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The Interview: Patrick Grant

Marcus Jaye
16 October 2019

Patrick Grant, or "Paddy Grant" as he’s known on Twitter, is looking relaxed in a navy, short sleeved linen shirt from his premium, made in England E Tautz label. We’re here to discuss the future of Debenhams and his own label with the department store, Hammond & Co.

Debenhams’ troubles are well documented and this important Autumn/Winter season could be make or break. Getting customers through the doors and spending is more pressurised than ever before. Time is ticking, menswear is a renewed focus and Grant is its poster boy.

He is a busy man. He has a Savile Row tailoring business, Norton & Sons; a premium, more directional fashion label, E Tautz, which shows at London Fashion Week Men’s; Community Clothing, offering made in England classic pieces at affordable prices; Cookson & Clegg, his factory in Blackburn which also manufacturers for other British brands such as Nigel Cabourn, Finisterre and Margaret Howell; he is a judge on the BBC Two programme, The Great British Sewing Bee, and he also "does a bit of Debenhams" (soz) with Hammond & Co. his house brand for the store, which he re-established in 2012. (It was a name from the Norton & Sons archives going back to 1776 and they were tailors to many kings and aristocrats from all over Europe).

It’s basically plate spinning. Whichever one looks like it’s about to fall, I rush in and give it a twizzle,” he says, regarding how he splits his time. “It’s not easy. Some of them are more settled than others. I have a studio in South London (Gypsy Hill) and I have a lovely 1970s office in the factory, which is my favourite. I’ve got the full matching chair, desk and filing cabinet,” he says joking that he needs to add his growing cheese plant from home.

“There are certain businesses where it’s very organised,” says Grant. “Like Tautz has a set routine. We start the collection off, kick around the ideas, we start the research, things go into work, fabrics go into development, clothes come back, we style it, we do a show. There’s an organised timetable there. Thank god. I kinda dip in the times that I’m needed, and then the team get on with it,” he says.

Hammond & Co Patrick Grant

Hammond & Co

“Hammond is very organised. We’ve probably got 25 designers working across the different categorises. It is well settled, we understand the aesthetic.

“I give them ideas, they develop those ideas, I come back in and work on them. I make sure we tie in the shoes, the bags, the belts, the wallets, the hats, scarves and that all ties in with the suits, which all tie in with the outerwear teams, knitwear teams and shirt teams. I bring it all together.

“It’s been seven years we’ve been working on it and most of the team have been working on it for all of that time. So I think everybody understands it really well,” he says.

Hammond & Co. is Debenhams’ premium menswear offering at around £150 for a wool mix coat and is turning over close to £30 million a year. Grant is heavily pushing the brand into more natural fabrics and sees the future in sustainability and buying less and wearing more.

“Because Hammond is the most expensive collection [at Debenhams], we’re already doing a lot of stuff,” says Grant. “The high street has been benchmarked against the bottom end of it and the bottom end of it is so cheap.

Hammond & Co

“People who used to make pure wool coats are now doing 70% synthetic and 30% wool. It’s all going in one direction and eventually it’s all going to be plastic unless you do something about it,” he says.

“I set [Debenhams] a challenge about a year and a half ago, and, six months ago, they were like right, this is what we can do.

“We’re lucky, the head of the clothing design team was at John Lewis and had already been quite involved with that stuff before. They’d kinda kicked it all into touch, so, he came to us with a good understanding. We have factories that already use 100% renewable energy and are entirely solar powered.” he says.

Grant is looking far beyond Debenhams' troubles and well into the middle of the next decade. He’s waging a war on synthetic fibres and aims for Hammond & Co. to be using 100% natural fibres.

“There’s a lot of good stuff already happening. We just need to formalise this,” he says. “We do use some synthetics, so I asked, can we just get rid of them all? At this moment in time, we can’t. We can get rid of almost all of it. So the plan is we get to 80% natural materials. Almost all of the outerwear fabrics will be entirely natural, but some of the linings will still have a bit,” he says.

