One to watch: Men's Society
Set up in 2012 by husband and wife team Hugo and Bella Middleton, Men's Society is a product design company and distributor of men's gifts and accessories. Think bottle openers, cufflinks, handkerchiefs and more, all of which are sold online as well as through select design shops and department stores across Europe and the States.
Here, we chat to Bella about the highs and lows of setting up a business (and what it's really like working with your other half), as they prepare to exhibit at Pulse for the fourth year running…
How did Men's Society come about?
“We first set up a business designing and manufacturing fabric gift-wrapping, which we were really passionate about. We created several designs for the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and other groups like Artisan du Chocolat, as well as selling them through concept stores and art galleries such as Saatchi and Moma. After two years, we started to think about evolving the business, but to what? It just so happened to be near Hugo's birthday at the time and I couldn't find anything that I thought he would like, which got me thinking: maybe we could design great quality men's gifts and accessories – and that's when Men's Society was born.”
What was the next step?
“We started selling our own range of men's grooming kits alongside products by other brands, including hipflasks and washbags. Our HQ was the spare bedroom of our London flat, but within a few months we had to put the bed on stilts so we could stack stock beneath it. The product then spread into our living room and within a year we had to move out and get our own offices and manufacturing facility.”
Where are your products made?
“Ninety per cent of Men's Society products are made in our facility here in England. The other 10 per cent we outsource, but even then they're made in the UK. The products we distribute for the brands we represent, which include as Izola, Candylab and WP Design, are mostly made in the USA.”
Where are your products sold?
“We sell predominately to cool concept stores, fashion retailers and independents. We also list some of the best department stores across the globe as clients. In the UK, for example, we supply Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods.”
There are two founders – how do you divide up the work?
“I focus primarily on the creative work – designing our own ranges and sourcing new products and brands – while Hugo deals with sales and strategy. However, when you run your own business you always do a bit of everything. We've grown from two to a really strong team of 12 who make coming into work every day a joy.”
How do you find working with your husband?
“Hugo and I genuinely work well together. He's very disciplined and I'm super enthusiastic, which in practice means he is great for making sure I'm out of bed and at my desk by 8am and I'm really good when a disaster happens!”
What has been your proudest moment?
“I don't think there has been just one; it's a series of proud moments. The fact we've created Men's Society by ourselves, without any help, is hugely satisfying. We also recently designed a range of gifts for The Flying Scotsman, which was a major moment. To create a range for such an iconic British institution is incredible.”
What advice would you give to other people starting out?
“Jump in. Don't focus too much on the what and the how, just do it. Mistakes are inevitable, ideas will change – but it's all part of the process. Once you start building, it gets easier, so just get started. And enjoy it – there is nothing more fulfilling than doing something you love.”
We're launching two new brands at Pulse this year, which is really exciting. Oh, and we've just had another baby – so it's busy days and busy nights at the moment!”