Wolf & Badger is hip. More unusually in the retail world, it’s fresh. Henry and George Graham, the brothers who founded this “carefully curated luxury showcase for emerging indie designers” six years ago, were onto a good thing: They’ve given a platform to excellent independent designers that have nowhere to sell their goods. With a very busy online store, and shops in London’s Notting Hill and on Dover Street, it’s fair to say that Wolf & Badger is front and center of swinging London’s current fashion scene. Creative Director and Co-Founder Henry Graham found time to tell us about it.
You and your brother gave up top jobs to launch your business. Was it a leap into the unknown?
Yes, and most people said it was a stupid idea. George and I were confident that we could create a retail offer that gave independent brands the power to sell direct to consumers, gain exposure, and build their brand; fortunately we were proved right, and our first store was an immediate success.
Do you come from a fashion-oriented or creative family?
Funnily enough, I always thought that I didn't, despite having always been interested in fashion, design, and anything of an aesthetic nature. But I was recently reminded that in fact my grandmother was very creative and had a retail business importing artisanal jewelry and homeware products from Italy, and selling into high-end retailers in London, such as Asprey. My great-grandmother was also very creative—a well-regarded milliner with her own boutique on Sloane Street.
Did you have a mentor/s, or did you just go for it on your own?
We started the business without direct experience of the industry, but I sometimes feel that helped, as we do things the way we think they should be done, rather than how they “are” done. Having said that, my creative eye was trained by Stephanie Wheatley, who helped mentor me in the early days of growing the brand. She started her career as Alexander McQueen's studio assistant and worked directly under him for many years, eventually running his entire studio.
You started in 2010, and in July 2015 you acquired Boticca—another bold leap. It must have been tough amalgamating two different operations. Ability and flair underpin success, and timing always plays a part, but were other factors in your favor?
I think you’re right about all those factors—they certainly all played their part. I feel that the most important one was sticking to our strategy of fully integrating the two brands under the single Wolf & Badger banner. This made it harder initially, as Boticca was a well-known brand and had a lot of good will associated with it, but once we had properly integrated the businesses, the combined offer was stronger than the parts. Now we have a terrific customer proposition with the world's best independent brands all on one site, and a passionate team that loves helping those brands reach their potential.
What is your standout unique selling proposition that gives W&B an edge on its competitors?
We’re not afraid to take risks with brand or product selection, and we choose products on their merits. We’re obsessive about the quality and finish of what we sell, and that the designer is creating new and innovative designs. You may find brands you’ve never heard of, but you can be sure that they will be as well made, or better, than anything you’ll find from the big names—that is our promise. We also care deeply about ethics—we don’t sell fur or exotic skins. We also encourage a clear and transparent production process, so you know that what you’re buying has been produced in a limited and sustainable fashion under the designer's supervision.
What’s it like to work with Swarovski in this new collaboration? How did it start?
Working with Swarovski has been a pleasure from start to finish. They are known for crystals that are the best in the market, and their reputation is stellar. We’ve always admired what they do in their fashion collaborations, and their support of independent brands is something that we believe is truly important in maintaining a dynamic industry. Swarovski reached out to us and proposed that we do something together, and after meeting with the team and sharing their passion for the project, we couldn't say no.
What is your crowning achievement/greatest innovation to date?
The best achievement has been watching the brands that we carry grow their businesses, and knowing that we played an important part in that growth. It’s also cool saying what we do to strangers and hearing them reply that they are customers, and love the business!
What’s the next ambition? Any plans to launch a Wolf & Badger own label?
No plans to launch our own label, because we feel that what we do is represent the best products and designers, and we’re known as a curator. However, we’d love to grow the business, open standalone stores in key territories around the world, and bring on even more amazing brands.