“We’ve got a timetable. Every year there’s certain points we need to hit. 100% non virgin synthetics by 2022, 80% natural by 2025 and 100% DCI cotton.

“Ultimately, my view is we need to buy clothes and keep them for longer, be happier with a smaller wardrobe and buy things with the intention of keeping them and using them for years,” he says, optimistically.

Grant is positive about the contemporary consumer demanding less but better. “The direction of travel is towards a much better place despite the relentless pressure to make it less expensive,” he says. “You have to take a stand. You can’t do good stuff for less money. 

“The problem has been, for last 30-40 years, in the good, middle market, the volume has declined. What would have been relatively affordable and good is a bit more expensive because the volume isn’t once what it was. Broadly, consumers can change that.”

Is he anti-plastic/synthetics then? “As for synthetics, if it was perfectly circular, then I think it’s okay,” he says. “There’s lots of bullshitty science being spewed and that’s frustrating because we need clarity not hyperbole.

“You can’t have a fast fashion business that is sustainable. It is completely oxymoronic. If your business model is ‘sell them more stuff every week’ you are the opposite of sustainable,” he says.

“I work with Leeds University and they are leading research in fibre discard. There are lots of good things about certain synthetics. The problem with certain synthetic clothing is that they shed a lot of fibre and that fibre will, basically, never biodegrade.

“I did a material science degree. Plastic has amazing uses and can help mankind in lots of different ways. We can’t be down on the material itself, it’s the way people use it,” he says.

Wool is an amazing material and is never going to do anyone any harm and ditto cotton. Wool is a great material and we use as much of it as we can. I’m always fighting to get more.” he says.

The new management at Debenhams are no doubt hoping to shift volumes of the popular Hammond & Co. ranges and while Grant’s talk is earnest, he’s still in the high-street fashion business and its success has allowed him to grow and sustain his other business ventures.

“We can still express our personality without being conned into buying new shit all the time.

“Somebody told me there is enough clothing on the planet for the next 4 generations of the human race already.

I’m not trying to design clothes that people are going to wear for five minutes.” he says.

You’re a champion of made in UK, won’t that benefit from Brexit? “I don’t know. They’ve already said they’re going to open the doors because otherwise prices will rise dramatically for consumers in the UK.” he says “What it could do is destroy all British manufacturing, because at the moment it is free access to European businesses, but if we go WTO, it has to be free access to everyone, everywhere.”

None of the Hammond & Co. ranges are currently made in his factory or the UK in general, but he hopes this will eventually change.

“Certainly within the Hammond range there are bits we could make there,” he says. “But, we do use British textiles. We use four British mills on a regular basis, but, not for the highest volume pieces.”

“We use good factories and we’ve got quite big buying power with Hammond. It’s not huge, but it’s enough. One garment, one fabric into a British mill is better than the whole year’s worth of E Tautz. It’s significant,” he says.

Made in his Cookson & Clegg factory, which employs 38 people, is his affordable "Community Clothing" range. He designs something once and never touches the style again. He says. “You’re getting 70p worth of clothing in the £1 with Community Clothing. Most places or shops it’s 30p, if you go shopping at Gucci you’re getting 7p’s worth or maybe 8-9p’s worth.”

So, how does he do it? “We just cut all the costs out. Debenhams has stores. If you want to be able to walk in a store there is a cost,” he says.

“The thing about British manufacturing at the moment is, it is small in scale and under automated. “What we hope with Community Clothing, we will build the scale of the manufacturing business back up to an efficient scale with the right level of investment in automation to get the costs right down,” he says.

How is Debenhams going to survive the current contraction carnage on the British high-street? “They know who their customer is, which a lot of British legacy high street businesses don’t,” he says. “For Hammond, he’s a 35-plus man. We’re not running after kids.

“Somebody who appreciates quality, appreciates a bit of longevity, classic style with a slightly modern edge. We’re not trying to compete with ASOS. For our brand, we understand who it is for. I design the pieces I want to wear.”

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