James Sleater: the key to success lies in cutting costs

James Sleater
James Sleater: work hard and smart

Visit any Savile Row shop and it’s likely that you’ll find some bankers in the fitting room, waiting to spend their hefty bonuses and salaries on some fine bespoke tailoring.

However, James Sleater (now 33) decided to take things one step further and be more than just a customer.

His family’s involvement in cloth making had left him with a lifelong interest in fashion. Therefore, after eight years as a commodities trader for BNP Paribas had left him wealthy but “bored”, he took advantage of a redundancy in 2008 to found his own bespoke clothing company, Cad & the Dandy.

However, while Sleater was passionate about high-quality clothes, he was also determined that this wouldn’t be a vanity project. Instead, he decided that his company “should be run on business lines”, aiming to make a profit as well as fulfil a dream.

In particular, he believed that he had identified a gap in the market between the “high quality but high prices” of Savile Row and the “more moderate prices but only average quality” of the Hong Kong tailors who made occasional trips to visit price-conscious London consumers.

Starting a business from scratch is still a difficult process. So when a potential supplier put Sleater in touch with Ian Meiers, another former banker who had a very similar idea, they agreed to form a partnership.

Despite “getting letters and emails from friends begging us to think again”, they decided to press on, funding their venture with their own money. Although the duo had some initial trouble finding staff who satisfied their exacting criteria, they were able to open Cad & the Dandy in three London shops.

The final step was getting the business into the public eye. Luckily, the partners’ backgrounds proved to be a big asset, with the tale of two bankers giving up City money for the shop floor proving to be irresistible.

Overall, the pair received “an incredible amount of support from the media”, which gave them more than enough coverage to give them a “big boost” in their first six months of operation. As a result, Cad & the Dandy has “always been profitable”, with the duo able to fund expansion through reinvestment.

At the moment they are focusing on building the accessories side of the business. As well as providing existing customers with another outlet for their cash, Sleater points out that “tailoring is cyclical and seasonal”. It therefore makes sense to reduce the volatility by diversifying.

They are also planning to expand their American client base, and currently travel to New York every eight weeks. Despite this, their next full shop will still be in the UK. Turnover is currently around £3.3m a year and still growing at a fast rate.

Sleater’s main piece of advice for people who want to follow in his footsteps is to “focus on cutting costs”. Entrepreneurs “shouldn’t be too embarrassed” to ask for help from friends who are willing to give their services cheaply or for free.

For instance, Sleater got an acquaintance to do his firm’s first photo shoot for the cut-price rate of only £100. He also believes in working hard and smart, suggesting that “you should work your socks off, but do so efficiently”.