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The Interview: Ravi Grewal, owner, Stuarts London, and license holder, C17 Jeans

Tom Bottomley
21 March 2019

A cult French denim brand he remembers from his days as a kid working in his father’s Stuarts shop in Shepherd’s Bush, Ravi Grewal, 43, is now relaunching C17 Jeans in the UK market for AW19, having acquired a 10-year license for the UK, Europe and US. He has big plans, as we found out on a visit to his company’s HQ in deepest Camberley, Surrey

What do you remember of the C17 brand of old?

We originally sold it in Stuarts in around 1989, up until about 1995, which is when it started to fizzle out. At one point, in about 1992 I think, C17 was the second biggest jeans brand to Levi’s in the UK. It was at a time when the other main brands of the day included Chevignon, Chipie, Ton Sur Ton and Ball jeans. Eventually C17 withdrew from the UK.

What became of it?

The last thing C17 did of prominence in the UK was open up a shop on Oxford Street.But I think it was mismanaged and it didn’t last long, with the high rent and rates probably hard to sustain too. The brand continued for a while longer in France, until the Desalles family, who were the family behind the brand which originally launched it back in 1972, shut the operation down. They actually then sold the trademark to Edwin jeans and it’s not existed as we knew it in the UK for nearly 25 years, though it has been available in Japan I believe as more of a women’s jeans brand.

C17 Duck Canvas Chore jacket and jeans

What made you acquire the license to relaunch it?

We’ve been selling Chevignon again on the website and it’s been doing really well. It prompted me to start looking at other brands linked to the same era and, when the opportunity came up to buy the C17 license from a separate European trademark owner to Edwin, I saw it as my next challenge. Having been a retailer for so many years, I’ve always wanted to have a brand. I’ve always been a fan of brands, but I’ve never had one, and this is an opportunity to really put my name on something. The license is for the majority of territories in Europe and the USA so, while the investment is substantial, the rewards could be huge. The initial relaunch is in the UK and Italy.

What will happen when the 10-year license is up?

At the end of the 10-year license I will have the option to extend the license further, or buy the brand outright. It will really be up to me. Our retail does well, both in store and online, so as an entrepreneur this is my new challenge, my new baby. I’ve been a buyer for some 25 years and I’m a product man. That’s given me good insight as to what product sells best. I’ve also got my ear to the ground when it comes to consumers. Being a retailer and knowing what consumers are interested in, and keeping up with the latest trends, gives me an advantage. Rather than trying to copy what someone else is doing now, I’d rather stay ahead of the game.

C17

Oversized C17 bomber in Japanese Melton wool

What are the jeans like now?

We’ve come up with a new strapline, “Committed to loosening your pants”. The market is packed with skinny fits, and we’re sick of them. It’s time people started to move away from it. All these guys are walking round in tight T-shirts and super tight pants, so it’s great to bring back C17 to offer an alternative. We have a modern tapered fit, a straight fit and we’ve brought back the original archive fit that the brand was famous for, which is a late 1980’s and early 1990’s looser fitting jean. It’s our ‘DNA Loose’ jean, which is slightly cropped. We’ve also brought back the original C17 logo. We’ve reinterpreted branding of old as we see fit. The boxer dog features heavily on our ticketing. Retailers used to get a C17 boxer dog ornamental figure for point of sale, so it’s a nod back to that. Aside from the jeans, we’ve done an exact replica of an archive denim jacket, even down to the way it’s been washed, though we do have a raw denim version as well. Looking ahead to AW20, we will also launch a premium line featuring selvedge denim, probably made in Japan.

How did you go about putting the collection together?

Everything has been designed in great detail, by myself and a former Levi’s designer. It’s been a phenomenal learning curve for me. I wasn’t even aware of what you do when you go in to factories before. Every single item is architected out before it goes to the factory. With the shirts we’ve even woven our own fabrics, so you won’t see something from another brand that looks like ours. There is going to be some branding tweaks as it was a bit rushed putting everything together to launch for AW19. We started out with about 50 pieces, but we’ve now edited it down to what we see as the strongest 30 pieces in different colourways. There’s a colourful sweatshirt programme which features the old logo on the sleeve, and there are some archive prints, but we don’t want to release absolutely everything in the first season.

C17

C17 slogan print sweat

How are you getting the word out that C17 is coming back?

We’ve set up an Instagram account for it and we already have almost 45,000 followers, and this is pre-launch! There’s a lot of people out there who remember the brand. We’ve been bombarded with old images of people wearing C17 product back in the day. Some even have pieces still lying around in the back of their wardrobe which they are sending us photos of. In some cases they are asking if we can re-release certain popular pieces.

Who launched it sales-wise for AW19?

Brand Progression took it on just for the initial launch to get it in front of retailers, but we are now handling sales in-house, though we may decide to go with another sales agency on board going forward. We shall see. We’ll be looking at doing a pop-up showroom in Shoreditch for season two, SS20. I know first-hand that retailers want to see a brand out there and more established before they jump in and start buying in to it, so we’re taking things one step at a time. The reaction so far from retailers has been good, though many want to watch it for a couple of seasons, and I get that because I’m like that myself when buying in to a new brand. They want to see where it goes, where it’s positioned and will there be a relevant collection next season as well. We will do a press launch this April through Fabric PR, and I’m looking at a bus advertising campaign for London.

Where will the AW19 collection be selling?

We’ve had a couple of UK accounts pick it up, and we will be selling it in Stuarts London, in store and online, and we will be launching a C17 ecommerce website, C17jeans.com, which we are working on now – ready for a July 2019 launch. The brand has also so far been picked up on by a handful of Italian retailers who associate it with that whole 1980’s and 90’s Paninaro look. We actually want to keep distribution very tight and grow it organically. We’re not in a hurry to put it in every door, what we want to do is get the right positioning for the brand. We are looking at supporting any retailers that we work with, and we will put a stockist list on the new C17 website. It’s important that we are not just advertising ourselves and the main domain name for C17. We will give them full marketing support, and we have a social media strategy for that to drive traffic to their stores and websites as well. Jeans will retail for £110.

C17

C17 knitted sweater

When and why did you move your business HQ and warehouse to Camberley?

We moved in Easter 2017 because we’d outgrown the premises and warehouse in Shepherd’s Bush, where the Stuarts London shop remains. I also live in close vicinity to Camberley. We have the space to do everything in-house now, with a studio to take photographs for the website and much larger warehouse facilities. We bought the freehold and there’s room to expand should we need to going forward. We also have the benefit of having Royal Mail, FedEx and DHL all in the same business park.

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