With premium men’s activewear brand Castore, the Beahon brothers are making an under-served niche their own.
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The story behind luxury sportswear brand Castore is almost too good to be true. Two young brothers, born and bred in Liverpool, step away from burgeoning sporting careers to pursue the goal of creating a premium, high-performance sportswear brand and take on powerhouses such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour in the hyper-competitive market.
Two years after the brand’s launch, Phil and Tom Beahon – aged 25 and 29 respectively – sit eating popcorn in the basement boardroom of their brand-new head office in Liverpool. Dressed head to toe in their own designs, the brothers have a fully fledged, innovative and fast-growing business under their control.
Growth has been rapid. The brand launched in August 2016 and sales reached £750,000 in 2017. They are set to soar: when Drapers meets the brothers in late November, Phil confidently says the business is “on track” to meet, and is likely to exceed, its target of £2.7m for the year, and Castore expects to be profitable “in the coming financial year”.
The team is currently made up of 16 people, and will soon number more than 20. Digital refinement, international and category expansion are all top of the list to fuel the young business in its next stage of development.
A new proposition
The name Castore comes from the myth of Castor and Pollux – brothers who challenged Zeus – and the brand’s origins stem from Tom and Phil’s competitive natures. Growing up in the Wirral, just a few miles from the new Castore office, the brothers were keen and promising sportsmen: Tom a footballer and Phil a cricketer.
“We were probably good enough to make a living with those sports, but not good enough to get right to the top level,” says Tom. “We both made the decision that we’d rather try and be very good at something, than mediocre athletes.
“That was probably the defining factor for both of us – when we said: ‘If we’re not going to be sportspeople or athletes, what are we going to do?’”
Sportswear, particularly men’s sportswear, seemed the natural avenue for a business venture.
“We looked at the likes of Sweaty Betty that had entered the sportswear space and done incredibly well, but they were very much focused on the women’s and female space,” continues Tom. “No one at that time – we’re talking three years ago now – had even made the effort in the menswear space, and that, for us, was such a clear opportunity.”
Until we came along there wasn’t that option available, and we provide that far superior product
Phil Beahon, Castore
After a period of research during which the brothers questioned the patrons of premium gyms in London on their activewear habits and needs – “weekends stood outside in the rain, wind, snow and everything in between,” says Tom, as he and Phil grimace at the memory – they honed their target audience.
The Castore proposition is a premium sportswear brand, focusing on super high-performance items and catering to men who take their sports and training very seriously.
“Our customers have traditionally bought Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, but wanted something a little more premium,” explains Phil. “We believe that until we came along there wasn’t that option available, and we provide that far superior product.”
Retail prices start at £75 for a T-shirt, currently reaching £395 for a jacket. A new jacket featuring advanced reflective technology, complete waterproofing and wearability up to -20ºC will launch soon, priced at £650. Although it sells mostly through its own transactional website, Castore has a limited amount of wholesale stockists – it declines to reveal wholesale prices.
Emily Gordon-Smith, director of consumer product at research agency Stylus, notes that the appetite for a luxury men’s sporting offer reflects wider market trends: “There is a hunger for more interesting casual and active pieces. Men have already shifted their spend away from more formal apparel, and are now looking to build wardrobes around exciting offers that speak of their casual and active lifestyles. This is a massive opportunity for new brands, especially at the luxury end of the market place.”
The concept is one that has secured backing from high-profile names in the fashion world. Tom Singh, the founder of New Look, was one of several investors to put a total of £1.2m into the company in September 2017. In June 2018, a further £3.2m came from investors including former Saatchi & Saatchi boss Robert Senior and Arnaud Massenet, the ex-husband of Net-a-Porter founder Dame Natalie Massenet.
Commenting on his investment at the time, Singh said: “The premium sportswear market continues to expand rapidly and, although currently dominated by a small group of multinational companies, there is undoubtedly appetite for a premium brand committed to superior product quality like Castore.”
“Its hard to overstate the value that experienced, intelligent and engaged investors can provide,” says Tom. “We definitely wouldn’t have achieved the success we have today without having the investors and the board involved that we do.”
The brothers have also gathered recognition elsewhere. Phil was part of Drapers 30 Under 30 in 2018, and Castore is one of luxury group Walpole’s Brands of Tomorrow, an incubator for emerging high-end labels.
Athlete feedback is at the centre of the designs, even before the designers themselves have been involved
Tom Beahon, Castore
Outside of sport, the Beahon brothers both have backgrounds in finance – a huge advantage when building a fledgling business. Before founding the brand, Phil worked in the corporate finance team at Deloitte and Tom worked in leverage financing for Lloyds.
“Having a solid financial understanding really helped when it came to raising money, which is such an important part of the small business journey,” says Tom.
Castore is underpinned by a rigorous approach to product development – items are created to meet the specific needs of high-performing athletes. Its Castore Academy project works with athletes across a spectrum of sports, from rowing to running, boxing and gymnastics, to learn their needs. Presently, 15%-18% of revenue goes into research and development of new products.
“We first and foremost engage with those guys and ask what it is that they want from their sportswear,” explains Tom. “Athlete feedback is at the centre of the designs, even before the designers themselves have been involved.”
The feedback gathered from athletes is fed directly to the mills the Castore works with, which are almost exclusively in Italy. Products are designed by the team in the UK and manufactured in Portugal. “That’s quite unique, as the mills don’t ordinarily take that feedback on board. We work with them in a collaborative way, to create fabrics that have the characteristics required by elite and serious athletes.”
