First up, what got you into sport?
Tom: We were born in Liverpool. I left school at 16 and signed a professional football contract with Tranmere Rovers, Phil went to Newcastle University to read law. I played for the Rovers and then played professionally in Spain for another two years. During that time, I realised I wasn’t good enough to make it in that world and ended up in finance. That was my convoluted route into a ‘real’ job. Phil’s journey was a bit more mainstream, he went straight from Uni into Deloitte to practise corporate finance. That was the back-end of 2008 and we both did that for six years.
When did the idea for Castore come about?
Phil: We’d always known between us that we wanted to start a business together. We’re very close as siblings, and it was something we’d spoken about from a young age. As we got older (into our early 20s) that idea went from a very high-level discussion to thinking ‘well, are we actually going to do this?’ We started to be a little more analytical in our thinking; we started studied markets for potential openings to found a brand.
So was it always going to be sportswear?
Tom: Sport is something we’re both very passionate about given our backgrounds. At the time, there were two brands in the women’s sportswear space that were growing very quickly: Lulu Lemon and Sweaty Betty, and no one was doing anything similar in men’s sportswear. I think that was probably the tipping point where we thought ‘yes, this could be real opportunity’ and while both still in our city jobs, we started to do some research into fabrics, factories and the market more generally. That gave us the confidence to invest time and money, and get Castore off the ground.
How did you get off the ground?
We left our jobs to launch Castore in 2015, and we were extremely lucky that we had our first investment raise in late 2016. We’ve had two more since, totalling almost £6 million. We opened our first store in Hong Kong at the end of last year – Hong Kong’s a great market for us – there’s a large ex-pat community and lots of affluent fitness-focused consumers.
The first half-a-year was really tough. It was tough to sell a premium product at a premium price-point as an unknown brand with no physical space. To get a guy to part with £250 of his hard earned money when he can’t see it, touch it, feel it and try it on, is tricky. At that point, we tried some grassroots partnerships with luxury gyms and hotels and that gave us visibility. Thankfully, we found that guys would spot something in Equinox, try it on, and then start shopping with us online. Plus, he’d tell five friends in his office – it really worked for us. It was combining physical positioning with digital that got us traction, and that convinced us we needed investment.
Who are your business heroes?
The British entrepreneurial community has been extremely kind to us. People like Adam Brown of Orlebar Brown, Simon Mottram, the founder of Rapha; brands that I would look up to as very cool brands, and which are very successful from a commercial perspective. These guys would sit down over a coffee and give such generous advice – which they have no need to do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Never take no for an answer. It’s a cliche but its true to us. We didn’t know anything about factories or suppliers when we started. When we first met Harrods they said no to us, now we’re working with them. Keep plugging away and you’ll eventually get what you want.
What’s the goal for Castore?
Neither of us can imagine doing anything else. Despite having conversations with other investors, we’ve no desire to sell. The dream has always been to build a British sportswear brand that competes on the world stage. I’ve never understood why there’s never been a premium alternative to the Adidas’s and Nike’s of the world, and that’s the end goal for us.
What’s coming next for Castore then?
We’re building our wholesale business. Now, we’re selling through Mr Porter and Matches Fashion, and Harrods and Lane Crawford from Q1 next year. On the retail side, we’re hoping to develop some experimental retail spaces. We want customers to come in, be able to try on the kit, speak with a personal trainer, speak with a stylist, try our kit in a simulator, have a coffee or a smoothie and so on. We don’t want to just be a place to buy kit – that’s very important to us. It’s an exciting time for us – we’re looking forward to seeing what next year brings.