Clothing & apparel, like many other industries, has swung back and forth navigating the intricacies of Covid-19, countrywide lockdowns, and the ever-changing societal habits that have ensued. As the pandemic has irreversibly accelerated the shift to not only digital, but also experiences we have as customers, one such brand has not only successfully navigated the pandemic, but done so building an army of loyal customers with an unwavering commitment to purpose, quality, and most all… building in Britain.
We sat down with Oliver Massy-Birch, Director of clothing brand, Fortis, to talk outdoors, apparel, and what the future holds for the brand flying the flag for British manufacturing.
MacGregor Black: So Oliver, to a newcomer out there, how do you introduce them to Fortis?
Oliver: Well, the first thing people say about us, is that we’re very different.
The idea we have at Fortis is to make something that is going to be a trusted friend for a long, long time. And not only that, but to make it in Britain, with British fabrics. Manufacturing in the UK has been depleted for years as the fashion world is very much, centred around fast fashion. We’re very much going against that.
We want to increase the demand for, what we call slow fashion. And that means making a better product. It’s a bit more expensive, but it is going to last longer, have a repair service, and you know, have all of these things that incorporate something that you’re going to have for years to come.
MacGregor Black: Going down the ‘slow fashion’ route, is that something that you’ve pursued, where did the decision come from?
Oliver: It came very much from my father, who to begin with, manufactured for the police & military world. Then he moved into the shooting, fishing, and farming markets. So, when I took over, I just saw it as ‘we can do this right across the board.’, it doesn’t just have to be a brand for, you know, the hardcore country types.
It can be the same technology, the same quality, just across fashion markets, but also to lead the way in that actually, you don’t have to change the colour of your jacket every year. You can have it for the next five years, six years, whatever it may be, because it’s quality, and it fits well.
And I’m a big advocate of that. A well-made product does look very nice. So, I will always say something of quality is absolutely on trend. So we aim to cater to that base going forward and fit that demand, if you like.
MacGregor Black: In the last decade we’ve certainly seen a noticeable shift in buying behaviour, where there’s now a greater need for fashion to also be functional for the everyday consumer. Particularly over the last 3-4 years there are luxury brands that have a deep history in producing purpose-built clothing, such as Canada Goose and Moncler, that have incredible success in the Fashion industry, due to positioning in that specific category.
Is this something you can see happening to Fortis in the future?
Oliver: I think the ‘made-to-order’ market we are right now is a very good market… and importantly, it’s a growing market. There are a few things that make it a little, confused if you like. You can have police officers in forces jackets, farmers in forces jackets, and shooting & fishing in them too, as along the way, one item can meet the needs of many. You know, the core ideals of staying dry, comfortable, and ultimately having their needs met are our priority.
So, I don’t see us going down the route of saying we’ll design a piece for this purpose and this market only, and that’s how it will stay.
As long as we meet our functional performance and sustainability promises. I’m happy to move and steer our direction as we see it developing. Whether that be in five years’ time or 20 years’ time.
MacGregor Black: You mentioned earlier that many people describe Fortis as ‘very different’. One of the ‘stand-outs’ for me is your commitment to manufacturing in Britain. Why is it so important to you that this remains at the core of Fortis?
Oliver: For me, I know tomorrow we could pick it up in China and you have make five, six times the profits, maybe more.
But the issue for me with that, is that there’s a principle. And the principle for me is that okay, great, I enjoy what we do and I enjoy making profit that we can reinvest into the company and into the local community. And you want to do exactly that over time. But there’s also something about creating a positive, lasting legacy. One of something that is quite different… and special. Rather than being just another company that manufactures in China.
Thinking ahead, how sustainable really is that for the environment? Fewer miles for our materials and products to travel means reducing our carbon footprint. We’re going to bring it down by manufacturing in Britain, and in the long run it’ll make a big difference.
Ultimately, we’re doing the same processes, but we’re doing them in Britain, and to a better standard. So there is a long term plan.
And I’m an outdoorsman myself, so the environment is the biggest thing for me. So we think, why can Fortis not lead the way for the fashion world?
MacGregor Black: Finally, to round things off, give me the five words that embody Fortis now and to move forward with.
Oliver: Quality, sustainable, trustworthy, and… bloody good!
With Oliver at the helm, Fortis looks to be in good hands, and with a flexible strategy for the future, centred around it’s unwavering core principles of quality, sustainability, and trust, it’s easy to see why they’ve been quick to gain such a loyal following.