Talking trousers, digital retail and raising investment with SPOKE founder Ben Farren

Bridging the gap between made-to-order and off-the-peg, we sat down with the entrepreneur who wears the trousers in modern men's fashion

Is there anything more infuriating than finding the perfect pair of trousers — only to discover, when you pull them on, that they’re a little long, too tight or carelessly cut?

We certainly don’t think so. Which is why, when Ben Farren shook up the trouser game with SPOKE, we threw away our belts and turned down our turn-ups in celebration. Several years in the making, the company saw four-fold growth in 2016 and trebled their revenue in the first half of last year.

"We threw away our belts and turned down our turn-ups in celebration..."

And it’s all down to their innovative sizing options. Rather than sticking to the small, medium, large paradigm — which Farren calls “an incredibly blunt sizing tool” — SPOKE offer waistbands in every inch, a selection of fits depending on your build, and exact leg lengths. It’s a revolutionary system, and one we sat down with Farren — in perfectly-proportioned chinos — to discuss.

What first inspired you to bridge the gap between off-the-peg and made-to-order?

There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment — it was more of a slow burn. For too long I had stumbled around in badly-lit changing rooms. I was tired of falling between sizes and I knew I wasn’t alone. So, I started SPOKE with the mission of building a better, smarter menswear brand, that truly delivers on fit.

How did you go about raising investment for the company?

Every round of fundraising is slightly different in character. SPOKE was self-funded for the first 9 months, followed by a friends and family round, and more recently a Venture Capital raise.

Raising money is never easy. You will always hear ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ — and that can grind you down. But I’ve always believed. There are a host of US-based businesses demonstrating the power of this direct-to-consumer, digitally native fashion model and showing tremendous growth — and so a number of investors interested in the model.

How did you decide how many choices of cuts you’d offer?

The goal was always to give 90% of men an awesome fit. Off the rack, you’d be lucky if a brand delivers more than 30%. I felt like if I moved the needle in this way, then I would’ve done something worthwhile.

Initially I experimented, feeling my way there. I knew I needed to play with the relationship between waist size and build — I knew that leg length, in particular, would be tricky from personal experience. We’ve just started our journey into the 20s and 40s in terms of our waist range and that journey will absolutely continue.

How did you decide on which fabrics you’d use?

We bring a mildly obsessive, nerdy quality to our product development — there’s nothing more disappointing than a product that disintegrates after three washes.

In the first place, I spent heavily on fabric to really pin down what mattered and hit the specifications I needed to. Since then, we’ve refined our library of materials with a more sophisticated understanding of what our customer values. The vast majority of our fabrics are sourced from Europe and that has been true from the start.

Was the decision to move away from trousers and diversify taken lightly, or given a lot of thought?

Trousers are still very much at the heart of what we do — and they will always be a significant and growing part of our mix. But the goal has always been a brand that delivers on fit. We launched polos because it’s not always a category people associate with tailoring — and yet you find there are some very consistent problems.

We’d talked to tall guys with shirts that ended around their belly buttons, and men that always fought to find polo shirts that weren’t too tight around the chest. So, after having spent 5 years taking ‘crotch shots’ of our chinos, it came as light relief to take some images above the belt!

Who came up with the name of the company?

I did. I don’t remember exactly when or how. It’s lost in the sands of time! I wasn’t sure it would stick but it was good enough for a working title and we’ve since come to love it. It refers to the fact that our products are almost but not quite bespoke. ‘Ready to wear’ isn’t, and bespoke doesn’t make a lot of sense outside the suiting category. Our mission is to find that sweet spot between bespoke and ready to wear.

The delivery service is obviously a big part of the company, and adds a little more to that bespoke service. Why was it so important to you to get this facet of the business right?

We live in an on-demand world. Everything is prime and instant. And yet, shopping for clothes is often as fun as root canal surgery. That’s a problem worth fixing. I love the idea of creating a pain-free shopping experience and I don’t think that it’s an impossible dream!

It’s not just about quick delivery — it’s about free delivery and a 100 day money back guarantee — a process that feels truly risk free and frictionless. I think we’re evolving towards a retail environment where that is true of everything and in the meantime, it’s important for SPOKE to stay ahead of the curve.

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