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INTERVIEW WITH HENRY HALES OF SIRPLUS
Having studied Real Estate at university, a life in menswear is probably not the most obvious career choice to follow on to. However, Henry Hales, owner of menswear brand SIRPLUS, found the shift to be quite an organic one. Here we speak to Henry about what motivated the birth of his stylish, easy-to-wear label and how the journey has played out so far.
Can you tell us about your background?
"I studied Real Estate at Oxford Brookes. It wasn’t very creative, but I’d be lying if I said I hated it. It was pretty diverse. There was architecture and sustainability modules and lots of the elements that I learned, have been relevant to starting SIRPLUS, including property law."
Did you have an alternative career in mind?
"The plan was to always try my hand at SIRPLUS - a boxer short brand made using surplus fabrics - hence the name of the business. If that went wrong, the plan was to start something else. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing."
How did the business of making boxer shorts from surplus fabric unfold?
"I thought there was a gap for well-made men’s underwear. I started doing my research, learning about the manufacturing process and became aware of the huge amounts of surplus fabrics left after factories have cut their orders. I spoke with a shirtmaker on Jermyn Street and realised that often bespoke shirt-makers use the surplus fabric to make underwear for clients. The shirting was supreme quality, available on my doorstep and in small runs. Hence SIRPLUS was born. My first order was for around 100 pairs."
How and when did Sirplus then really start?
"I remember quite clearly. It was Sunday, March 20th 2011 at Spitalfields market in London. It would be a couple more years from this date before we got any real momentum though!"
What did you want to achieve then as opposed to now?
"I thought the brand would stay in boxer shorts and become the biggest and best player in the market. However, I quickly became aware of other really amazing surplus fabrics and couldn’t resit making it up into new products. - the rest, they say, is history."
How does sustainability plays its part?
"It’s essential. It’s in our DNA. The whole business is built around the re-purpose of fabrics that weren’t being used. As we grew, we started to buy fabric from the mills, but surplus still makes up a big proposition of the range. We use organic fabrics, natural buttons and recyclable packaging across everything we create. We are planning to make our Portobello store a 'SIRPLUS 2nds', where people can return their worn SIRPLUS garments and receive credit on new ones."
Can you explain the Sirplus style, quality and why/how the designs have evolved?
"The style is simple and easy to wear. Well tailored shapes and with excellent quality fabrics and trimmings. For us, craftsmanship is essential and we have worked with our suppliers for a very long time. Originally, we focussed on products that could be made using only surplus fabrics such as the boxers, caps and sleeveless jackets. However, now we make a range wide enough for most men to see something they like."
What are the challenges you face within the fashion industry?
"I think the fashion industry finds itself at quite an interesting time. Fundamentally, as an industry (and even a world), we need to consume less."
You have a shop in Portobello Road, where else can people find you?
"We also have shops in Princes Arcade, Angel, Chelsea and a pop-up in Marylebone."
Where is your product made?
"Mostly in the UK. We also work with manufacturers in Portugal, Italy and Romania. I would like to keep as much as possible in the UK, but as we grow, it does become difficult to find the right production for all our range."
What do you think makes you different in terms of design and as a brand over-all?
"We focus on a particular style, like our Nehru jackets and our grandad shirts, and try to really nail that. Rather than recreating completely new shapes every year."
How many people now work for Sirplus?
"We are at around 12 people now, which is amazing to think considering how we started."
Which brands do you admire?
"In terms of fashion I really admire Margret Howell, the lifespan and resurgence of Birkenstock, and the luggage manufacturer Rimowa."
Where do you aim to be in five years?
"I’m not looking to be the biggest menswear brand in the business overnight. If we can keep steady growth, improve our product range and our systems as well as adding a shop here and there, then I’ll be happy."