The Interview: Tom Holmes, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Wax London

Last month saw Wax London open its first ever store at 28 Foubert’s Place in Carnaby’s Newburgh Quarter. A bold move in such challenging retail times. Co-founder Tom Holmes talks us through their decision and hopes for the future.

Who’s behind the brand?

There’s three of us, myself and my wife, Steffy Neceva, who is the creative director and a Central Saint Martins’ alumni. Richard Singh is the other co-founder, he’s the commercial director and I’m the managing director.

When did you establish the Wax London brand and when did your new store open?

We established the brand in 2015, with the aim to make quality yet affordable and sustainable menswear, and we opened the store, on the corner of Foubert’s Place and Newburgh Street, on Saturday 19 September, 2020.

What was your original business strategy and how has that developed?

Direct to consumer was the original focus and the initial idea was to reinvent the classic waxed cotton Mac. We make all of our outerwear in London, and our concept was very much about bringing back that outerwear tradition to the UK. The brand evolved from there, and now wholesale makes up about 40%-50% of the business. We’re stocked quite well by stores all over the world, including Selfridges, John Lewis and independents such as Our Daily Edit in the UK, Le Bon Marché in France, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s in the US and Edifice and Beams in Japan. We’ve got a good mix. The whole premise of the business is built around honestly priced clothes, which are an entry in to that more directional fashion look – elevated essentials and honest price points is where we’re at.

Wax London

Why is now a good time to open a first permanent bricks and mortar store?

We’ve been looking to do this for years, but for whatever reason we’ve never quite got it over the line. We’ve never even done a pop-up before. We’ve focused on online and wholesale, and we’ve managed to come through the coronavirus pandemic in a good position so far. It’s been tough, as it has been for everyone, but with the help of our Wax London community we’ve come through it. We’ve been posting great figures online and, as a result of the pandemic on the current retail situation, there’s some great deals out there to be had. We just thought, why not? It’s a big risk in some ways, but we’re not doing the shop to try to make loads of money out of it. We’ve never had a permanent physical shop where we can give a bit of personality and a touch point to the brand. It’s about bringing the brand to life and it’s a really great space of about 800 sq ft. We’ve already had quite a lot of our customers contacting us and coming in. It’s all Covid-safe, and we’re doing private appointments. It was just a unique opportunity, in a unique time. Rather than pop-ups, we’ve always thought we’d like to hold out and do a proper retail experience, so this is it.

Why did that shop location particularly appeal to you?

Personally, I’ve always loved this shop, when it was the MAC Cosmetics shop and then when it became the Shinola shop. It’s such a stand-out building with lots of character, and the area has such amazing heritage. It’s just a really great space, right on the corner with loads of natural light flowing in. I think that, as much as Covid is proving a tough time for retail businesses, we wouldn’t have got this particular space if it wasn’t for Covid! So, we have to see it as an opportunity as much as anything else. We’ve got Barbour and Cowshed opposite us, and Fred Perry one door down.

How would you describe the look and feel of the store?

It’s very light and open and we’ve included a coffee experience in the space from a friend of mine who owns Round Hill Roastery. We’re also selling a jewellery from another friend who has a brand called Phira London.The shop has almost like a club-house atmosphere to it, which is what we wanted, with a sofa in the middle of the store and bench seating outside. Obviously, the Covid crisis makes things difficult, because you can’t have that many people in the shop. The store is not jammed full of product, it’s more about having a great experience in the store, having a coffee and meeting some brands that you haven’t met before. The coffee is for sale, as are the coffee beans which are direct from the farmers in the countries they originate from in South America. They have a bit of a cult following themselves, and it’s also their first foray in to retail – selling some artisan coffee roasting equipment too.

Wax London

How would you best describe your target customer profile?

I think we’ve probably got a couple of different customer profiles, slightly older product-savvy guys and a younger more directional customer too – who appreciates our products and our values on sustainability, matched with viable price points. We were always looking at Berwick Street as a potential spot for a shop, which has a great heritage for our level of menswear brands, such as Oliver Spencer, Universal Works, Folk, A Day’s March and YMC just round the corner on Poland Street. This area is great for that. I think we fit in well.

What’s new for AW20 in the new store right now?

We’ve got a really great over-shirt offering, which we’re really noted for at the moment, as well as our made in London outerwear and organic jersey pieces. There will also be in-store exclusives that we won’t be offering online, with new drops throughout the season. Everything we do is limited edition, with runs from 50 up to 300 per piece. We’ve got five or six styles which we would call our ‘continuity line’, but most things we make we probably won’t go back to again. It keeps it interesting. We do our classic two patch pocket ‘Whiting Overshirt’ in about 20 fabrications. It’s made from recycled yarn from a mill in France, which dates back to the 1920’s. It’s quite a heavy garment for autumn/winter, and it’s been a real stand-out piece for us. Our traditional made in London Crombie-style coats are also very popular. We’ve got a double-breasted version too, updated for a modern audience.

Wax London

How do you see the future panning out?

Well, we’re still a relatively new brand. We’re growing year-on-year at the moment, quite substantially. We’re tripling our business every year on our website, and I think we’re only really scratching the surface so far. There’s lots more we want to offer. We want to put even more emphasis on the sustainability side, as it’s something we’ve always cared about from day one. We really want to make that even more of a cornerstone of the business. That’s the way the world needs to be going. Once we can put all the pieces together, the sky is the limit.

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