Products are put through their paces by sports scientists at the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance – an organisation that works with British Athletics and the British Olympic Association to test athletes.
“The product development process for us is generally about 18 months, from the initial sketch to getting right through to the final product delivery,” says Phil.
The brothers, of course, are also enthusiastic testers of new kit – an evident perk.
“We both make a conscious effort to use the first samples,” Phil grins. “They’re worn by ourselves before they go out to anyone else.”
In a market where competitors are worth billions, and have advertising budgets to match, the Beahons’ focus on quality and innovation is a canny choice.
“Despite our big competitors being such huge brands and having such strong financial positions, not a lot of that is invested in product innovation,” says Tom. “So for us, despite being smaller it is a huge opportunity to out-innovate everyone else.”
Serving a niche
Nick Paulson-Ellis, founder of luxury sportswear retailer The Sports Edit, says focusing on a niche helps give brands a USP: “Nike and Adidas are great brands, with decades of brand building and athlete endorsement behind them. A conventional, broad-based product offering has no chance of competing with them. But there is plenty of space for brands with a narrow focus on a particular activity or set of activities or community, and with a clear and distinctive design and aesthetic point of view.”
Phil elaborates: “Because we have higher price points, it allows us to invest more heavily in innovation. We can try things – new fabrics for example – that might be more expensive for the mid-market brands. It allows us to test different technologies that go into products.”
Some of the more cutting-edge products in the collection include the Fusion jacket (£295). Silver in daylight, it absorbs sunlight so that it becomes luminous green at night and gives the wear increased visibility to allow training around the clock.
Phil stresses that much of the growth the brand has experienced has come from product launches. The waterproof Garcia hoodie is a consistent sell-out item, and the Fusion gathered a waiting list of more than 1,000 people before its launch.
Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods and chairman of Walpole, acts as a mentor to Castore through the Brands of Tomorrow programme.
He notes that the label’s future success hinges on its ability to communicate its niche and product innovations: “A lot of Castore’s future success will be about how quickly they get distribution for their new ideas. If they get really good distribution, they get in front of the customer and the customer knows them for the product and the brand and they can own it – then they can be successful. The issue they will face is making sure that someone else doesn’t take up on what they were doing and represent it with greater distribution.”
At present, 80% of Castore’s sales come from its own website, and it remains a key priority.
“We’re investing very heavily in our digital team,” says Phil. “Digital is the main element of our business, whether it’s analytics, data points, customer journey or the service we can provide.”
As its digital business develops – the launch of same-day delivery in London in 2019 is one imminent step – the brothers are now keen to leverage other channels.
“Having come through that first stage of growth, we are now looking to refine and accelerate the business,” adds Phil. “This is where might there be opportunities to support the digital growth of the business with targeted wholesale partners or physical stores in particular regions we know the brand resonates.”
We’re very much seeing wholesale as a supporter for the digital business
Castore’s 15 current stockists include premium hotels and gyms. It launched on Mr Porter in October 2018 and will launch in Harrods and Matchesfashion in the first quarter of 2019. Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford is set to follow in the second quarter. However, the focus remains firmly on direct to consumer.
“For us, it’s incredibly important that, as the vast majority of our business is online, we own the customer relationship – we own the whole life cycle of the customer experience,” says Tom.
“We only want to partner with the very best guys: a very select number of people in different territories that are bringing something new as a business. We’re very much seeing wholesale as a supporter for the digital business.”
In addition to wholesale, Castore launched an international pop-up series in December 2018, which started with a four-week pop-up store in London’s Knightsbridge. There are no current plans for a permanent location.
“The pop-up series provides a brilliant opportunity to go and physically engage with customers in a way that digital simply doesn’t allow,” explains Tom. Two more pop-ups are planned for New York and Hong Kong later this year.
These locations demonstrate the Beahons’ international ambitions. Currently 45% of sales are international, and the brand sells into 30 countries, including the US, Hong Kong, and several other Asian nations. This will increase to over 50 in the next six months.
“One of the main benefits of being a digital-first brand is that it is almost as simple to acquire a customer in Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo as it is in London,” says Tom. “To capitalise on the huge opportunities out there makes complete sense and our business is set up to do that.”
In October, the brand appointed David Wakely, former buying manager at Lane Crawford, as head of Asia, and the brand opened a 25,000 sq ft warehouse near New York in September 2018 to better serve the market. Orders had previously been couriered from the 70,000 sq ft UK warehouse.
The Beahon brothers certainly have bold ambitions – the phrase “global domination” springs to mind as they describe their plans for the business’ future.
“Our ultimate vision for Castore is to create a premium alternative to Nike or Adidas,” says Tom. “We want to build Castore into a brand that has a global scale and is respected across the world for our dedication to creating the highest-quality sportswear in the world and having a deep, deep passion for sports.”
The next step to achieving this is to launch activity-specific ranges. A high-performance golf line is set to launch in March, and a tennis collection is coming in July.
The Beahon’s innate competitive streaks have served them well, and Castore is a young and blossoming brand, doing innovative things and led by two passionate and dedicated founders. However, they would do well to heed Ward’s warning of competing brands taking up their proposition and offering it to a wider audience.
“In a market like sportswear, you have to be competitive to survive, let alone thrive, so you need to have a strong competitive streak,” says Tom. “You need to be very strong and very focused, and if we didn’t have those attributes, I don’t think we’d have had any of the success we’ve had to date.”