The carefree spirit of Joe Browns’ clothing range is nothing random. If anything, it stems from founder Simon Brown’s adventurous personality – something he has had since a very young age.
“I left school at age 18 with one A Level and then worked in a factory for nine months,” he recalled.
“I wanted to travel the world so bad. I saved up £800 and bought a one way ticket to New York.
“I worked in Canada building railways in Winnipeg, and worked in Vancouver plastering houses.
“What we wanted to achieve were three things all beginning with the letter “I”: interesting, intriguing and inspiring”
“I also spent a bit of time in Mexico and then ended up in New Zealand playing rugby,” he laughed.
Brown returned to the UK after 18 months of travelling. By that stage, his father had opened a couple of clothing factories in Yorkshire, making items such as donkey jackets and duffel coats.
It was at that point that the seeds for Brown’s entrepreneurial spirit were sown.
“I then started designing and selling clothes. I started in Leeds market, as well as Wakefield and Sheffield,” he told Retail Gazette.
“After that it developed really nicely. We ended up then dealing with Topman. We dealt with everybody you could you could imagine – Next, BHS, Jigsaw, Debenhams, River Island, pretty much all the big ones apart from M&S.”
The inspiration for Joe Browns came when Brown and a group of friends were enjoying a beer at a beach bar in Morfa Nefyn, North Wales, at the end of a long day of surfing.
“I saw a dozen girls and boys having fun,” he recalled.
“They were just free and I looked at them and thought if I could bottle up the essence of what they’re exuding and somehow transmit that into fashion, then that would be the very essence of Joe Browns – fun and easygoing.”
Shortly afterwards, Joe Browns was founded in 1998. It started off as a mail-order retailer before moving to online. In October 2017, it opened its first-ever bricks-and-mortar store in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre.
“What we wanted to achieve were three things all beginning with the letter “I”: interesting, intriguing and inspiring – and that’s what we managed to do,” Brown said.
Jump to this year, and Joe Browns opened a second store at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet York.
“The reason we opened an outlet store is to really take the product off the website because people were drawn to the outlet section on our website,” Brown explained.
“The opening was so much better than we thought it was going to be.”
His business has also been enjoying a successful year despite a challenging retail market. Last June, Joe Browns revealed direct sales since the start of its financial year in July 2018 had risen by 17 per cent year-on-year. It also said its debut store in Sheffield reported gross sales of over £3.3 million since it opened.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the northern fashion retailer.
“The first two years of business were pretty damn tough to be honest,” Brown told Retail Gazette.
“We were nearly out of business. Once we found an investor, that’s when the business took off.”
“Catalogue is driving people into the stores and it’s driving people online.”
While many businesses such as H&M are scrapping their catalogues, Joe Browns is embracing it. So much so that its main platform for advertising is through its catalogue division. Brown said that part of the business “never went away”.
“It’s driving people into the stores and it’s driving people online,” he told Retail Gazette.
“People go in the stores for the first time and then get the catalogue as well.”
Like most other retailers, Brown conceded that Brexit uncertainty had him “watching the market”. Despite this, he makes no secret of his ambition to expand Joe Browns – although he admitted it would “never be a chain of 100 stores”.
“We’re very careful and we’re looking forward to the future,” he explained.
“We’ve got two or three other stores lined up at the moment. so that’s very exciting.”
In addition, the retailer launched a 49-piece homeware range in collaboration with N Brown in February this year to expand its offering.
“If we give the customers what they want, if we work our socks off designing both men and women’s clothing, as well as homeware and offer it at the prices customers want, then we should do alright – shouldn’t we?,” Brown laughed.