This time around we visit Graeme Gaughan from IPR London. We spoke to Graeme about everything from working on songs from the Bad Boys 2 soundtrack to working at All Saints (when All Saints was a job worth boasting about) to being asked by managing director Debbie Cartwright to join her at IPR. Take a leap to find out more.
Photography: Ivan Oglivie/Selectism.com
How’d you get started in all this?
I came through the music industry. I had a bit of a weird journey to get into fashion. It wasn’t just getting to know the facts of something, I had to know the ideal and aesthetics as well. I came to London in 1999 and studied music.
From Shropshire. It’s great in small doses, but it doesn’t give you much of an outside glimpse of what’s going on. I didn’t want to go on a general media studies course and I was really into music anyway, so I went to London College of Printing, studied Sound Design and Music there. It was an art-based music course and had a lot of technology involved in it, so remixing, DJ’ing – the midi side of music. I did a bit of full-time work so I could get out of there. I took a leap around 2002, started doing music full-time. Had some pretty interesting jobs, remixed tracks for Aaliyah, had tracks on the Bad Boys 2 soundtrack, worked with a lot of UK artists, from So Solid through to Shola Ama, various people.
I was working part-time at All Saints to make ends meet. I’d made a nuisance of myself getting extra shifts and then got a job in their head office. Then they were like, “Do you wanna work on this side of things in press and marketing?” I did that for a few days a week and then made that full-time. I did that for a few years and then went out in a blaze of glory.
I just fell out with the management a little bit. (laughs) Didn’t see eye to eye with them on a few issues and that was that. Then I went to Arcadia and got a bit of a corporate schooling. All Saints was crazy, bonkers and all over the place and Arcadia was a massive corporate entity with set styles. A couple of years later I got a call from Debbie, the managing director here, and said, “I’m setting up this project, are you interested?” So I met with her and that was that. It was very much a different plan at the time. We had 15 staff and five years later it’s a functioning international PR agency. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It was pretty stressful. Luckily, we had the backing of a sales and distribution agency. Their clients were our clients to start with and then we were able to cherry pick people we wanted to work with, people like Chris Shannon, Martyn Bal, still waiting for that label to come back.
What’s been the aim for the brand mix?
We wanted to create something that was attainable but still had a contemporary aesthetic. We didn’t want to have rail after rail of ridiculously expensive garments no one could ever afford. And we didn’t wanna be another Purple, Karla Otto or KCD. They do it so well there’s no point trying to do what they’re doing, so it’s about offering something that’s a little bit different. We loved what stores like B Store were doing, the stores that weren’t focusing on really high-end product but a more interesting mix of brands. We liked the idea of creating our favorite brand mix for our shop in a PR agency. So when you came in you felt like “I wanna shop, I wanna buy something,” and journalists really respond to that because it’s stuff they can afford as well. Journalists are like everybody else, they don’t get paid mega bucks. To create something that’s attainable for them that we can offer them, that’s in tangible reach of their readers, especially at the time we started — which was at the recession — that was really important to us. We do have expensive stuff but it balances across the range.
How would you say the companies changed since it started, if at all?
The core elements haven’t changed. It’s still myself, Debbie and Nat heading up the press side. Debbie deals with management of the agency as a whole. She hadn’t worked at an agency either. So both of us came into this like, “I’ve never worked at agencies so let’s create our own way of how we feel an agency should be.” We don’t do certain things the same as other agencies. We’ve had to learn a lot about the way agencies are run but we try to keep that in-house mentality with every client we work with. So I need to feel that I believe in the product we’re selling so I can push it and believe in it, because if you don’t, it feels insincere. And, luckily, I’m in the position where I do love all the brands that I work on because I head up the menswear brands. For me, it’s the most interesting part of what we do here.
What are some of the biggest challenges of growing?
If you’re doing this yourself, the biggest challenge is cash flow. Having the cash flow to weather storms of months when clients pay late and things like that is really important and the hardest thing. Luckily we’ve had the backing of Indigofera and they’ve been supporting us through those early days. We don’t really have such a problem now but those days when you’re working with very small clients [are hard]. In the early days you need every penny. Every now and then we had a period where it’d get really stressful and then it’d be really hard work and then you’d be able to take on some new team members and delegate a bit more again. And then you can relax.
Calm and the storm again.
Exactly. We’ve been in a constant state of growth over the last two to three years and then when we came here we hit a point where we had a really good list of brands. And we could sit back a little bit. We do say no to things that can be really lucrative. You can bite off more than you can chew. You’ve gotta be careful that you can deliver what you promise.
What’s the overall aim for IPR?
To stay relevant and keep surprising people. Obviously, from a business perspective, have a healthy growing business. But outside-looking-in perspective, people are always glad to see us because we make that effort. With press days, projects we put into place. We have an events team as well. It’s something we thought was really important. Events are so labor-intensive. It’s great that we have that infrastructure.
Was launching your own brand always a goal?
Not really, I wish I had this goal a long time ago because I would’ve had a head start then. I was doing t-shirts for bands, it was interesting seeing print techniques, getting involved with the physical side and seeing how things turn out. It started out as an experiment, just a few t-shirts. As people took notice and I decided to get more creative and it’s snowballed from there. There’s times where I’ve thought, “Is this worth the work?” Then somebody will send me an email, something will happen and I’ll think, “I’m doing something right.” It’s gonna take time but nothing happens overnight. Probably it’s the best way of doing it in some respects. I don’t need to rely on it. It doesn’t interfere with my day job and, if anything, it’s made me understand what a lot of designers go through. Also, working out how these parts of the industry work as well. Like buying, merchandising and things like which you don’t have any visibility on if you work in PR.
How do you juggle the two?
TDT is done at night. I’m putting together a small team now. Like one guy who I’ve worked with for years. The guys at Indigofera do the sales and distribution for me but I do get involved with trade shows because I’ve got to sell the story and the designer has to be there.
Jason Dike is a London-based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasondike.