May 17, 2019 | By Anupreet Bhui
Apr 06, 2018
WGSN Associate Editor Alice Gividen sat down with John Bright, founder of new, digitally-led Menswear brand Centre Front.
They talked getting off the ground, sustainability and the importance of a strong brand purpose.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and the build up to starting Centre Front?
My background is in buying. I stared as a buyers admin assistant at Debenhams and then worked my way up through to buyer. After that, I joined ASOS which was, back then, still in its relatively early days. The menswear offering was tiny – we hadn’t really even started own label properly, so it was an exciting time to join! I was there for six years, and worked up to a buying manager role and, whilst I loved it, I was ready by then for a new challenge.
That’s when I headed to work for Jabong for a year – an Indian fashion website that wanted to establish a design and buying office in London. I went to set up the Menswear side of things and the experience taught me a lot about setting up a business. Whilst Jabong was readily established in India (similar to ASOS within the UK), it was virtually a start-up here.
The cultural differences were pretty vast, the approaches to buying were too different and it ended up not translating well. In the end, it wasn’t the best fit, so I left and took some time out and just knew that I didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before.
It felt like the right time to start my own brand. I had the experience and I didn’t have the comfort of a job which, I think, can make it pretty hard to take the plunge.
The next move was figuring out a point of difference for Centre Front in a really saturated market?
That’s when I knew I wanted to dress the guy who’s a little older and moved on from ASOS and Topman. He’s looking for higher quality and longevity, but doesn’t look to buy designer or premium clothing.
So it became about how I can achieve that – create clothes that aren’t just throwaway fashion and are a little more considered, whilst still being trend-led and keeping a low price point. I’ve been working with my suppliers to help strike that balance.
At WGSN, we’re certainly noticing a new consumer that is more aware of sustainable fashion and is looking for products that are more ethically-sourced. Does that come in to play for you at all? Is your quality checking a part of that?
It’s a part of it, yes.
I did initially want a wholly sustainable brand but, with my goal of keeping a lower, accessible price point, it became impossible. So, when starting Centre Front, I began to think ‘what can I do to make sustainable or ethical steps?’ Firstly, it was making products that will last last – this isn’t ‘wear once, throwaway’ fashion. Secondly, it was the smaller add-ons that I considered – for instance, making sure packaging is recyclable. And now, I’ve linked up with a charity called CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), donating 10% of all sales to them. If i can’t be a fully sustainable brand across the board, I can give back in other ways.
Tell me more about working with CALM – is it important for you that your brand has a bigger purpose?
It’s a partnership that I’ve just undertaken. As I’m working for myself, I’m not under specific pressure to make a certain amount of profit – it’s not as if I have shareholders. For me, it’s so important to have a bigger purpose than just making money. However, authenticity is so important. I’ve chosen a charity that campaign’s against male suicide (the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK), and I want to feel as though my work on social media is creating conversations around men’s mental health.
CALM is a smaller charity, too – it’s nice to feel and see that you’re making a difference, and it compliments a small business like myself.
Financially, setting up a brand is a big investment. How are you finding getting it off the ground? Are you working to a seasonal schedule?
So I launched in October, another season then came in February and then I have a smaller season coming in May.
It’s hard to bring in full seasons and work to that schedule when you’re establishing your brand and, as you said, it’s a huge financial investment to begin with. During my year with Jabong, I really got to grips with costing things and setting a budget so that’s helped me get off on the right foot.
It’s fine to have a good eye and a vision for your brand, but it’s not enough – you can’t underestimate the business element and the realities of getting started. For instance, a learning curve for me has been the social media and marketing element – I’ve never had to do that side of things before.
We’re big on the future at WGSN. What’s next for Centre Front?
It’s only been six months, so the main focus is slow, steady organic growth. I’m keen to be stocked in smaller, independent stores because I think that’s the environment that works best for my brand – I’m already beginning to identify specific stores that could be a good fit .
Once some stockists are secured, It’ll allow me to up my offerings and then the brand can grow. I know that growth also lies in building my website, driving engagement and gaining traction there, particularly as people continue to shop on their mobile phones.
Also, I’m on ASOS marketplace, and it’s encouraging to see sales coming in from Scandinavia and Germany. Perhaps there’s potential for expansion around this in the future…
Lastly, any advice for those who want to set up their own brand?
Go into it with your eyes wide open because it’s certainly a tough thing to do. It can take an emotional toll, too. Some days, I wake up and have six sales, then two days can go by with none at all – you have to persevere!
Also, don’t underestimate other elements of the business. I was so focused on launching, that I didn’t pay as much attention to social media, branding and an online presence until after I’d started. Looking back, I should’ve focused on that earlier on. When I look at my analytics, people are mainly visiting the site from Facebook and Instagram, it’s really a crucial part of brand exposure.
Lastly, get your brand identity down, don’t overreach and just take it slow.
For more insight into menswear and men’s retail, WGSN subscribers can head to the Menswear Section on WGSN.
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