The story of Paul Smith takes the theme of school-dropout-turn-success to a whole new level. Not only was Paul a dropout, but he also had no business ambition or interest whatsoever. His entry into business has been described by many biographers as accidental. His childhood dream was to be a professional racing cyclist, but today he has built his name into an iconic brand in the fashion world.
Paul Smith was born in Nottingham, England on July 5, 1946. He left school at age 15 with no qualification or career plan and began working in a local clothing warehouse as an errand boy. His love for cycling was great, so he rode his bike to and from work. Until one day, two years after, that he was involved in a car accident. That unfortunate event was going to shatter his dreams and end his ambition of being a professional cyclist.
Paul spent six months in the hospital, during which he met and made some new friends. After he was discharged, he arranged a meet with his friends at a local pub. Coincidentally, the pub was frequented by students from the local art college.
Paul listened to and studied the students, and it was at this point that he fell in love with art and fashion. He knew right then what he wanted to do with his busted life.
In 1969, Paul met Pauline Denyer, the woman who would later be his wife and who was highly instrumental to his success. Pauline was then a Fashion design student at the Royal College of Art. With great encouragement from Pauline and small savings, Paul opened his first shop in 1970. The shop was just 12ft square in size. Also, during this time, Paul began to take evening classes for tailoring, where he learnt how to cut cloth and all the basics of fashion.
Paul started by selling other brands, but soon he began to sell pieces that he had designed himself and had made by local manufacturers. In 1976, Paul showed his first menswear collection in Paris under the Paul Smith label. In 1982, he opened his second store in London. The third store came in 1983, while the fourth in 1987. In 1990, Paul created his first children’s collection. He introduced the women’s collection in 1993, after discovering that 15% of his clothes were bought by women. Today, there are 13 different collections.
Paul has received several accolades and recognition, but the most notable was in 2000, when he was knighted by the Queen. On the same day, he wed Pauline his partner of thirty years.
Paul still maintains his love for sports and he gladly dresses many sport’s men. In May 2009 Sir Paul Smith dressed the Manchester football team ahead of their Champion’s League Final match against Barcelona.
Despite his astounding success, Sir Paul Smith still maintains a humble demeanor and has been described as ‘down to earth’ by many who know him. He once wrote, ‘The obsessive pursuit of status, wealth and power has done much to drag ambition’s reputation into the mud’. He also said, ‘My top tip is to take it [his business] slow. Life is a joy. You don’t have to be rich and famous straightaway. Take it easy, grow gently and you’ll have a lovely life”.
Paul Smith’s products are wholesaled in seventy-five countries. He has seventeen shops in London and over 200 in Japan. Other countries where his shops are located include Paris, Milan, New York, Korea, and UAE. Paul continues to be an integral part of his establishment, acting as both designer and chairman, therefore his shops and products all over reflect his personal touch and character.
LESSONS FROM PAUL SMITH
The closing of one door could mean a better one is about to open:
Paul’s childhood ambition was to be a professional cyclist, but then the accident came that ruined all of that. It was a massive disappointment, one that could make some people depressed and even suicidal. But without this accident, Paul would have never found out about his interest in arts or his talent for fashion. When disappointment comes, we should not be too quick to get angry and sullen. The closing of that door could just mean that something better is about to happen.
Without Pauline Denyer, there would most likely not be a Paul Smith designer. There is not a place you would read Paul Smith’s story without finding a significant mention of her name. The failure of any man can be blamed, in most part, on his wife. Similarly, his success. Most women have no idea how much power and influence they wield over their men. You can make him better, you can inspire him to greater works. It does not matter if you know only little about the technicalities of his business or career; your words of encouragement, unflinching support, and providing a conducive environment would go a long way.
Keep in touch with your business:
Even after 40 years Paul Smith’s product still maintains a high level of quality and standard, just like the very first year that he got into the business. Paul has managed to remain an integral link in his business; overseeing production in his key shops and relating with customers and staff to sample their opinions on how to improve the quality of his offering.
Many people make the mistake of losing touch with their businesses just because it has grown to a certain height, thereby giving room for influx of adulteration in the product or services offered.
Keep in touch with your business. Listen to what your staff and customers are saying. Are they complaining of a decline in quality? Attend to it. You may not be able to be at every place every time and monitor every aspect of the business, but there are pivotal areas in your business upon which every other area hinges, pay attention to that area.