Could this jacket help prevent depression?
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
When Nick Hussey’s first start-up, cycling clothing brand Vulpine, collapsed in 2017, it took a toll on his mental health. “It has taken me years to talk about it without getting emotional because it was my life. I had a breakdown and thought of suicide,” he says. But that failure, and criticism that Vulpine went into administration just after asking investors for capital, not only led to his depression, it also taught him lessons. One was to build a sturdier business; a second was to be open about his feelings.
Hussey is sitting in the head office outside Bath of Frahm, the self-proclaimed “tough, beautiful” menswear brand he went on to found in 2018 with his wife, Emmalou. Buy one of its handsome military parkas (£795) or quilted gilets (£295) and you’ll find his advice written on a patch that’s stitched into the lining: “Don’t keep it buttoned”. Frahm – named for an old German word meaning “noble, person of good character” – also donates £10 to the mental health charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably) for each item that it sells.
Although he has no fashion training, Hussey says he is Frahm’s target customer and knows what he wants. He designs jackets with Simon Oates, a consultant who has worked with other independent fashion brands including Penfield and Albam. “I like sharp, not soft lines. An enclosing collar, not a wide one. Masculine, but not so it is ridiculous,” says Hussey. “We do not make jackets to scale the Eiger. Ours is the one you grab to drop kids at school or walk the dog, but improved in many little ways.”
Hussey says he wants his jackets to feel so well-built and finished that they evoke in customers the satisfying clunk of a luxury car’s doors. Precise detailing marks out the collection: double stitching on the pockets and hood of the British Millerain waxed cotton; natural fabric linings; gunmetal snaps by Cobrax; chunky Riri waterproof zips; Shimada rubber zip pulls. The jackets are built to last: Frahm’s crown jewel is an orange Ventile Thermal Storm Jacket with detachable peaked hood (£995).
But you can save 20 per cent on all items if you pay upfront and are prepared to wait for several months – sometimes up to a year – for your jacket to arrive. That is a feature, not a bug: instead of taking all the financial risk and having to discount stock at the end of seasons, Hussey wants to incentivise pre-orders.
The Frahm man clearly feels seen. Nearly half of its customers return to buy a second jacket; online reviews average 4.9 stars; and the customer comments are a litany of love and gruff appreciation. And while the company is small, with only four full-time staff and expected sales of £2.4mn in 2023, it is growing fast.
Another founder might celebrate, but Hussey knows he has more to prove. At least in this he is dressed for the challenge: “Jackets are like armour,” he says. “When you put on your jacket, you’re ready for life.”