TOG24 credits 60 years of longevity to its Yorkshire roots and family values. Victoria Benn went along to Heckmondwike to find out more.
If anyone doubted the veracity of TOG24’s Yorkshire-ness, they only need pay a visit to managing director Mark Ward’s office to receive one of the warmest welcomes this side of the Pennines – from his brace of whippets, Arthur and Frank. In fact, celebrating a landmark 60 years of Yorkshire heritage is what TOG24 is all about right now, and Arthur and Frank are a key part of that.
Founded by Donald “Big D” Ward, inset right, in the Spen Valley town of Heckmondwike in 1958 – a fact still proudly communicated on every garment – TOG24 has evolved from footwear manufacturer into one of the High Street’s most prominent outerwear retailers. Family-owned to this day, the company is now run by Big D’s grandson Mark, who made the move from product director to managing director in May.
“This is a big year for us,” says Mark, speaking from the converted cotton mill where the company set up home in 1970. “Not only are we celebrating an incredible 60 years in the business, but this is also the first year of our five-year plan, a stratagem which has seen us increase our leadership team at head office, as well as re-invigorating and relaunching the TOG24 brand.”
With a new-look website in the pipeline, a drive to improve the retail experience (thanks to the newly appointed visual merchandiser) and an increased portfolio of stores – along with some inspirational advertising imparting the TOG24 value, Truth Over Glory Everyday – the plans, although ambitious, look achievable.
“We want to get it out there that TOG24 is for ordinary folk,” adds Mark. “Yes, our clothes are technically proficient as well as stylish, but they are made for everyone who likes spending time outdoors. We want our clothes to appeal to people walking their dog or watching sport on a cold day, not to those planning a trip to the top of the Himalayas.
“Most people, especially anyone living in Yorkshire, need multi-functional outer clothing. They need a jacket or a coat that is technically up to the job in terms of its construction and which will last and continue to fit into their lives, from the once-a-year family skiing or camping trip to the other day-to-day activities they’ll be doing, like walking into town or going to the pub.”
As the first company in the UK to start using Gore-Tex (which it did back in the 1970s) and the first to import and use Polartec, the original fleece fabric, TOG24 is an old hand at building in technical proficiency as standard. Waterproof fabric is rigorously tested and features like heat-sealed seams, breathability, ethically sourced down fillings and snow cuffs have become the norm, along with magnetic studs and large “pullers” to ensure fasteners can actually be fastened with gloves on. It is garment technology you could be forgiven for thinking belonged to an extreme sports brand… that is until you looked at your packaging, where once again the company’s down to earth, tongue in cheek personality reveals itself, with slogans like “Put a lid on it” emblazoned across helmet boxes and “Put your foot in it” on shoe boxes.
The colours featured in the new collection also take Yorkshire as their inspiration. “I’ve been working closely with our head of creative and product, Vanessa Barber, to put together a palette of colours which reflects something of our county’s landscape,” says Mark. “I’ve been out on the moors with my camera taking pictures of the heather as well as the brighter coloured marks on sheep and our new white parka coat was inspired by the cliffs at Flamborough Head.
“With it being our 60th year, Vanessa and her team have also been delving into our archive and reinventing vintage pieces like our classic parka, which she’s brought up to date in a range of new colours, with much-improved performance.”
This month the 60th celebrations really take off for customers, with a wide variety of events including 60 gifts being given away at random, a Yorkshire goody bag giveaway to the first 30 customers to visit each store on Saturday, October 27 and an extra 20 per cent off for all customers from October 22. For the staff there is a new company newsletter, The Whippet, which features Frank on the front sporting a flat cap.
“We don’t actually sell flat caps to the public at the moment,” confides Mark. “Our mannequins wear them and we give them out to staff as prizes and awards, but I’m thinking perhaps we should start to sell them, they might be popular.”
Truth over glory every day? It’s what flat caps were made for.
TOG24 is available at www.tog24.com.