Force Of Nurture: Walpole’s Brands Of Tomorrow Scheme

A mission to make British luxury run on renewable energy.

“With great power,” as one time-honoured adage has it, “comes great responsibility.” It’s an ethos which, according to Helen Brocklebank – CEO of Walpole, the official sector body for UK luxury –  is woven into the fabric of British high-end-goods culture. “One of the things I love about British luxury brands is that they subscribe to this idea that we’re all super-connected, and have a responsibility to each other as an ecosystem,” she says. “The idea that nothing’s successful unless everything’s successful, and the sense of camaraderie that you get, is why Brands Of Tomorrow works so well.”

She’s referring to a scheme, conducted in association with Mishcon de Reya and MoneyCorp and now in its 15th year, which sees Walpole – which was founded as a not-for-profit organisation in 1992, and now counts more than 250 British brands among its members – bolster the success and growth of 12 early-stage British brands through a skill transference, advice and mentoring programme. In the process, the thinking goes, the scheme keeps the fires of British innovation and entrepreneurship raging.

Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank 

Nyetimber, Orlebar Brown, Bremont Watches and Emilia Wickstead are all among previous Brands Of Tomorrow alumni. This year’s mentors, meanwhile, include Miller Harris CEO Jon Graham, Manolo Blahnik CMO Carla Filmer, Fortnum & Mason CEO Tom Athron and Meribeth Parker, Head of Business Transformation at News UK.

So how does Walpole go about choosing which 12 fledgling companies which will, at the end of the programme, join this illustrious, collaborative membership network? “For 15 years now, the pressure has been on to make sure we picked a really killer crowd,” says Brocklebank. “The latest 12 reflect some really big trends that we’ve seen coming through in our latest luxury report.”

Feldspar’s ceramics: the first thing Fortnum & Mason’s Tom Athron “would save in fire” 

Such as? “Two of the brands, Circle Of Style and Luxury Promise, are in the re-sale, secondary market, circular economy arena. What I’ve seen coming out of the pandemic is a massive upswing in people trading up and buying better. And, Luxury Promise founder Sabrina Sadiq is selling Hermes, Chanel bags, Dior, that kind of thing, using social e-commerce. Circle Of Style is a subscription storage platform for vintage clothes, with brilliant stylists working for it. The platform gathers information about sizing and preference that’s going to be hugely useful to any retailer that wants to reduce their returns.”

Another trend that emerged from the 2022 Walpole luxury trend report concerns cosmetics with an authentic scientific basis. “Decree, another of the Brands Of Tomorrow, is a super-clinical, very effective beauty brand that’s going into Harrods and H Beauty – and again, it’s about owning less but owning better. Another, Liha Beauty is a natural-products-based beauty brand, based on the idea of doing well by doing good. The supply chain has ingredients from Nigeria, which is where some of the founder’s family comes from, so it’s based in Yoruba tradition – but it’s made in Hackney, so it has that fantastic blend of cultures that we have in this country, plus they’re supporting women’s cooperatives that empower women in Nigeria.”

Ocean Bottle: a flask brand with an environmental mission 

Naturally, sustainability is in the mix – notably with Ocean Bottle, which collects 1,000 plastic bottles from the ocean for each portable drinking flask purchased – whilst, aside from ethical credentials, sheer quality of product is a major factor, according to Brocklebank. “I have a big soft spot for ceramics brand Feldspar, whose products Tom Athron, who runs Fortnum & Mason, said would be the first thing he’d save in a fire,” she says.” Diversity of founders is also as crucial as is what Brocklebank refers to as “mindful consumption”.

That’s not to say that the more prosaic aspects of healthy entrepreneurial endeavour aren’t a major consideration when Walpole selects candidates for Brands Of Tomorrow. “We’re quite forensic about drilling into the health of their business, because it has to be viable,” she says. “That’s why the scheme is not about start-ups, but rather fledgling brands. They usually need to have had three to five years of bedding in and getting things right by themselves, and be at the point at which we can immerse them in the Walpole network, when they’re ready for the next level and to make new connections. We need to see really good figures from them at the initial selection stages – good financials,  good understanding of the customer, a focus on where the business can go next.”

With Nothing Underneath is a women’s tailored shirting brand 

They also need to have what Brocklebank refers to as “That Messianic zeal”, as well as “that laser focus on full momentum” in order to make the grade. “What we can’t teach anybody is how to have that incredible spark of invention that we’re looking for when we select those brands,” she says, adding that mentors are often of a very different personality type. “What we’re looking for from the mentor is the thing that you don’t always often find in some amazingly creative entrepreneur: people who ask ‘How do I scale business, how do I put discipline into it, how do I understand how the luxury market works, so that I can maximise the power of my invention?

“There’s no point in doing something extraordinary if you don’t understand the rules of the game, and so our mentors know how to scale businesses, how to sell luxury products – they understand the customer. Which means that, if any Brands Of Tomorrow have an issue about a manufacturing problem, or want to know how to sell their product into, say, New York, they’re only ever one person away from someone who can help them.”

Luxury Promise is a promising brand in the circular economy space 

If this marriage of nature and nurture keeps British luxury in its current state of rude health for the foreseeable, which is the aim, then we applaud it heartily.

The 2022 Brands Of Tomorrow In Full

Pre-owned fashion subscription platform with built-in advisory service.

Maker of scented candles which celebrate art and pop culture muses.

Award-winning maker of footwear and handbags known for her striking silhouettes and playful decorative detailing.

Artisanal maker of fashion-forward bridal gowns and evening wear.

Skincare range underpinned by refreshingly simple, authentic clinical expertise.

Natural cosmetics brand based on raw ingredients from Yoruba (Nigerian).

Reusable water bottles maker working with coastal communities who exchange the plastic for money, healthcare, education, tech and microfinance.

Women’s shirting brand, Inspired by men’s tailoring, making cotton workwear, travelling linens and evening silks.

Devon-based ceramic homeware brand creating quirky ’Objects for Life’.

Interactive, community-based next social pre-owned luxury goods commerce platform.

Maker of children’s garments that grow with their young owners, reducing water use and carbon footprint.

London-based fashion and lifestyle brand creating fashion, luxury sleep and homeware featuring playful prints.

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