This week our dialogue series continues with a discussion on flannel and foxes. Make that Fox Flannel, the originators of woollen flannel.
Image Granted -What is your job/title/profession?
Decca Lang - I’m Retail Operations Manager at The Merchant Fox.Launched at the end of last year, The Merchant Fox sells a collection of some of the finest goods being designed AND produced in Great Britain. As well as being made entirely in Britain, most items also have provenance, which is detailed online so people can read about each product, its maker and where it comes from, as they browse.
It’s my responsibility to put the unique collection together, working with each producer to ensure quality of the highest order and appeal to our customers.
Split into ‘Home & Interiors’, Work & Travel’, ‘Accessories & Style’, for US folk visiting England, there’s also a ‘By Appointment’ service, whereby an individual can visit the showroom and adapt the collection to their personal taste before placing a bespoke order.
In other words, you can customise a particular piece to have it made exactly as you want it - choosing the cloth especially for a one-off dressing gown, or requesting a particular type of leather for one of the bags. For individuals who pride themselves on being a connoisseur of subtle style and elegance, this is a truly unique bespoke service.
IG -It's widely known that Fox Brothers are the originators and/or creators of woollen flannel. What is the relationship between Fox Brothers, Fox Flannel and The Merchant Fox?
DL - Historic records found at the Fox Brothers mill, which was established in 1772, indicate that Fox first created what we commonly refer to as ‘flannel’, in 1803.
To this day, Fox Brothers is known as the standard bearer for flannel. To quote Esquire, ‘Just as Harris Tweed carries the banner for tweed purists, Fox Brothers lays claim to the one true legacy of flannel. The British company has been in the flannel business for 238 years, and today high rollers from Henry Poole and Hackett to Hermès and Ralph Lauren use the company's soft, textured flannel. Always be sure to ask for it by name."
So Fox Brothers sells Fox Flannel and other fine woollen cloths to tailors, designers and fashion houses, but rarely direct to the public.
The Merchant Fox is a sister business, selling finished products direct to the public and wherever possible, incorporating an element of Fox Brothers cloth, so furniture is upholstered in Fox Brothers cloth, slippers and dressing gowns from Fox cloth and so on.
For The Merchant Fox we seek out the best artisan producers making exquisite goods in the British Isles and work with them to introduce a new piece to the online collection.
IG -We understand Fox Flannel was acquired in whole or at least in part by former Dragons’ Den member Ms. Deborah Meaden. How did this acquisition take place? Was the transition an easy one? What has changed if anything at Fox Brothers since the deal?
DL - Deborah lives near the mill in the South West of England and heard of the opportunity to invest from Jeremy Hackett, author on men’s style and founder of well-known menswear brand, ‘Hackett’.
When she first visited the mill it was struggling to stay afloat. In fact, the then owner was seeking additional funding from traditional sources like banks to enable the mill to remain in business, which was proving nigh on impossible.
Deciding the product itself was world-class, and identifying opportunities where the business could grow in the future, Deborah acquired the mill with long-term friend Douglas Cordeaux at the end of 2009 and Fox Brothers was saved from going bust after 238 years in business.
The reaction to the news amongst staff was immensely positive, a feeling of relief that the business would survive, and also, recognition that it had been acquired by someone who genuinely knew of its importance to the local area and local people.
Since acquiring the British heritage brand, Deborah has expanded the workforce, initiated an apprenticeship scheme to teach a younger generation the skills necessary to weave fine woollen cloths and helped instill a sense of pride amongst the workforce, which includes a lady who is the fourth generation of her family to work at the mill. The mill might be smaller than it was once, but its reputation certainly isn’t and Fox is recognised for its fine woollen cloths all around the globe.
IG - The Merchant Fox offers some lovely items. How did the collaboration with Budd shirt makers come about? It's interesting that you've collaborated with a shirt maker but do not offer shirts. Was this a strategic decision? Why did you decide to offer dressing gowns instead?
Yes, the collection has some truly exquisite pieces in it, things that we imagine will become heirlooms of the future and importantly, aren’t available to buy elsewhere.
The Merchant Fox was never meant to compete with Fox Brothers’ traditional cloth customers. It was launched as a way to bring together the array of beautifully designed and crafted goods being made in Britain today and sell them direct to customers.
We know Budd from our dealings with the tailoring houses of Savile Row, and it happens to be the finest shirt maker in England, if not the world, so the collaboration was ideal. We provide the cloth, they provide the expertise to produce the dressing gowns, which as it happens, are one of our best sellers in the US.
We like to collaborate with the best of British makers, whether it be a fourth generation leather worker, or a basket weaver at the last remaining commercial willow site in England.
IG -What are your plans for expanding the brand of The Merchant Fox? Will there be new products and/or collaborations?
DL -New products are introduced all the time - we’ve just added the ‘Huntspill Oak Bark Satchel’, ‘Dog Whistle With Silver Exmoor Horn Charm’ and ‘Sitting Fox Sterling Silver Cufflinks’ - in time for the early bird Christmas shoppers.
As we’ve seen with our Budd collaboration, they work well when there’s a synergy between the maker and ourselves, which appeals to our global customer base. I’d like to be able to tell you the name, but you’ll have to wait to hear about our new range of ties, made by one of the best in the business.
To collaborate with The Merchant Fox you need to be producing something in this country that is desirable to stylish gentlemen, something of supreme quality, ideally with provenance.