Brent Pope: ‘I don’t see why I couldn’t establish a brand like Tommy Hilfiger’
Inside Track: Brent Pope, Pope Shirts and Shoes
‘Men want to be able to buy a pair of shoes now, wear them for six months and get a new pair, that’s the trend’
When he was young, Brent Pope used fashion to help him feel good about himself. He saw it as a way to improve his mental health. “When you look good, you feel better,” he says. Last October, his brand, Pope Shirts and Shoes, opened a new website. Pope’s aim is to encourage men to buy their own clothes.
What sets your business out from the competition?
The fashion industry is competitive but I think what sets me apart from most of the other brands is that I am involved in all aspects of the business – from design, to materials, to sales and packing.
Shirts are designed in Amsterdam with source material from all over Europe, and then made in Turkey. I’m an Irish brand and have tailored my shirts and shoes to fit an Irish market. The shirt brand compares to Pink and loyal customers come in and buy bulk loads.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are as passionate about things as I am. There will be plenty of people to tell you ‘it’ can’t be done but, if you are around people who are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and are passionate about the things you are, then you can’t go far wrong.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
The worst mistakes I’ve made were when I didn’t trust my gut. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. As a lot of small businesses will tell you, trust plays a huge role in who your client base is – trust that they will pay you for your services or product, trust they will take in orders they have committed to, trust they will be loyal. And all these things matter when you are a small business struggling to survive.
And your major success to date?
I was told by so many people that it would be stupid to enter into the world of fashion and retail, that I could not create a quality clothing brand. I’ve always wanted to prove the doubters wrong. I saw a niche in the market for men of a certain age who still want to look good.
I spent years advertising other brands until one day I thought, “why can’t I design and promote my own clothing line”. As soon as my shirts and shoes appear in a store or people on the street stop me and say ‘I love your shoes or my father loves your shirts’, I realise the real reason I created the brand. I wanted to be proud that I had created something special, something that was mine. It’s not always about money for me; it’s more about looking back and whatever happens saying I gave it ago.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
I admire great business people like JP McManus, who stay loyal to their roots. Working in mental health, I’ve met some of the most inspiring people. I was in Starbucks in Galway with Brian O’Driscoll recently and met a lad with Down Syndrome who told us how much he loved his job. He had played basketball in the Special Olympics and with great gusto said ‘I love my job – I’m a meet and greeter!’ – now that’s inspirational.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
Small businesses always struggle most in a recession because they don’t have the resources to make it out the other side. Success shouldn’t always be just about profits, but about what local businesses add to communities. Ireland chiselled its success from small businesses and that’s why Irish people should be encouraged to buy local produce. It’s all too easy to get swept up with the huge marketing budgets of the big multinationals.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Getting paid. In retail, the small operator faces so much competition from big brands. Even though my stock might sell better than the big brands, I have to wait to be paid. Yet I have to pay my manufacturers straight away. Getting left with excess stock is always hard too.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
My short-term future is to build a loyal following for my shirts and shoes. In my mind, it takes about five years to get to that stage. My brand is stylish and comfortable and also at an affordable point. Men want to be able to buy a pair of shoes now, wear them for six months and get a new pair, that’s the trend.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
It’s hard to say what my brand is worth, I’m in nearly 150 stores nationwide with either Pope shoes, shirts or both. With the right investment I don’t see why I couldn’t establish a brand like Tommy Hilfiger or Pink internationally. At one stage when I was in New York, the men’s buyer in Macy’s said he loved my shirts. I have to dream big, and that is always the way I’ve been, but I know the quality of my product is as good as any other on the market.
Would I sell it? Yes if the price was right, but I would want to retain some ownership or day-to-day running of the brand. It is my name after all, and I need that to represent quality and professionalism, I don’t want to ever see that watered down. I have had offers to take over the brand, just not the right one yet. As Del Boy said: ‘Next year, Rodders.’