The Secret’s in the Fit
Riddle catches up with Spoke Chinos founder Ben Farren as he discusses the next evolution of men’s internet facilitated shopping
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Deniz Karagulle
There is much debate over the modern male’s uniform. For management consultant turned menswear entrepreneur Ben Farren, two huge trends fall out of this sartorial discussion. The influence of e-commerce and the all-importance of fit. With these two factors in mind, Ben founded Spoke Chinos. Online based, Spoke aims to focus on fit, quality and to maximise the ability of the internet to allow customers a seamless purchasing environment.
Spoke has only been trading for just over 18 months but already has a growing band of devotees. Ben looked to create a brand for the style conscious; Spoke trousers are finished to measure, as Ben rightly puts it, “people are odd sizes.” As well as the breadth of builds, few people fit the standardised shop based waist and leg length sizes. As such, Spoke chinos come in one inch waist increments and the leg length is individually finished as per the customer’s measurements. The trousers come in three differing builds; build A is a slim fit, build B is for more muscular, sporty customers with more generously cut upper leg panels and a tapered leg whilst build C is looser but still classically cut across the entire trouser.
Ben saw that the UK market struggled to offer a high-quality chino, with the British weather we have traditionally excelled at heavier cord and cavalry twill type trousers. Southern Europe, with its warmer weather and relaxed sartorial flair has always created excellent summer clothing. Ben uses factories in Portugal and North London to manufacture his chinos using Italian 12 ounce cotton twill and Swiss hardware cast by Riri. A distinctive Spoke touch is the use of Liberty print linings to add colour. Given the high number of potential combinations of builds, waist sizes and leg lengths Spoke offers and thus can stock, analysis of the bell curve of purchases allows Ben’s team to stock the most popular mixes of sizes and shapes.
Coming from a management consultancy background, Ben had always had both the interest in clothes and entrepreneurial itch to try a new idea. Like many people who have worked outside the clothing and design arena, he found many of his transferable consultancy skills to be of use. As the unglamorous nuts and bolts of running a business, the ability to dispassionately examine market gaps and the true viability of your business takes up far more time that the fun side of design, this business analysis grounding has served Ben well. As he puts it, “a business is always more complicated than you think it will be and will never run in a straight line.”
One of the things that struck Ben as he was setting up Spoke was how the internet has affected shopping and buying habits. Men have always appreciated and understood the ability of the internet to save them time. As e-commerce has evolved, different brands and websites have come to the fore be it Amazon or Mr Porter in selling large ranges of clothes, styles and brands. With the increasing preoccupation on fit and the increasing interest by men in condensing their wardrobes down to core essentials, Ben feels that the next phase of internet based fashion will sit with those companies able to offer this personalised capsule wardrobe within a very streamlined, “direct consumer model.” From the late Steve Jobs to Barrack Obama, many now embrace this ruthless paring down of their sartorial options to what flatters and defines their own style. Ben points to North America and very successful online based businesses such as Frank & Oak and Jack Erwin as retail models offering carefully thought through clothing or shoe lines direct to a customer.
This rationalisation of storage, delivery and design under one roof allows the focus to remain tightly on the customer and the ability to hold an array of sizes. As Spoke’s website puts it, no man really likes wasting time in fitting rooms. The firm offers free delivery and returns allowing customers to try on the trousers in the comfort of their own home. This high but relaxed level of service – facilitated by the internet – Ben feels is key to targeting and retaining the 25 – 45 age group demographic. At Spoke return custom makes up 40 per cent of their business; Ben mentions one very satisfied customer who, so far, has bought 18 pairs of chinos and the firm is selling around 800 pairs per month.
As well as chinos, Ben is currently introducing a small range of cords – in similar fittings and styles – and is looking to introduce a range of T-shirts and polo shirts. These will have the similar focus on quality and fit with a range of silhouettes to suit differing builds. The overarching aspiration is to produce that essential capsule wardrobe – the very best of those key pieces no modern man can do without. As Ben rightly puts his finger on it, “clothes are about confidence, it’s about being the best and smartest version of yourself.” With dress codes for both work and play in a state of evolution (or confusion – take your pick), having key pieces that are snappy enough to cross that divide is key. Those brands that can do and make it easy for the customer to buy and try will be rewarded. Spoke is certainly in the vanguard of this.