Beyond mod: As Ben Sherman CEO Mark Maidment enters his second year in the position, we talk philosophy, the past and the product.
Back in the Swinging Sixties, Ben Sherman founded his eponymous sportswear brand, and the Carnaby Street mods flocked to buy the Oxford button downs and slimmer-fit suits that defined the era. In the decades that followed, as with any brand, there have been ups and downs, and ownership shifts. In the late ’90s, Ben Sherman expanded into America, and enjoyed some years as the “hot new brand” in Barneys, Bloomingdale’s and independents. But as the hype cooled off, distribution broadened to more moderate markets and the brand suffered. In 2004, Oxford Industries bought the brand and not long after, Mark Maidment was named creative director. This month marks the one year anniversary of Maidment’s ascension to CEO. We sat down with him for a cup of tea and a chat.
So give us a quick background.
I’ve been at this brand for 12 years now. I came in as design director, then after three or four years, I became creative director, and then a year ago I became CEO (I still do the creative director job too). I graduated from Harrow School of Art, Duffer St. George, Diesel, Caterpillar, and now I’m here.
If I said, “I think Ben Sherman’s back,” what would you say?
We lost the balance for three or four years, and that was a turbulent moment. We were this mod brand, very British-iconic, using Union Jacks and targets, but it was very one-dimensional. Perfecting the balancing act between being relevant and contemporary, and honoring your history and heritage took introspection. Ben Sherman himself was an incredibly interesting, maverick, entrepreneurial character. His philosophy was always, “don’t copy, do original, be new and take a risk.” If he was alive today I think he would say, ”You’re looking to the past too much guys, you need to move forward. You’ve got a history, but you lost your DNA.” We looked at the brand and asked how we were going to move forward. That’s where we came up with the slogan, Heritage and Modernism.
Now I absolutely believe that in terms of product we’ve nailed it. We have our price points back where they ought to be (retail $79 to $129 for Ben Sherman Main collection shirts, and $130 to $175 for Plectrum by Ben Sherman shirts, $410 to $630 for suits, $120 to $150 for denim, $140 to $595 for outerwear and $70 to $240 for shoes). We have great licensing partners in footwear, ties, hats, childrenswear and our Ben Sherman tailoring is made by Lanier. We have a big increase on wholesale orders and retail is very strong, currently split 50/50, and the new look, (not yet in our stores here but in Carnaby Street and the rest of the U.K. and Europe) has been very successful. It’s won awards, it’s beautiful! It’s a concept-y store.
I visited the store in Islington with the barber shop, and tailoring upstairs. It’s an incredible space.
Thank you. I guess the challenge is that it takes two or three years to find your rhythm and find what the new Ben Sherman is and what it represents in the market. We feel we’ve got there and that makes it exciting for me. At the helm of this iconic brand that I’ve dedicated 12 years of my life and career to, I need to see it done right and expand. We’re in 26 countries around the world, and the American market, which currently accounts for 20 percent of our wholesale business: they can see we’re serious. We’ve got a strong collection, and we’ve found our feet. We’ve got great relationships with Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, the right retailers, and they’re saying, “We’re glad you’re in charge Mark, we’ve known you for a long time, we like you, you simplify the brand.”
So what’s next?
Our next phase over here is to roll out that new interior look. We have a massive store in SoHo and I want to do it right. I want to evolve the look because I don’t want every store to be identical, so I want to take this slow. We’ve moved really quickly before, and we’ve made a few moves that were not perfect. We want to make sure this thing builds slowly so we bring people with us. As we all know, the market out there is still challenged, and the market is changing. E-commerce is becoming so important. Good retailers are surviving, but they’ve got a lot of choice, and there are a lot of other great brands out there that I admire. But I have that feeling, a feeling I’ve had at Ben Sherman before because we’ve seen those good times; we get that kind of buzz. And the people who work for us, they get that look in their eye, that “I’m really proud to be here” gleam. We’re looking forward to an exciting year.