when they buy from us people like knowing exactly where it comes from, what it’s made from and who’s made it. They are clothes that last a really long time and give people a lot of pleasure. We need to be doing more of that in the clothing industry, and thinking less about how we can sell people more stuff all of the time. The new book takes a deep dive into all that.

How long have you been involved with Norton & Sons on Savile Row now?

I took over at Norton & Sons in 2004. I was the majority owner, now I’m the biggest single owner (co-owner). I’m still a director of the business, but I don’t actually work at Norton anymore. When I first took over, I worked in the shop every day and I was doing everything. We were a pretty small business and I was doing the under cutting for John Kent, who was our head cutter when I first started. I was also doing all the trimmings and the striking, and running stuff backwards and forwards to the work shop. I was also doing sales in the shop. I was basically doing everything apart from sewing the clothes together and cutting and fitting the patterns. It’s all that knowledge I gained that’s now in the new book.

Community Clothing

Community Clothing womenswear

What happened to your E. Tautz & Sons ready-to-wear line?

Tautz was a ready-to-wear take on what we were doing with Norton & Sons. Norton was pretty knackered when I took it over, but it was still a nice little business. We did very well in the first three or four years and we managed to turn the business around. I think a lot of people liked what we were doing at Norton and we started getting people asking us for ready-to-wear, but I didn’t want to do that as Norton & Sons – I wanted that to stay as a pure bespoke business. So, in 2009, I started E. Tautz as a ready-to-wear business. It was very small to begin with and we just did it from the back of the shop at Norton & Sons, but it grew and grew.

Unfortunately, Covid did for it, and we had to mothball it. It was unbelievably frustrating, as we’d been running it for just over 10 years and we’d just got it the point where it was just about breaking even. But, when Covid hit, lots of the stores we were supplying closed and most of our stockists either cancelled or massively reduced their orders. We just didn’t have the money to see it through. We ended up calling it quits in 2021.

What made you take over Cookson & Clegg in the first place?

Cookson & Clegg was probably the biggest and certainly the best supplier to E. Tautz. It was going out of business and was going to be shut down. So, I took it over in 2015 and managed to keep it alive. I then started Community Clothing in 2016, utilising the factory and the skills of the workers. When we first started Community Clothing, we had four or five factories that we worked with, now we work with about 45 different factories in the UK.

Community Clothing

Community Clothing menswear

How has Community Clothing grown since you started?

We started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 and we managed to get one thousand people to pledge to buy some product from us. We started out with four products; a men’s jean, a women’s jean, a Harrington jacket and a raincoat. It started slowly and we built it – adding new products as people started asking for more things. We now sell socks, pants, trousers, T-shirts, jumpers, shirts, jackets, raincoats – all sorts, and all made in the UK. Also, a lot of the products are made out of UK made fabrics as well. It’s not a massive business, but it’s turning over a few million and it’s doing a lot of good providing jobs in the UK.

What are the best sellers at Community Clothing and what is the business model?

We consistently sell an absolute ton of socks, in fact we’re probably getting on for selling around 25,000 – 30,000 pairs of socks this year. We also sell a lot jeans, lambswool jumpers and trousers – heavyweight chinos, and combat and field trousers. It’s all direct to consumer from the website.

The whole idea is trying to keep it simple. We put all the effort into making good clothes, and that’s it. You’re not paying for marketing, fancy shops or influencers – you are just paying for good quality product. It means we cut out a massive chunk of the normal cost of doing business. Our selvedge jeans are £95, our chinos start at about £50, our socks start at £6 and our lambswool sweaters are £69.

We’re selling fantastic quality British made stuff for about a third of the price that anyone is. The factories that make for us also make for some of the big designer brands, though we won’t mention who they are. In our business model, for every £100 you spend about £65 of that goes to the manufacturer, which is way more than any other brand. If it’s a designer brand, it’s probably more like £10 goes to the manufacturer.

As a co-host and judge for the BBC’s ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’, how would you best sum up the show?

It’s sort of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, but with sewing! It’s a competition of course, but it’s the most non-competitive competition you’ve ever seen. Every year we have a dozen amazing amateur sewers who compete to be crowned the best amateur in Britain. We set them a series of challenges over the 10 weeks of the show, and they make some amazing stuff. We have a very nice time doing it and I love it!

What impact do you think the TV show has had?

I think that, over the 10 years we’ve been doing it, we’ve quietly had a positive influence on the way people think about their clothes. We encourage people to ask questions about where their clothes come from and what they are made from. We’ve also made people think twice about the value of their clothes, and we’ve certainly had an influence on people repairing their clothes more – and people making clothes out of old materials, as well as recycling and upcycling clothing. I think we’ve had a very positive impact on the way people look at clothing and I’m confident that over the next 10 years there will be an even further shift away from super cheap and bad quality clothing, back towards higher quality and more natural clothing that basically does less harm.

How do personally prefer to dress these days, in a Savile Row suit or more casual Community Clothing product?

Both! I love wearing a suit and I like the opportunity to wear one. I feel great in a suit, especially the ones I have from Norton & Sons. But most of the time these days I’m in Community Clothing. I’m often on my bike and it’s more suitable. It’s become my everyday uniform, but I’ll put a suit or separate jacket and trousers on if I’m going anywhere nice, and also for Sewing Bee most of the time.

Main image: Patrick Grant shot by Parker Hobart

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