Leeds-based fashion and lifestyle brand Joe Browns grows from its mail order and e-tail roots into bricks and mortar, Stephanie Smith looks at the ethos behind this distinctive and free-spirited company.
There’s something mood-enhancing about Joe Browns, something that dials up the sun, whatever the weather. Quirky and free-spirited, the brand has made a name for itself by taking its own path, not conforming to received wisdom and tradition, and certainly not taking itself too seriously.
Joe Browns likes to mix it up. It offers both menswear and womenswear with a carefree edge, eye-popping colours and riotous prints in easy fabrics and wearable shapes, with quirky design details and a retro meets boho vibe. Joe Browns printed men’s shirts have probably achieved legendary status. They have great names, too – the Rocking Grandad shirt, the One for the Weekend, the Shadow Guitar.
Managing director Simon Brown founded Joe Browns in Farsley, Leeds, in 1998. He had been working for his family clothing business in Bramley, HE and FJ Brown, but hit upon the idea for a new brand while on holiday in Wales, visiting the Ty Coch pub and noticing a group of carefree surfer boys and girls, all salty hair and wrist bangles. It was a feeling he wanted to capture. The menswear is inspired by “beats, bikes and boards” and Brown and his team travel the globe for inspiration. The fashion shoot featured here for the spring/summer range took place in Fuerteventura.
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Now a major e-tailer and mail order company, Joe Browns HQ and warehousing operation is in Holbeck.
In 2017, Joe Browns opened its first shop in Meadowhall, Sheffield, and has just announced that it is opening a 1,500 square foot store in the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet York at the beginning of July, as part of its next phase of exploring retail.
“We have never been known to do things the same way as everyone else. We love to buck the trends,” said Mr Brown. “When we first set out in retail, we already had the backing of a strong digital business, born out of mail order back in the day – so this gave us a fantastic grounding.
“Customers had been constantly asking for a place where they could touch, feel and try on our garments – as a pure mail order business this isn’t possible – so we decided to take the plunge.
“The biggest benefit to us as a company is that the store environment allows us to learn lots about our customers. We hear what they have to say, we can see what and how they buy and also why they make the choices they do. It’s a real chance to interact and discover new ideas that will help us continue to develop as a business.”
Direct sales for the multichannel retailer since July 2018 have risen by 17 per cent year on year. Since opening in October 2017, the Meadowhall store has reported gross sales of more than £3.3m. “Our Meadowhall store captures and really brings to life the essence of our fun and liberating brand, so we’re really looking forward to replicating this and delivering a true point of difference to the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet York,” Mr Brown said.
The new store will stock discounted men’s and womenswear. It’s hoped that there will be more Joe Browns stores in the future. Mr Brown said: “It’s about being fun, and spontaneous, open minded and liberated – and above all it’s the positive attitude that helps us stand apart, not just the clothes we sell, and that’s really important.
“There are challenges out there in retail but there are also opportunities. We’re only a fraction of the way through our journey. Joe Browns can get as big as our imaginations want it to be.”
“We know more than anything that it’s essential to continue to offer a real point of difference – something completely unique and distinctive that people can’t find elsewhere.”
Joe Browns is at Meadowhall and at www.joebrowns.co.uk.