I first met Carl Thompson when I was at one of my client’s London Morgan’s showroom in Astwood Mews where I taken it as my personal mission to sell him the virtues of the super sleek and shiny Morgan Plus 4. Well, to be honest, the car kinda sells itself, so it wasn’t long before Carl was driving the Instagram-friendly vehicle onto the streets of London and out into the countryside teamed with a pair of Taylor Morris for Morgan Motor sunglasses – the height of sophistication (you can read about Carl’s weekend here)! Carl, it turns out, is a born entrepreneur. He started his life working in IT before following his passion for tailoring and started a menswear brand called Hawkins & Shepherd which has had the seal of approval from the King of dapper, David Gandy. However, not content with being a business owner, he has embraced social media become his own biggest asset. He is now one of the UK’s leading menswear bloggers, commanding the attention of 50k loyal followers on Instagram working with fashion, grooming, travel and lifestyle brands. So how did he do it? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s get to know Carl Thompson…
NakedPRGirl: I know you’re a Londoner from your London Morgan interview, but I was surprised to find you started out working in IT, how did you get into that? Do you miss having a 9-5 job?
Carl Thompson: I miss the holiday pay. Never really stop to think about in truth. I think there is a common misconception about having 9-5’s versus going self-employed. That somehow you leave this womb of security when you venture out on your own. A lot of my close friends balked when I told them I’m going solo into the fashion world. But you’re not indispensable, no matter the person, no matter the job.
NakedPRGirl: What prompted the career change? Did you seek out the fashion world or was it organic?
Carl Thompson: It just felt like it was time for a new challenge in my life. The job itself was quite autonomous; I never had a controlling boss, was never asked to clock-in. However, I wasn’t entirely satiated with my place in the world at that point. It was a lateral move into the fashion world. I was buying suits for work and I wanted to know why some suits were entry level and others cost a king’s ransom. I became quite fastidious in all things tailoring, shirt making in particular.
NakedPRGirl: What process did you go through to get your clothing brand Hawkins & Shepherd off the ground?
Carl Thompson: It was a lot of travel initially, sourcing the right manufacturers and fabric. The quality was so important. Then I pondered on whether to go bricks and mortar or just online. One of the biggest decisions I made was price point. It’s a tricky one and determines everything. If you go in too low, then it’s difficult to start bumping prices up. If you go high then you need to justify why, and are people going to invest in a high-end shirt from a company that’s not a marquee name?
NakedPRGirl: Where did the name come from and who did your logo/branding?
Carl Thompson: Hawkins & Shepherd carries both my parents’ names. Hawkins is my Mother’s family name born and bred in London, whereas Shepherd is my Father’s family name from Guyana on the Caribbean coast of South America. I wanted a shirt that we could all be proud of; I didn’t think twice about it. Logo and branding was all completed by the incredibly talented individual Neil Calcutt from Brand76.
NakedPRGirl: You say Hawkins & Shepherd is London’s best shirt makers, all handmade and exceptionally crafted with care using the finest cotton fabric. Did you feel it was important to have a USP?
Carl Thompson: Yes, because it’s a tough market. Especially in London, it’s not enough sometimes to say you’re a shirt maker or else you’ll fall into the same stalls as some of the more commercial outlets. I feel like my USP is also augmented by the fact that I wear everything I make. I am Hawkins & Shepherd, I represent everything you see. I remember Paul Weller saying the same thing about his brand Real Stars Are Rare, he’s not going to perform in front of sold-out stadiums wearing something naff.
NakedPRGirl: How did you find going from IT to being a designer/retailer? Has your IT background helped your new career? Or did you need to skill-up in Ecommerce?
Carl Thompson: Yes, immensely. Building websites is all about coding, even the E-commerce sites. Luckily I’m a code guy so this wasn’t a huge leap for me. Then it’s a case of doing your research, making sure you know consumer rights, returns policies etc. Once you’ve wrapped your head around that, established ‘gateways’ where people can purchase stock, then a system that regulates stock control, you’re flying.
NakedPRGirl: The lovely David Gandy has been spotted in your gear, that must have been a proud moment?
Carl Thompson: It was awesome yeah. And he’s such a likeable guy. Talks to you like you’re the only person in the room. Never looking over your shoulder. He doesn’t judge people on their style and he’s got a huge breadth of knowledge in the fashion world. I’ve heard people try and corner him in interviews and he’s just a guy that knows his onions.
NakedPRGirl: You now have a huge range, has it been easy to grow the business?
Carl Thompson: It’s been a slog, but worth it. Imperceptibly it’s grown over time, the blogging has helped and it’s fuelled more traffic to the site which was the original idea. I’ve learned not to try and sell everything. I’ve had to cull a few sub genres and streamline a few ranges. Some people were getting overwhelmed with options, now it’s a lot easier to navigate and hopefully, the site and the collections look more appealing. I’ve got some amazing improvements for 2018 to look forward to, including a new sleek website design and a new made-in-Britain shirt collection so it’s forever evolving.
NakedPRGirl: How did you grow your social media audience? Was it from the success of your social channels that you decided to start a blog?
Carl Thompson: In my case it was a slow burn, but I made sure all the content I uploaded was clean and congruent. I am overly anal about what I upload. If I have an inkling something is off, not quite right, I’m not precious. I scrap it, move on or reshoot.
I started out with a few style tutorials on YouTube which gathered some good momentum and bled into other channels like Instagram.
NakedPRGirl: What’s your favourite social media channel? Do you have any social media tips?
Carl Thompson: I have to say INSTA. Again with tips make sure you have a voice and give people a reason to come to your channel. If you’re too diverse and start posting pictures of your cats, then you’ll confuse and lose your audience. Although you will find pictures of Charlie on my feed, that’s different. He’s better looking than me haha. I always send my pictures out to other brands, magazines and social media accounts and just ask them to tag me. A lot of street style and men with class social accounts are always looking for quality imagery.
NakedPRGirl: How do you split your time between your retail business and blogging business?
Carl Thompson: At the start of the week I try and schedule what the priorities are. Customer is always number one. If it’s a case of blogging and I see deadlines coming up, I openly liaise to clients and brands and ask for the latest publishing dates. I’ve never missed one but knowing deadlines, keeping customers happy, isn’t hard if you’re willing to get up early.
NakedPRGirl: Are your business branding and blogging persona symbiotic? Do you ever feel like they are out of step with each other?
Carl Thompson: No, which is why you’ll never see a blurry selfie of me on the feed. I’ve been tempted to retweet and repost pictures on Instagram to help get the word out on other bloggers or other photographers. I see other bloggers do it and I commend that. I have to be selfish though, my feed needs to be congruent with my brand at all time and it needs to adhere to a certain level of quality.
NakedPRGirl: You seem to be a natural at creating content, who have you enjoyed collaborating with this year? What are your favourite pieces of content?
Carl Thompson: I’ve been really lucky this year, the offers for collaborations have been coming in thick and fast. I’ve actually enjoyed the lifestyle element more this year with the car reviews, cocktail classes etc. I recently teamed up with Mini, test driving their Cooper D Hatchback and I’ve done some work for Mazda. I’d probably say the Morgan 4 Plus is the tip of the spear just because it was a pure head turner.
Photos courtesy of Carl Thompson – Rebecca Spencer Photography | Visit Carl’s blog here | Follow Carl @hawkinsandshepherd on Instagram | Shop Hawkins & Shepherd here.