I-MAGAZINE interviewed the Cypriot owner of Hawes & Curtis, and the most recent inductee onto the panel of BBC’s Dragon’s Den, Touker Suleyman.
To many people you appeared on the scene suddenly, when you purchased Hawes & Curtis in 2001, what made you want to purchase the brand? What did you see in it that attracted you? And what did you do to add value?
I discovered a passion for shirts in 2000 when I was manufacturing for Ralph Lauren Europe. Luckily for me, the proprietors of a Jermyn Street shirtmaker called Hawes & Curtis were selling the business as it was about to go into administration.
In 2001, I bought Hawes & Curtis for just £1, taking on all the debt. It was the best investment I have ever made, and today the business is debt free, has 26 stores nationwide and has plans for international expansion. I have developed the brand into other areas beyond shirts, including suits, outerwear and casualwear.
I was attracted to the brand because of its rich heritage. Since the first store opened in 1913, Hawes & Curtis has served many of the best dressed men in the world, including the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, and it has been awarded four royal warrants. I saw an opportunity to make this iconic British brand great again.
What were you doing before you bought Hawes & Curtis?
Before I bought Hawes & Curtis, my brother and I built Low Profile, a womenswear wholesale business. The business became very successful and today it supplies a number of leading retailers including Marks & Spencer.
Where can you see the Hawes & Curtis brand in five to ten years?
Hawes & Curtis has grown from a relatively small UK business to a globally recognized brand in a short space of time. The brand has an extremely promising international future and in the next five to 10 years, we will be focusing on aggressively expanding this aspect of the business. We already have a franchise agreement in the in the Middle East as well as stores in Germany. We have a huge online presence with successful UK, American, Australian and German websites.
I understand you live in Kensington, what is it about that part of London that makes you want to live there as opposed to anywhere else in the UK?
London is one of the greatest cities in the world. Kensington is a stunning part of London and I love being so central.
If you could describe three ‘milestones’, in your career that made you the businessman you are today, what would they be?
My fascination with retail and manufacturing began early. My first business venture was in clothing; I used to purchase clothes for my grandmother to sell on to her friends. This eventually developed into my own successful clothing manufacturing company which supplied to notable high street names including C&A, Dorothy Perkins, Dunn Stores and Topshop.
In the 1980s I bought a substantial stake in another manufacturer and then invested in one of our largest retail clients. After a revealing audit, one of my companies was forced into liquidation. I was forced to sell my house to repay my debts. I was virtually wiped out financially, but it was the best lesson of my life. I learned a great deal about business and loyalty during this difficult time.
I had to pick myself up and start again so I bought a small cash-and-carry business with my brother. That became Low Profile, a manufacturer of clothes for the main women’s fashion chains. Low Profile was extremely successful and I used the profits to invest in property.
Touker Suleyman is a panelist on Dragon’s Den – the rest of this interview will be published in the January-June 2017 issue of I-MAGAZINE.