Je t'aime accessories

Jerome Pugh, Founder of Academie, champions French sustainable fashion brands. Here, he gives an insight into the company's journey

woman in orange dungarees with a blue and white striped top, standing on a rock When did you start up and why? We started the business 10 years ago after a number of family holidays to Brittany when we used to buy our children traditional Breton stripey tops. That year we couldn't go but still wanted to treat them, however, we couldn't find the real thing over here. We thought that this must be an opportunity and within six months we had met and were working with a traditional Breton clothing company called Mousqueton.

What prompted you to launch the business? I'm too restless for a 9-5 job and always hated working for a boss. It always brought the worst out in me. I'd been living in France for 10 years and all I wanted to do was travel around England and Wales and enjoy every moment of it.

woman in blue linen dress and brown linen headscarf What challenges have you overcome since the company's launch? That first sale was always the hardest. I had a full time job at the time and was going out looking for business at the weekend, always coming back empty handed. The owner of the company decided that we should do MODA and within 10 minutes of the show opening we had a visit from Jon Cleaves of Port Isaac and musicians Fishermans Friends notoriety on the stand to place our first UK order, and he's still a customer now. In fact Fisherman's Friends wore Mousqueton clothing on their recent photoshoot for their new album.

Tell us about your product offering. We specialise in French brands and where possible products that are made in France. The country has such a respect for their own craftsmanship, not dissimilar to Japan, and this has allowed traditional businesses to flourish. One of our brands makes scarves from hemp and table cloths from linen that are grown and processed in France. What we are doing in Farm to Fork in the UK, the French have applied to textiles - ultra sustainable and totally the future.

What are your most popular products? Each one of our brands has something unique about it, we try to find the DNA of France in them, something to remind you of family holidays in the South West or trips to Paris or, as in our case, camping holidays in Brittany with beaches that go on for ever.

Have any styles taken you by surprise with their popularity? There's always a contrast of cultures when working with overseas brands – the French can never understand why English men like to wear pink shorts and we can never understand why French like to have buttons on the shoulders of their sweaters. I suppose our differences are what we find charming about each other.

How do you keep your designs fresh and current? Do you follow trends? We try to avoid trends and instead look for classic and traditional designs, quality craftsmanship and beautiful products to cherish and keep. We're into slow fashion. Nearly all of our products aren't on the internet, which means that the first time that you see them is when you walk into one of our stockists.

What sets you apart from your competitors? Having a French mother, I've grown up surrounded by French fashion, art and design, not to mention the endless recordings of Aznavour, Piaf and Trenet. We like to think that we bring a little of that in everything that we do.

woman in black linen top and trousers and blue linen scarves How are you finding the current climate in the UK? Is it affecting business? We're still struggling to make sense of Brexit, we're not a wealthy country anymore and still don't have a plan. We should have used Brexit as a springboard to relaunch UK craft and fashion production, that was the obvious win, but there doesn't seem to be enough leadership from government, councils or education. We've lost too many skills over the last 50 years by outsourcing overseas.

How do you view the future of independent retail? The high street is far from finished, in fact its best days are just around the corner. I'm seeing an evolution from soulless department stores to dynamic specialist retailers run by experts in their field, people that actually know what they're talking about and attract customers who are not only looking for products but also advice. Look at the cycling industry, which is now dominated by the small independents, the drinks industry which is led by the craft sector - it's all about knowledge and expertise.

Are you active on social media? How is this important for the business? I'm useless, I know I need to do more but it does my head in!

Do you have any advice for new businesses starting out in the world of gifts? If you're good at buying, go out and find things that people haven't seen before, visit overseas trade shows and always be on the look-out when you're on holiday. If that's not your thing, then stock brands that sell themselves, brands that have high profiles and work on amazing customer service and wonderful buyer experience.

What can we expect in the future from the company? We're always bringing on new brands, we can help it. I'm sure your readers know exactly what I mean. Always space for one more!

Anything you'd like to add? I want to give a shout out to five amazing women who in my opinion are showing the way in independent retail:
Suzi Somers of The Golden Sheaf Gallery in Narbeth
Vanessa Hodgson of Collen and Clare in Southwold
Caroline Bloomfield of the same name in Midhurst and Barnes
Meike Cassens from Burford
Sue Parkinson of the same name in Cirencester.

T: +44 (0)7565 241 356

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