We were really pleased to catch up with founders of Fitz & Fro, Arthur Fitzalan Howard & Tom Asquith, a menswear brand currently specialising solely in collarless shirts. They are steadily getting the recognition they deserve, having been featured in the likes of GQ and the Evening Standard (to name a few) and it won’t be long before it will be the staple shirt for every savvy Londoner to be wearing. For those looking to break into the world of retail, hear about the joys of finding a manufacturer, going into business with a friend and just what the year ahead is looking like for them…
If you went to university was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do?
A: I had a very brief stint at Oxford Brookes that weirdly didn’t enlighten a clear-cut path for me.
T: Studying Religion at University I could only hope the Big Guy had created a clear journey for me to go down. Alas this was not the case – but I don’t think it is ever the situation for many people.
What is Fitz & Fro and when did you launch?
Fitz & Fro is a menswear brand currently specialising solely in collarless shirts. We launched just in time for Christmas 2016.
How did the idea for Fitz & Fro come about?
T: We were on a road trip down to the south of France two years ago and after a few days we arrived in Cannes. It was a hot evening and we both moaned about our collars and the lack of good quality collarless shirts. One thing led to another and we thought how amazing it would be to create collarless shirts for everyone else with the same love that we had for them. We toiled the idea of setting something up when we got back – which by this point we were so excited we almost cut the trip short. Everything then became an inspiration or an idea on the trip about what we could do when we got back – we couldn’t get the idea out of our heads. Arriving home a week later, we got straight to it and set up what is now Fitz & Fro.
Have you left full time employment to pursue Fitz & Fro full time?
A: I wasn’t in full time employment to start with… but yes Fitz & Fro is full time for me.
T: I still work in Film & Television as a Location scout as well as focussing on Fitz & Fro
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for Fitz & Fro?
A: I guess the first challenge we had was coming up with a name. It sounds like a really simple first step but of course its such a key thing that we both had to be 100% happy with. Not having a brand name halts everything – setting up a website/emails etc. And then really it was finding a manufacturer.
T: We were also going into an industry we didn’t know much about. We didn’t have a masters in anything fashion or any background in fashion on the whole. Our courses at university taught us more about whether or not God exits, instead of ‘how to create a successful company’. We had to read up on and do crash courses in setting up a business to give ourselves a chance in fashion’s ever expanding world. It wasn’t as simple as making shirts and selling – it took us over 20 shirts to finally find the right cut and fit that we were happy with.
How do you go about finding a manufacturer? Any tips you can offer…
A: We knew initially that we wanted to manufacture in India as Tom has family living out there so any trips out we had a place to stay. We found a company called Supplycompass who source suppliers in India that suits your companies needs. We thought that Supplycompass were great but we struggled with the communication and consistency in India so we started to look elsewhere. Our second range of shirts (and for the foreseeable future) were manufactured in Portugal. That was really just down to tons of research and emailing endless manufactures and factories to see which ones would be interested in creating our shirts. A week later we got a shirt delivered to us in the post that one of the factories had made, it was great so we got the next flight out to Porto to visit this wonderful family run factory who now make all our shirts!
How have you raised investment? Or equally how are you raising investment?
A: We have tried to do it in the most simple way so far – we got a relatively small loan to start with and thats all the investment we’ve had. Anything the company makes goes straight back in.
Any advice you could give others looking for investment?
A: Get your sums sussed and work out exactly what you need.
T: You are asking for someone to invest in your company, a company that has no reason to succeed in the eyes of any investor. All you initially have to grab them is your enthusiasm and pure belief that it will work. You need to reflect that in any meeting you have. You also (on a boring but true factor) need to make sure that all you numbers add up and the business plan is exciting enough – not the same waffle as the last guy.
Have you got a mentor?
Who do you seek out for support and advice (if not a mentor)?
A: Family have been so key, they have the perfect mix of wanting to see you do well and succeed, whilst also not afraid to tell you that an idea you have is rubbish!
T: The people that are close to you are the most important people to be around in the early stages. I think family are always there to support you, whether its just trying on the sample shirt to see what it looks like on someone other than ourselves or even just the brutal honesty. My sister is a fashion designer and I look to her for feedback or advice on what we are making that season. Also other friends who are setting up companies at the same time are good to talk through things with as you learn from each others mistakes and there is always great advice there!
Do you ever doubt yourselves?
A: I really try not to, as us having complete confidence in the brand is key. We know we’ve got a great product and that there are tonnes of people out there who’ll like it, we’ve just got to keep finding them!
T: At first when the company was facing one problem after another I did think as anyone would, that maybe this isn’t what we should be doing just yet. But you can’t let it get to you otherwise you’ve lost, you have to keep motivated when you are setting up your own company. Its great having two in a team because there is always one who will lift the other one up when they’re in doubt.
How are you marketing Fitz & Fro?
A & T: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have been essential to reaching as many people as possible. Whats also great about being a clothing brand is that the best advert is seeing them being worn out and about, and trying to create a general word-of-mouth buzz. We have got something special planned this year which will hopefully bring in a lot of new and wonderful customers!
How do you think Fitz & Fro differs from the competition out there?
A : By purely being collarless! Focusing on one design has enabled us to give it our full attention, rather than jumping between lots of different items.
T: Men’s fashion can be hard to detach yourself from. At the end of the day to someone who doesn’t have much interest in clothing will see a shirt as a shirt. To us its a way to express ourselves. We have taken so much care in the fit of the shirt – we spent ages at the drawing board trying to make sure its the most comfortable shirt around and feels good – the fabric is taken very seriously and will differ ourselves from the other competitors – you can only use the best!
