In a world where fashion is fast and indiscreetly disposable, it’s always reassuring to find a haven of luxury and quality. And even more so when it’s accompanied by a modest price tag. Pin Collar Shirts is the online destination for men with an eye for the classic and crisp shirt; much like the founder Carl Thompson himself, who began his entrepreneurial venture after realising that what our high streets were providing just wasn’t good enough. Schön! speaks to the man himself on bringing affordable and well-tailored formality to the wardrobes of the UK and beyond.
You used to work in global commodities. From oil to fashion – they couldn’t be more opposite. What inspired the move?
Firstly, it was a desire to work in fashion. I love wearing a really good suit, and a well-fitted, tailored shirt is an essential part of that. I’ve always loved good tailoring, which, over the years, grew into a real passion. If I was going to leave a secure well-paid, rewarding job it had to be for something I was going to love. There’s also a history of tailoring in my family, so it’s been nice returning to something of a family trade.
Well known high street brands were, to my eyes, selling disposable shirts; poor fabric, poor tailoring and little to no attention to detail. These shirts weren’t cherished items; they were just worn, torn and binned. I saw that there was room for classic, well-tailored formal wear with an edge.
Did you find any similarities between running your own business and your previous job?
You have to have determination and persistence. That old adage about success being one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration has proved true in both jobs…and, of course as my shirts are 100% cotton they breathe, so perspiring won’t be a problem!
The other important similarity is attention to detail. It was extremely important working in commodities and it’s vital now I’m in fashion. As our shirts are classic-contemporary we’re all about the tiny differences – the edge-stitching hugging the edge of the shirt, our signature embroidery, the mother-of-pearl buttons, even the choice of thread.
Did you ever think this is where your career would lead you?
I thought my previous job was a lifer; it’s funny how things turn out…and how you make them turn out. Now that I have made the move, I’m determined to become established in the menswear industry. I think the fact that this wasn’t the area I began my working career in says that I went looking for opportunities, rather than sat around waiting for them to arrive. I like to think that I’m leading my career more than the other way around.
What was the plan when starting out Pin Collar Shirts?
We wanted to create a unique brand, a mix of contemporary and classic styles. We also wanted to embrace our British-ness. I’ve always admired the particular individualism and character of the great British eccentric and wanted to bring back some of this to the workplace.
I always knew that I wanted to get into menswear. Even though I didn’t train formally in fashion or art I’ve always had an eye for formalwear. I was always one to take pride in my appearance and over the years began to learn about tailoring and fashion. I took a liking to formal pin collar shirts, began modelling them around the office and received a lot of very positive feedback.
Why did you start Pin Collar Shirts online, as opposed to opening a shop?
Our research before launching had shown a distinct growing trend of men shopping for clothes online. I think it’s fair to say that clothes shopping hasn’t always been the most cherished activity for many men, so if some of this can be done from a sofa instead of in a mall, so much the better.
It must be hard competing against the high street. What sets you apart?
In my view the high street has focused on quantity at the expense of quality for too long. In some ways, due to escalating rents for retailers, this is understandable. However this has left the door open for smaller, niche brands like ours to enter the market.
Firstly, we have pitched ourselves as affordable luxury. Our shirts compare well with luxury brands with regards to fabric, tailoring and attention to detail at less than half the cost. For us that means a smaller profit margin but that’s literally the price we’re willing to pay to be a leader in our particular market niche.
We also focus on exceptional customer care. In an online world it often feels as if customer service has fallen drastically behind. Too often I think we seem to accept bad service as the norm and it shouldn’t be that way. I challenge our customers to demand excellent customer service and it is our job to exceed their expectations every time.
Do you ever see Pin Collar Shirts expanding? Not just shirts but other Brit-centric pieces?
We have already expanded into ties, pocket squares and accessories and there is more to come. We also have our parent brand – Hawkins & Shepherd – which we will be launching soon. After having gathered research over the past year from our customers and will be targeting the Asian and US markets. As always we are looking for stockists, so this is a shameless pitch to any stockists/ buyers who may be reading this.
Name a famous figure you think embodies your brand.
That’s a tricky one, so I’ll name four.
David Gandy – someone with a strong sense of style who is proudly committed to the fashion industry and, having recently met him, a really nice bloke as well;
Designer, Tom Ford – perhaps the leading exponent of classic contemporary fashion for men today;
Actors, Clarke Gabel and Rudolph Valentino – two style icons from Hollywood’s golden era. When I go retro, this tends to be where I go back to.
Where do you see the label in the next five years?
Within that five year window we want to be sold in all good department stores throughout the UK. I don’t expect us to be outselling M&S but I also don’t think we’re selling the same look. In the medium-term I would like to present a range at London Collections: Men
Do you have any style notes, or tips for wearing Pin Collar Shirts?
One of the things I love about Pin Collar Shirts is how versatile they are. They can be worn as a finishing touch to a formal look such as a three-piece suit – a trend we’ve admired on many high profile men including David Gandy, David Beckham and Ryan Gosling. As a personal stylist, I recommend wearing a waistcoat and trousers in a darker neutral tone. My clients are pleasantly surprised at it’s slimming effect, and if they are both the same colour and worn with the same, or similar, colour shoes it gives the illusion of looking taller too! The Pin Collar Shirt also works well as a casual look. My favourite is worn underneath a bomber jacket or jumper – the Pin Collar makes a statement yet is extremely wearable, whether you’re a classic, preppy, or sporty gentleman. Marika Page, Fashion Stylist.
Words / Shama Nasinde