A Joule in the Suffolk crown

SIX-YEAR-OLD Lilly Joule, despite her tender age, is a real fashionista who loves the fact that she's a Joule and thinks it's wonderful that there's a clothing range with her name on it (the colourful wellies being among her favourites).

SIX-YEAR-OLD Lilly Joule, despite her tender age, is a real fashionista who loves the fact that she's a Joule and thinks it's wonderful that there's a clothing range with her name on it (the colourful wellies being among her favourites). Then her dad, Tom, is the boss as well as the name behind this successful label.

Joules is a name up there flying alongside the likes of Boden, Musto and Crew Clothing - the polo and rugby shirt-loving brigade's favourites. Colourful, durable, bright and fit for purpose, Joules has a dedicated and loyal following, which has made the leap over from the purely practical to must-have fashionable.

Coming from nowhere, the turnover has hit over £14m a year. Joules sells to around 1,000 stores around the world, has a newly extended department on the fifth floor at Harrods and this month opened two stand-alone shops in East Anglia. Ten days ago they opened one in Aldeburgh - the other is in Burnham Market, slap-band in the hinterland of chi-chi north Norfolk.

“Lilly is very particular about what she likes and she'll certainly tell me 'I don't like that colour, I like this one',” said Tom, who, a fortnight ago, spoke to EA Life as he stopped to grab a sandwich in an up-market garden centre near the NEC, where he'd been to present the new autumn/winter range to the Cadbury group, which owns the chain.


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His next stop, post sarnie, was going to be Aldeburgh High Street for the 'official' opening of a new Joules shop.

Tom, who knows Suffolk quite well - his stepfather has a boat near Woodbridge and they have sailed together quite a bit - said of Aldeburgh: “It's simply got the right profile for us and we already have several of our own shops in coastal places like Dartmouth, Salcombe and Cowes on the Isle of Wight and, of course, Market Harborough, which is near where we live.”

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Now 39, his has been a take on the rags (though we're talking the smart and well-made variety) to riches story. The youngest of four, he couldn't wait to leave school and start making money. Funnily enough, his oldest sister is a professor of classics and his other sister has a Masters and is a teacher but he and his brother took another tack.

“I think we were indoctrinated into work by my father. I used to help him every weekend and as soon as I was allowed to leave school, I went to work for him selling headwear. He had stands at places like Cheltenham races, the Grand National and Badminton Horse Trials - all prestige events - and we also sold things like knitwear and socks, which we got out of the back doors of factories - all above board of course!”

After a spell working for an importer who brought in products made in China from Hong Kong, he started his own business. “I sold my own headwear, along with a small range of sweat shirts and rugby shirts which I had manufactured for me, as well as selling other people's products, such as Aigle and Musto.” Again this was very much on the hoof at county, equestrian and similar shows around the country. Judging by the crowds they did a roaring trade at last year's Suffolk Show.

“We found we were very good at working out what was going to sell and people were keeping an eye on us, so at the end of the Nineties I decided, that was it, I wasn't going to carry on with the other products, I would just do my own line.

“I got incredibly brave and decided that I would hock everything again and go for it.

“So there was this container coming over from Thailand, still on the water, full of my stuff, an irrevocable letter of credit, and I needed to sell all these products at the shows, when suddenly they were all cancelled because of Foot and Mouth. We had a baby of six months. It was not a good time.”

Desperate, he enlisted the help of three others and hit the roads, scouring outlets in the Cotswolds and other places.

“Basically we said we have got wonderful products, can you buy some? This was in March. We took delivery of the stock in April and most shops had sold out by June… and we needed to re-order! So from absolute disaster we had found a new market selling to the trade and from that we now sell worldwide.”

The rest, as they say, is now Joules history.

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