Smyth & Gibson continue to grow
Smyth & Gibson, a world-leading shirtmaker based in L'Derry, is continuing to set the pace in men's fashion. This in turn is having a positive affect on sales and profits. This month, for example, Michael Fassbender is pictured on the cover of well known British men’s magazine GQ sporting a Smyth Gibson shirt. Last year Gary Barlow was frequently photographed in the company’s shirts, and Justin Timberlake is also believed to have a few hanging in his wardrobe.
Gary Barlow regularly wore S&G shirts on the 'X-Factor'
Smyth Gibson’s upmarket retail store in the heart of Belfast has always had a loyal following but it is online sales and its new presence in stores such as Brown Thomas and Selfridges that are really helping to boost the firm’s profile. “We estimate that this year already we have 30 per cent year-on-year revenue growth in sight, and we are in discussions to expand our sales presence right across the board and internationally. It is a really exciting time for us" stated CEO Richard Gibson.
Richard Gibson set up his shirt-making firm more than 17 years ago in Derry or, as he likes to call it, the “European capital of handmade shirts”. He set out with a “dream” to combine the “worldwide shirt-making reputation of Northern Ireland with a design and quality-led shirt brand”. Today the business, which employs around 60 people, makes some 1,000 shirts by hand every week. The factory produces not only Smyth & Gibson shirts but also exclusive shirts for other award-winning designers – strong testimony to its high standards.
The firm handles everything in-house from start to finish; from the design to fabric purchase. Every shirt is hand cut and then assembled in a process that can involve up to 15 people.
At one stage the shirt industry was a major employer in Northern Ireland, particularly in L'Derry, where during the 1920s it was estimated it employed 18,000 people. One particular shirt factory, Tillie Henderson, was recognised all over the world as being ahead of its time – bringing the first sewing machines to factories in Derry and being name-checked by Karl Marx in Das Kapital.
“We want to be the best in the world. We make the best shirt that can be made anywhere. Nowhere else matches the skills we have and it is more that just that – it is about the culture of shirt-making that still exists to this day in Derry, and that is very important to us,” Gibson said.
He believes his determination to “stick to our values” through difficult times is the key to the 30 per cent jump in revenues last year. “It has not always been easy in the last 17 years. We were nearly out of business four years ago, ironically just coming off the height of the boom in the economy. I think it was just very easy at that time to get lost in the noise of the boom, to get distracted, and people didn’t really look too closely at what they were buying.
“Since then there has been the levelling off in the economy and I think because of that we have a very different kind of customer.”
He credits a “more conscious customer” who wants “the best quality, best looking and the best for the proportional value for money shirt”, plus the fact that Smyth Gibson launched its own brand shirt for the retail market, as the key to its survival.