How two Special Forces soldiers founded Britain’s new must-have high performance outerwear brand

Special Boat Service operators Louis and Staz used to tailor their gear in the desert. Now, they create high-performance outerwear as ThruDark

Louis and Staz, founders of high-performance outerwear brand ThruDark, first met in the line of duty. Louis, a member of the elite Special Boat Service (SBS), had a distinguished and decorated military service, serving eight arduous years. Staz, a sniper instructor & demolitions expert in the SBS, served 10 — and was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his efforts. The two became firm friends as they served, and they remain close to this day.

“The relationship has matured like a fine wine!” laughs Louis, explaining how the duo went from door kickers to fabric pullers. “We may both have our similarities and our differences, but we work well together. Yes, there’ve been a handful of clashes, but we understand each other’s strengths and weakness — so work well as a team.”

They certainly did, spending many years serving together as ‘Tier One Operators’ — the elite of the military elite. And, as the best, the men were always equipped with the best kit and gear the armed forces had to offer. Louis and Staz, like any good operators, would spend their rare down-time pulling apart the garments and equipment, questioning its function and performance.

If it didn’t function as it should, they wouldn’t use it. If it didn’t look sufficiently sharp, they wouldn’t use it either. Because, as Louis explains, there’s a strong tradition in the upper echelons of the military to always, always look your best.

“Well-maintained kit lays the foundations of discipline…”

“Especially given our heritage in the Royal Marines,” nods Louis. “‘As smart as a guard, but twice as hard’, they say! And sharp, well-maintained kit lays the foundations of discipline. It ensures that you’re able to do your job to the best of your ability — because you’re not worrying about it letting you down. 

“But I’m not sure anything was that well-designed,” he adds, recalling the kit he and Staz would pull apart. “Most of it was pretty outdated. Windproof Sniper Smocks — those were our go-to. We’d tailor them ourselves; sew on mountain sock cuffs to keep our wrists warm…”

Over time, the men became more confident in their abilities to customise gear and tailor it to their specific needs. They became good at it, too. In fact, when the ‘rockstar years’ of duty came to an end, Louis and Staz began to discuss what might come next. Their peers in the SBS were heading into the security sector — but the ‘standard route’ didn’t appeal to the pair.

“I didn’t want to go into the security industry,” says Louis. “It can offer easy — and big — pay checks, but it’s not something you can be particularly passionate about. Instead, Staz and I saw an opportunity to make a difference to our kit — and feed it back to our guys. Not only that, we saw a niche in the civilian market; for military-grade and Special Forces-approved clothing and equipment.”

Unlike many start-ups, Louis and Staz knew exactly what their brand would sell. They just didn’t know what to call it. The year was 2016, and the duo had many discussions about names. But it was only when they visited a military parachute canopy course in the US that one clicked. ThruDark, overnight, became ThruDark. But what does the name mean?

“It originates from our operations — which were almost always during the night,” explains Louis. “And parachuting at night is extremely difficult. You’re laden with kit, rifles, optics, clothing, rucksacks — some operators even have dogs strapped to their chest.  You’re unsure of your airspace and night vision goggles restrict your peripheral vision. The landing comes fast and hard. So the name represents the endurance we and our colleagues must have.”

Hence the brand’s slogan: ‘Endeavour Through Adversity’. And so the men did — spending 2017 sketching down ideas and concepts, and taking on work experience at a factory in the north of England to discover how, from the ground up, a garment is created. The duo travelled the world in search of the perfect manufacturing set-up. But China didn’t have the quality. Britain didn’t have the infrastructure. And so, when they found a perfect factory in the artisanal, craftsmanship capital of Europe — Italy — Louis and Staz knew where ThruDark’s inimitable designs would come to life.

“And each garment goes through rigorous testing and multiple stages of development before we launch,” explains Louis. “We ruthlessly test and critique them, because failure is unacceptable. And this ensures that we are constantly improving. For us, ‘That’ll do’ will never do.”

And so the brand began. The Patriot Jacket. The Phalanx Fleece. The Scout Smock. The Expedition Parka. Each garment, devised and created with combat know-how and military precision. Skilled technicians and craftspeople diligently detail every ThruDark product. The prices are premium, but — as Louis is quick to point out — so are the products.

How two Special Forces soldiers founded Britain’s new must-have high performance outerwear brand

The five key values of the brand are Heritage, Heart, Soul, Substance and Meaning. They do things well — or they don’t do them at all. And, with all those years of Special Forces wisdom woven into the products, there’s a trade secret or two up those sleeves — or should that be on those sleeves?

“Those velcro hook and loop insignias on the sleeves,” explains Louis, “are used to mount callsign indicators — patches that are used by the military to indicate specific units, groups or individuals on the battlefield. These patches are worn by assaulters with tremendous pride, as they’re only issued once you’ve proven yourself worthy to carry one into battle. 

"We ruthlessly test the kit; failure is unacceptable..."

“The ThruDark patch system was something we wanted to include in order to bridge across from the military to the civilian world,” he adds, “to symbolise this feeling of brotherhood, of belonging.”

It’s a feeling that has clearly resonated. Since launching its first three garments at Bremont Watch Company’s HQ in March 2018, ThruDark has attracted some accomplished names. Tom Hardy narrated a short film for the brand. Jason Fox has taken the kit on expeditions. The garments even feature in Channel 4’s Special Forces smash hit, SAS: Who Dares Wins. 

And, on the first anniversary of the brand’s inception, a bespoke Expedition Summit Suit even made it to the top of Mount Everest — worn by a colleague and friend of the duo, Nirmal Purja MBE. It’s a long list of successes in a very short time. But Louis and Staz just want to share their expertise.

Customers clearly want that, too. ThruDark, to keep up with customer demand, opened a new HQ in December, and are currently ramping up a wider distribution network.

“I think that’s a testament in itself to how good the kit is,” reasons Louis, “and it improves every time we make something new. And we’ve had this strong foundation of customers from the start. 

“We’ve always made — and will continue making — the best quality products we can,” he adds. “Because we know there’s always room for improvement. We’re on the relentless pursuit of excellence.”

How two Special Forces soldiers founded Britain’s new must-have high performance outerwear brand

ThruDark

Learn More

Want more winter kit? This is the best reflective workout gear for exercising outdoors…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading