Five years ago this week, Paul Watson and I opened the doors to a small loft in Richmond and launched a business that had been years in the making.
There is a photo from the original launch party that recently resurfaced. Watson’s mother in-law took it. Back then, family members made up the majority of early Ledbury event attendees. The photo is of two guys who look about 10 years younger. There was a lot more hair, a lot less grey, but arguably not nearly as many good memories.
Starting a clothing business is an adventure. There’s no other way to describe it. Basically, you are making something from scratch because you love it, and your only hope is that others will love it too. There are a lot of moving parts and few guarantees. In the end, though, you have made something. There are very few experiences in life that rival a gut feeling becoming a tangible reality.
I remember the first time I saw a Ledbury shirt out in the wild on someone other than a Trible. I had a hard time playing it cool and almost tackled the gentleman on the street. Last night, Anderson Cooper was wearing one of our shirts on TV, and the feeling was very much the same.
We have come a long way in five years. Watson and his wife Meredith are no longer sleeping on my dining room floor (probably best). I no longer head up our order fulfillment department (definitely best). And we are now forced to wear our shirts in the office -- even in 100+ heat (yes, it’s in the handbook).
We have certainly been busy. This year alone, we’ve released more than 300 garments, came close to 30,000 customers (thank you) and sold more shirts over one weekend than what we did in the entire first year of business (humbling).
It’s been an exciting 12 months, with lots to be thankful for and a few things of note that make us proud.
Quality – Five years in, we are still making incredible clothes. I am proud to say that we resisted the economic and expansionary pressures that force many brands to compromise on quality. Not only are our shirts today every bit as good, if not better, as they were when we started, but we also launched new categories like sweaters and blazers that rival any other luxury brand in the industry. This year, we took a small film crew over to Europe to document the mills and factories that help our product come to life. It was a lot of fun to share the faces, names and processes that make up our version of the term “quality.” Follow our journey here.
The Launch Fund – This summer, we kicked off the Ledbury Launch Fund and awarded $25,000 to an entrepreneur to help turn her dream of starting a business into a reality. A lot of people thought that it was crazy for a startup to give that kind of money away. It may have been, but we couldn’t be more pleased with the result. More than 150 entrepreneurs applied, three finalists were chosen, and an innovative nutrition bar company named Kuli Kuli
walked away with the prize. We announced the winner on MSNBC Morning Joe, prompting Kuli Kuli to do three months of sales in one day. Pretty cool. We are committed to being more than just a clothing company and creating something bigger than ourselves. The Launch Fund was a significant step in that direction.
The Ledbury Family – This year we hit 33 employees, which is about 10x from where we were started. It’s far from an empire, but it’s a group of passionate individuals that are excited about the promise of this brand and committed to creating an incredible experience for our customers. I realize it sounds like I lifted that last sentence from an annual report template, but the words are true. We have an amazing crew, they work incredibly hard, and it’s a lot of fun building this company together. If you have a free moment today, call customer service, and you will understand what I mean.
So another year down, and we are hopefully on our way from a scrappy startup to an even scrappier small business. We are getting older but we don’t have any plans to slow down. Surprises in 2015? How about made-to-measure? Or pants? Or womenswear? Needless to say, there is a lot more to come.
Thanks for sticking by us these last five years and for joining us on this adventure. Very few people are given the opportunity to live out their dreams, and we can’t thank you enough for making this all possible.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday, and here’s to big things in 2015 and beyond.
Paul & Paul