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IN CONVERSATION WITH PHILIP START OF MR. START
Situated in the heart of Shoreditch, Mr. Start is a labour of love for owners Philip Start (former founder of Woodhouse) and Brix Smith-Start. Originally a stand-alone boutique on Rivington Street, the brand has rapidly expanded since opening in 2002. It now comprises a separate menswear and womenswear store, an online boutique and most recently, a men’s tailoring emporium offering a selection of off the peg suiting, shirts and ties as well as a made to measure service. With highly personalised attention and a host of prestigious designer labels, Mr. Start is the ultimate shopping experience in East London.
In a recent episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interviewed Philip Start, Founder of Mr. Start about his background and early career within the fashion industry. With a love for brick-and-mortar retail he decided to open his own clothing store which sold unknown and interesting brands of the time. In 2002 he opened his own label shop near his home in Shoreditch which quickly became two premises when he opened a women's shop across the road. Our host Peter Brooker and Philip also talked about shopkeeping during the 60s, London tribes, evolving into eCommerce, being self-taught in tailoring, and pivoting the business to come out of Lockdown stronger.
“I started out when I was young, and I was always interested in fashion. I emigrated to Canada when I was 18 and sort of messed around working in lots of different jobs, and when I came back when I was 20, I got a job in the King’s Road selling shirts. Within about six weeks they made me the manager of the shop and I absolutely loved it. I loved every minute of running the shop and working in it. When I was about 27 I woke up one day and wanted to do something else and decided to start my own business. I found a shop at the wrong end of Oxford Street and I would sell mainly Italian brands that people weren't aware of. It became very successful and we then opened another two or three shops in fairly quick succession. I moved on from that business and in 2002 my wife and I opened the Mr. Start shop in the Shoreditch Triangle. There was nothing around there then, so everyone thought we were mad. The area had no footfall, and I didn't even know if people lived there, but somehow I had an inkling that it was worth a crack. The first day was successful, and we had a lot of customers. We started off with one menswear shop and then we opened a womenswear shop across the street. We ran it together like a mom-and-pop shop.”
“People that live here now are much more mature because the property prices have now increased. I still think it's a wonderful area with lots of potential and I'm sure once we get out of this terrible lockdown situation it will redevelop. I honestly thought that when we closed in March last year we would probably never reopen. I just couldn't see how we could open, but the government has been reasonably generous with financial help. We've had to pivot more online and we're not really a type of business that is particularly suited to eCommerce. Tailoring has also not been the flavour of the month for people recently, but we do sell a lot of other things. We're not strictly a tailoring business, we have a very good shirt, knitwear, and accessories offering. I believe that when we do come out of lockdown for good, people will want to dress up and won't want to wear sweatpants anymore. Tailoring could have a little bit of a renascence and will adapt to meet the customer. That's what I'm actually working on at the moment.”
This is a shortened transcribed edit of episode 112 of the MenswearStyle Podcast with Philip Start, Founder of mr-start.com. You can listen to the full version below or listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player.