How The Lehman Collapse Inspired 2 Friends To Start A Luxury Men’s Clothing Company

Ledbury

Source: Business Insider

In 2008, friends Paul Trible and Paul Watson were graduating from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Their careers in finance looked bright — until Lehman Brothers collapsed. Panic rippled through the financial world, and jobs vanished.

Trible and Watson had to come up with another way to make a living. They decided to follow through on their collective dream and start Ledbury, a luxury men’s clothier. “We said to each other, we’ve been talking about this thing for a year, why don’t we see if it’s something we can actually do,” Trible says.

First, they had to do some research. Trible apprenticed with esteemed Jermyn Street tailor Robert Emmett, while Watson learned everything he could about the clothing business. At night, the two would meet up in a London pub and go over their business plan. 

Today, Ledbury is doing extremely well. Paul Trible is the CEO, and he designs the shirts. Paul Watson is the COO. About 96% of Ledbury’s business is online, but there’s also a store in Richmond, Virginia, where the Ledbury headquarters are located. “We’ve doubled for every year we’ve been in business,” Trible says. “We’ve got about 25 employees and about 25,000 customers.”

We interviewed “the Pauls” as part of our Fast Track Q&A series in which we’re asking various small business owners 11 questions about their professional and personal inspirations. “The Pauls” shared stories of their days selling used golf balls and how indecision can lead to failure. Read more in the series »

Interview conducted by Business Insider Studios and edited for clarity and length.

BI Studios: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Paul Watson: I wanted to be a marine biologist. I grew up on the water in the New Orleans area, and the aquarium was my favorite place to go when I was little. I asked the people there, “How do I work here?” They were like, “Be a marine biologist.”

Paul Trible: I wanted to be a professional football player [both Pauls laugh]. It’s funny, because I’m a very small, small person. I was a large kid, though. When I stopped growing, I realized that I should look into other professions.

How did you get the idea for your business?

Trible: We were studying in England, and we really liked how they often did one thing really well there. You can go Jermyn Street to get your shirts. Or go to High Street, to the cheesemonger to get your cheese. We really liked the idea that the rise of online shopping was bringing that idea back to the forefront of commerce.

How did you pick the name for your business?

Trible: It’s the name of the road where one of our favorite pubs in London was. It’s where we spent many evenings drafting and redrafting the business plan for the business of Ledbury. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?

Trible: Starting a luxury clothing business in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. That’s probably up there.

Watson: Way up there. It might have seemed like a bad idea to some. 

What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?

Trible: Every summer a handful of women come into the store and buy a dozen of our shirts to use as beach cover-ups. They buy these beautiful, Italian cloth, luxury men’s dress shirts. Then they just use them as bikini cover-ups. They often request that we do more florals. You can use these shirts for anything, but sometimes we forget that they get used as bikini cover-ups.  

What is your greatest talent, professional or otherwise?

Watson: Patience. [both Pauls laugh]

Trible: Paul is definitely patient with me. I would say I’m a generalist. I’m average-to-good at a handful of things and not spectacular or terrible at other things. 

What’s the first job you ever had?

Trible: I worked at McDonald’s. Working on your feet for six- to seven-hour shifts, helping people through a drive-through will definitely teach you something about customer service. 

Watson: My first job, I was a used-golf-ball salesman. I lived in a neighborhood that had a golf course in it. And I used to collect the balls out of the ponds. I’d go swimming in the ponds, clean up the balls, and sell them back to the golfers.

Trible: And fight gators! He was in Louisiana.

Watson: No, no gator fighting, fortunately. The ponds were filled with chemicals, though, from the golf course. 

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

Watson: Fighting gators.  

Trible: I spent the summer reading court depositions. I’d have to go into court and read insurance depositions for the courtroom. I loved it when I could use an accent. 

Which entrepreneur or business personality do you most admire?

Trible: Remo Ruffini, the CEO of ski-jacket company Moncler. Moncler just does ski jackets. Ruffini bought the business less than 10 years ago and built it into a $4 billion enterprise. We talk about him a lot at Ledbury and how he does such a good job with ski jackets and how we can learn a thing or two from him with shirts. 

Watson: One entrepreneur I’ve always liked is the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. In his book “Let My People Go Surfing,” he tells the story of how he built a company on his beliefs and values. And he’s done a great job of being the standard-bearer of Patagonia for over 40 years. 

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Trible: I’d fly. It would get me to the beach quicker. 

Watson: He took mine.

Trible: You could look into the future. That would be good for business. 

Watson: That’s a superpower? OK, but I’d rather fly. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring small business owner?

Watson: Go for it. Don’t hesitate. 

Trible: One of our board members gave this advice to us when we first started: More often than not, it’s not the wrong decision that leads to business failure, but indecision. If we sit there and ponder too long, then we’re not making progress. Indecision is the business killer. Always move forward.

This post is sponsored by Spark Business from Capital One.

1 Comment

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