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
A: Honestly not really, it is very cliche but you’ve got to make mistakes to learn things along the way
T: There is not a lot I would change. I think we really did learn the hard way when manufacturing in India initially but I don’t think we would have got to where we are now had we not made wrong decisions. Although this shouldn’t put people off India. Its a great country for manufacturing in but I think you have to know exactly what you are looking for and where to find it.
Anything you would tell yourself then, that you know now?
A: It’s a lot quicker and cheaper to travel to Portugal then India…
T: Keep an open mind and listen to other peoples advice.
What’s a typical day for you working on Fitz & Fro?
A: Well I’m working from home with all our stock currently occupying my bedroom cupboards, so on a good day I’m busy packing up shirts with regular trips to the post office!
T: I need my morning cup of coffee before I can think about functioning. Usually its a phone call to Arthur, to discuss what we need to look into that day or follow up etc. It can be anything from researching whats going to be hot or not next season, to finding new fun ways to market and advertise the shirts. There is always someone to see or something to do when you start out and it shows no sign of stopping.
Were you weary about going into business with a friend?
A & T: It wasn’t something we really thought about. Sure we had our disagreements but so does every partnership. It makes us and the company stronger as we bounce of each other with ideas and tell each other if an ideas sucks. If any more concerning problems do arise we talk about it openly which is key otherwise you will end up just bottling.
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
A: That I like working hard when it’s something I really care about.
T: I have an appreciation for being open when coming into this business but I definitely could be more conscientious – I do like to be spontaneous but could probably be more forward thinking (Arthur does have to drag me back to reality). It is fun to be excited and energetic when you talk about what you do.
Any fuck ups along the way?
A: When creating our first shirts we told the factory in India to buy a large amount of blue linen fabric, only to decide actually the fabric wasn’t quite right, but it was too late so we had to pay for the whole thing and didn’t even use it. Not ideal!
T: I think we had more disasters in the first year of Fitz & Fro than I had in my life. Our first shirts that we sampled never seemed to fit us. Too long, too short, too wide, too narrow. I started to think my body was the one changing as nothing was ever fitting me even though they measured me everyday. But I think we know we had fucked up when we arrived for the first time at the factory in India, which was located next to a chicken abattoir, and there was no one there to make our first shirt. We waited the entire day till we were told to come back the next day when they hoped it would be ready. I guess that should have really been our warning signs. After months of chop and changing finally our shirts arrived in November – six months after we expected. Summer shirts coming out in winter? Hmmm. Looking back it was quite surreal, two inexperienced boys and a funny little factory in Delhi – Portugal seems too perfect and we now have it down to a tee.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Fitz & Fro?
A: One of our shirts is dedicated to my cousin Miles who suddenly passed away in 2015 aged 31. We give a percentage of each shirt sale to the charity his brothers set-up, ‘The Miles Frost Fund’. It’s our most popular shirt and raises a nice amount for the charity, which is hugely rewarding. Also just the little things like getting our first orders from people neither of us knew, and repeat customers!
T: Getting our shirt back from Portugal was a great moment as we knew that we were now back on track. Creating a shirt dedicated to Miles was also a really warming moment in this Fitz & Fro story so far. But one of my most memorable times was when I was at work a few months ago when I was talking to someone about helping them out for a advert they were doing. As I was about to hang up she suddenly asked if I was THE Tom Asquith (not that I felt of any importance) who set up Fitz & Fro. There was such an overwhelming sense of achievement (and surprise that she knew of us) that we were doing something which was starting to catch on. It filled me with such happiness. The next things is to see someone walking down the high street wearing one.
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
A: Go for it! Don’t rush though, make sure you are 100% happy with the product before you launch. Things are definitely initially going to take longer than you think, so be patient and stick with it!
T: A lot of people tell you all the things that could go wrong or all the risks you are taking. It is very easy and safer not to take the risk of doing something on your own. But I think these days your 20’s are a time to try something new or different. Its scary and its hard but it can be the most rewarding things you can do, especially in fashion.
What do you think is next for Fitz & Fro in the next year?
A: Keep growing, expand the range with a great array of new colours and materials. Keep spreading the collarless love!
T: There are lots of things in store for us this year. You will see us travelling all over the UK with our new range and even in some events abroad as well. There are a few collaborations in store and there might even be a shirt selection for the little toddlers of this world coming out towards the end of 2018.
What’s the dream?
A: To see tons of happy customers wearing Fitz & Fro… and get Thierry Henry as a regular customer.
T: To open up into another industry with Fitz & Fro. Once of course we have dominated the clothing market. I’ve always liked to travel…
Finally if you weren’t be doing this, what would you both be doing?
A: I’m really not sure, definitely not in an office. My own beach bar in the Caribbean sounds pretty appealing…
T: I’ve always wanted to set up a small hotel in Italy. Find an old villa and get to work. I also love wine, so maybe something in that industry.
Just for fun…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are…
A: (Lack of) money, whats for supper and when am I next gonna see Arsenal win the league.
A: Food, Travel and Friends (winning if its all three at the same time).
When I look at my bank statement after a night out I usually…
A: Best not to look.
T: See nothing in front of a 0.
The Twenty Mile Club is….
A: An epic way for us all to share our experiences.
T: A place fascinating people get their own story out there and to encourage everyone to do the same.
Find Fitz & Fro’s social handles on the links below