Mencyclopaedia: Smart Turnout
How guardsman, Philip Turner, earned his stripes in fashion.
BY LUKE LEITCH | 07 DECEMBER 2012 / http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG9727814/Mencyclopaedia-Smart-Turnout.html
Following a nine-year stint in bearskin and scarlet, Philip Turner left the Scots Guards in 1996 - only to find his campaign to gain stimulating civilian employment a troublesome one. "I did do a bit in marketing, and found out a little about how businesses should be run. But it was difficult - very frustrating. A lot of us have the same experience."
Happily, Turner's soldiering days had already provided the catalyst for future fulfilment. While serving, he represented the regiment in the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown, and came up with the idea of having some racing colours rustled up for the race. His fellow officers fancied them, too, so Turner went back to the rustler-upper and had some jumpers made: "I sold them around the regiment
In 1999, Turner remembered their enthusiasm, and decided to try to expand the idea into a business. He found a British manufacturer, contacted regiments, schools and universities to propose that he produce items in their colours, then from his bedroom established a modest website to sell them. "The alumni merchandise was very weak in this country compared to America. At the beginning it was all word of mouth: for instance, a friend who taught at Radley put me in touch with the right people there."
For a while the business, Smart Turnout, tootled along, selling cufflinks, ties and jumpers as well as some clever military-style striped nylon watch straps Turner had dreamt up, based on ceremonial braces. In 2008, American GQ featured the watchstraps in its pages, and suddenly Turner's customer base rocketed. Each month the website now sells around 1,000 straps featuring the colours of institutions such as the Household Division, the Royal Marines, or even Vanderbilt University to men in the US, Japan, Korea and beyond. There are some very attractive wallets, scarves, belts, polo shirts, pyjamas, knitwear and jackets for those who wish to fly their favoured colours even more prominently. There are even Bradfield boxer shorts (very brown: not so nice) and some grey trunks with Nato-flash elasticated waistbands.
Smart Turnout has now expanded well beyond its original remit. Successful non-alumni items, including its "SMART" jumper (recently worn by a member of One Direction) and some extremely well designed, Grantham-made backpacks and briefcases (my favourite of all Turner's range), suggest that this business has the momentum to expand from bedroom start-up into bona fide up-and-coming brand. It has just opened its first bricks-and-mortar shop, in the Prince's Arcade on Piccadilly.
There is, though, a nagging etiquette-based conundrum lurking beneath Smart Turnout's spit and polish: is it ever strictly pukka to wear unearned stripes? Is Turner enabling any on-the-make charlatan to sport a pair of pink-flashed Westminster socks? Personally, I would happily inhabit Smart Turnout's natty Royal Artillery jumper (featuring a zig-zag burgundy stripe across the chest of a navy crew-neck), were it not for the uncomfortable prospect of running into a burly artillery man keen to discuss Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
Turner is admirably upfront about the point, cheerfully conceding that there aren't many British military veterans in Japan - Smart Turnout's second-biggest market - but pointing to a) the "spirit of affinity" that draws men to his products, and ruefully observing that b) many of the colours Smart Turnout features come from regiments long disbanded by cut-happy governments. We live in a world saturated by meaningless branding and trumped up logos: but the colours flown by Smart Turnout are the real thing, and the story behind it is real, too. Well worth your attention.