A Sock Seeped in Liverpool History
‘Socks are a guilty pleasure. I make an event of every new pair.’ Philip Morrow has been re-building the family outfitters Morrows after he re-founded the firm in 2011
Article by Andy Barnham
I’ve never been a fan of socks. I’ve never felt the need to pull a pair on during winter to keep my feet cold warm and much prefer to go barefoot when possible; during my teenage years visiting my parents in the Middle East I would try to not wear socks for the whole holidays. Playing rugby on hard grounds during the Scottish winter at university followed by long outdoor walks with the Army my feet became so tough I can still wear away socks without even realising it. And yet, here I am, talking with Philip Morrow in Putney and listening to his love of socks; fate certainly has a sense of humour. ‘Socks are a guilty pleasure. I make an event of every new pair.’
To the layman, the name Morrow has little meaning. Ask a certain generation growing up around Liverpool though, and the name conjures up the fleet of outfitter stores that was ubiquitous around the city. The business was started by great grandfather Albert who arrived aged 16 from Ireland in 1899 and opened his first shop in 1912. At their height, Morrow’s outfitted men, women and children with Albert becoming the Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1952 and presiding over 12 premises. His son George, Chairman of the Liverpool Trade Draperies Society, took over as Managing Director in 1969. However, when it became clear that the next generation had their own independent ideas for a career, the business was gradually wound down, with the last shop closing in 1987, the year Philip was born. And that, as they say, was that; after flourishing for three quarters of a century Morrows Outfitters was consigned to the history books.
After graduating Nottingham University with a degree in Ancient History 2010 Philip returned to Liverpool and worked at Liverpool College. Attended by his grandfather, his father and also himself, he spent six months as an archivist during which time he came across various clippings in the British Newspaper Archive. Aware that his father and almost a dozen of his father’s school friends had worked in ‘grandfather’s shop’, Philip had never been aware of the scale of Morrows Outfitters until stumbling across old photographs and prints of Morrow’s shops.
‘I wanted to take advantage of the history of the brand,’ says Philip, ‘I find it inspiring.’ When following a break to become a ski instructor he incorporated the family name as Morrows (Outfitters) Limited in 2011 and sold £1, 000 of socks in 2012. Despite a skeptical father, every pair was sold during the course of two half days from a £50 table at a Christmas fair. The success of what was supposed to be a side business led to three more trade events that year and basing himself from his parent’s dining room, to 25 events in 2013 covering 9, 600 miles in two and a half months all over the UK. Poor planning, combined with bad weather saw losses of £1,000 at some events. However, the experience and knowledge gained resulted in a pop-up store in Putney, in London, in December 2013 and turned over £23, 000 in 3 weeks. Such was this support by a local neighbourhood that Philip has traded in Putney Centre now for four years. Why London and not Liverpool? “All my friends are in London, but I’d love to have shops in both London and Liverpool,’ says Philip. ‘Trade fairs inexplicably stop by December, before Christmas and my busiest trading days are the days before Christmas Day. Socks are a perfect gifting item and the card machines are so busy, they don’t touch the counter.’
Having continued with pop ups, including Leadenhall and Piccadilly Arcade, Morrows is now no longer just in the sock trade. With a shop unit on the corner of Putney High Street and Lacy Road Philip now stocks ties from Vanners, braces from Albert Thurston, scarves from Johnstons of Elgin and shirts from Portugal, but to name a few of his offerings.
… Riddle has a tiny favour to ask. Set up four years ago to shine an objective light on the best of British craft and heritage brands, we want to keep our journalism rigorous and and open to all, allowing us to give you unbiased advice and options. It is ever more difficult for high quality journalism outlets to secure income but support from you will enable us to grow and continue to support small British brands. It only takes a minute. Thank you. Make a contribution.
Morrows is certainly a family affair with mother and father pitching in for the pop ups over the years and helping open Putney. Philip’s father, having retired two years ago after 10 years as a QC and another 10 as a judge, is now firmly a keen and dedicated supporter. He is however, as Philip points out, eminently qualified to sell socks due to time on the shop floor prior to his legal career.
And as for the socks themselves? Having had the initial samples made in Jaipur, India, they are today made in the Midlands by a fourth-generation independent hosier factory and have gone through four iterations of design tweaks. Chunky socks, spotted socks, lightweight socks, striped socks, all of them are designed by Philip and there’s certainly a nod to an old school or games sock amongst the collections.
Pop Ups; open now until 31st December
Piccadilly: No12 Piccadilly Arcade, St. James’s, SW1Y 6NH
Putney: Putney Shopping Exchange, SW15 1TW
Wimbledon: Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre, SW19 8YE