A Q & A with the MD of Luxury Men's Brand - Shackleton Clothing

Simon Middleton, the MD of Shackleton Clothing

Shackleton, is a British Made lifestyle brand, specialising in men's clothing, banjos and fine ales, all inspired by the adventures and lifestyle of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton himself explored the South Pole in the early 20th century and is famed for safely returning all 27 of his men after being stranded in freezing Antarctic conditions for nearly 3 years. We caught up with founder of the brand Simon Middleton at our recent british made retail show Best of Britannia (http://bestofbritannia.com/) to find out more about the company. http://shackletonclothing.com/

Tell me how "Shackleton" started life?

I began the journey in 2010. Having written several books about branding and marketing, most notably Build A Brand In 30 Days, I earned my living as a brand strategy consultant and a conference speaker. But I wanted to turn my brand experience into a brand of my own. 

Shackleton Banjo

After a few experiments which didn’t really get traction I launched a banjo specialist online retail business called Banjos Direct, selling imported banjos. We did really well for two years, but I knew that to add value and grow we had to make our own product. It turned out that there hadn’t been a banjo factory in Britain for more than 60 years, so I raised £48,000 to start on using Kickstarter. 

We called our banjo The Shackleton, because of the vital morale boosting role that a banjo played in Shackleton’s extraordinary Endurance expedition in 1914-17. We took advance orders for 200 hundred instruments, from all over the world, and we also started to sell simple merchandise such as T-shirts, hoodies and mugs.

To our surprise people, literally from around the world, began to ask us if we had any other British-made Shackleton-related products. So we made beer initially, which helped boost the brand, and then knitwear copied from century old photographs of Shackleton and his men.

Our Shackleton Replica sweater became a hit, and we’ve sold hundreds of them. That in turn led to more investment, the involvement of Shackleton’s granddaughter, who is now a shareholder, and to move into a broader lifestyle brand with outerwear, footwear, luggage and accessories. http://thegreatbritishbanjocompany.com/

What was the hardest thing about setting up the brand?

You’d think the hardest thing would be money, but it wasn’t actually. We’ve had two very successful Kickstarter campaigns (raising over £80,000 in total) and angel investors have almost been queuing up to invest. 

The really hard battle has been a mental one: making sure that every day I got up and worked with the absolute belief that I was going to create a successful branded business. It’s much easier now because so many other people believe it too. But when you’re the only person that believes it and so many others think you’re a bit crazy, that’s the real challenge.

Why Shackleton?

Shackleton Original Jumper

Well it started with the banjo story, but the wonderful thing about the Shackleton story is that it is so rich with human character, adventure, style, excitement, conviviality and a very positive kind of masculinity. Shackleton himself was a truly exceptional man, and so were his men. And part of the beauty for us is that his adventures happened a century ago which is historical of course, but which also seems within grasp. We can see photographs and film of the adventures and those young men look just like young men today, so it’s easy to relate to.

What's the most impressive thing about Ernest Shackleton you think everyone should know?

That’s an easy one. Shackleton was one of the most outstanding leaders of men. When his objective of crossing the Antarctic was prevented by his ship becoming trapped in ice, then crushed and sunk, he didn’t brood or despair. He simply changed his objective to a new mission, that of bringing all of his men home alive. It took him the best part of three years, but against virtually impossible odds and demonstrating amazing heroism and discipline in thinking, he achieved it. Shackleton’s men adored him. They called him The Boss. And he was!

How did you develop the Shackleton beers?

With beers, which we developed because our banjo customers like beer, we worked in collaboration with a small Norfolk brewery. They did the hard work and we did the marketing. When we needed to get bigger we went to a family brewery in Essex, called Brentwood Brewing Co., also as a partnership operation.

Shackleton's Granddaughter is an ambassador of the company, what does she think her grandfather would think of the clothing, and the banjos?

Ernest Shackleton at camp

Alexandra Shackleton loves the brand and we’ve become close friends. She’s a wonderful ambassador for her grandfather’s legacy and of course for us too. She says: "British-made Shackleton products illustrate the spirit of exploration personified by my grandfather Ernest Shackleton."

If you were an explorer where would you like to explore the most, at any time - past or present?

Oh it absolutely has to be the polar regions. I’ve never been but I’ve promised myself that when the business is sufficiently successful I will be off to the Antarctic!

What's your favourite Hill & Ellis bike bag? 

I really love the Professor because it fits my character I think. I’m not an academic, but I love books, learning, universities and the whole cobbled street and cloister feel. 

See Simon's favourite bag here

What's next for 2015?

Shackleton knitwear is about to go on sale in one of the world’s most famous and prestigious museums which is very exciting. Our boots, made in collaboration with Joseph Cheaney, will be available in September. Our first outerwear range comes out in the autumn. And we are featured in GQ magazine September issue. It’s all happening!

To find out more about their clothing, banjo's and beers have a look at their website - http://shackletonclothing.com/