A note from the field
MEET PHILIP TURNER: THE MAN BEHIND THE STRIPES
May 29, 2019
Since its unexpected inception on Sandown Racecourse some 20 years ago, Smart Turnout has grown from a start-up brand running out of a box room, to an international business that aims to take you places. We caught up with Founder, Philip Turner – the man behind the stripes – to discuss the brand’s past, present, and its flourishing future. We talk humble beginnings, UK manufacturing and even lemon bonbons…
ST: Every business starts with a bright idea. What was the first product that spurred the Smart Turnout brand?
PT: Well, back in 1992, whilst serving in the Scots Guards, I was kindly invited to take part in the Grand Military. For those who don’t know, it is an annual horse race held at Sandown Racecourse. It was great fun, although the odds were heavily stacked against me! As a first time jockey, I was certainly determined to make an impact. I had designed my own racing colours for the occasion which seemed to garner plenty of attention on the day. From there I found myself making regimental jumpers for my friends who were serving at the time. They were brilliant – very iconic! They had dicing on the front which offered a new way for people to wear their regimental colours. By introducing something new to the market it just spiralled and I found myself almost unable to keep up with demand.
ST: There must have been plenty of smartly turned out people around town in 1999 then. Speaking of Smart Turnout, we know the name comes from the regimental term meaning ‘to look your absolute best and to have a stylish appearance about one’s self.’ Were there any other names you dabbled with before finally settling?
PT: I am all for a little bit of teamwork when it comes to things like this, so I rallied up some family and friends around the dinner table one Saturday night and made it our mission to end the evening with a name and logo for the business. In terms of the logo, we ended up going back and forth a lot – it started as a bird, then we debated other animals. After hours spent brainstorming, I was drumming my fingers on the table trying to come up with something new. At this time, a friend looked down at my hand and both of our eyes fixated on my ring which features my family crest – a lion passant. We both knew at that moment that the lion would be the Smart Turnout logo.
The name was much simpler, Smart Turnout was a term I had heard many times whilst serving with the Scots Guards. It’s a phrase that perfectly summarises sharp style with a nod to my military background, which was something I innately wanted to include.
ST: It must be exciting now that you are celebrating the brand’s 20th birthday. How has Smart Turnout managed to maintain its relevance over the years? Tell us the secret…
PT: I know, the time has flown by! I truly believe that there are four key reasons that Smart Turnout has continued to thrive over the last 20 years. Those are authenticity, timelessness, transformation, and a dedicated team. As a brand, we have always remained authentic. When the business started to grow within a more fashion-focused environment, I ensured that we never lost our heritage. To this day, all our products still feature bold regimental colours, as well as those of other institutions. This is something that Smart Turnout has done from the very start. Although we adapt the merchandise to remain both stylish and true to its roots.
We are not heavily influenced by passing trends; this is with the aim to ensure that if you buy a product from Smart Turnout it will serve you for decades without losing its charm. For me, it is all about creating classic, enduring style rather than throw away fashion. Finally, the team is the heart of the business. Every one of our diverse team lives and breathes Smart Turnout. At the end of the day, a business is only as good as the people behind it.
ST: Do you have a specific product you have been particularly proud of since Smart Turnout’s inception?
PT: There have been several products over the years that have stood out to me. The Officer and Military watches are both items that I have a personal connection with, given my military background. The Officer watch is modelled on the pocket watches carried by its namesake during the First World War. When pocket watches were being used on the battlefield it became apparent that converting them into wrist watches would be much more efficient, allowing Officers to use both of their hands in conjunction with checking the time. Soldiers would create makeshift lugs by soldering metal bars onto their existing timepieces. This would allow them to attach a nylon strap, much like the NATO straps that we sell today. I think our Officer watch is a great homage to the original timepieces.
ST: How about more recent products?
PT: I am incredibly proud of our English made watches. It has been a long, and often hard journey to move a large portion of our manufacturing to the UK, but we are succeeding. It is an early step in trying to move all our watch production to England, and it is also the birth of our first mechanical watch which is exciting!
ST: Smart Turnout manufactures a lot of their merchandise in the UK, so aiming to bring even more production to England sounds fantastic. What else excites you about the future of the brand?
PT: Yes, we are extremely pleased that we have been able to manufacture a significant portion of our merchandise in our home country. British craftsmanship is second to none, so we are always pushing to support the industry in every way we can.
In terms of the future, we continue to elevate the brand daily. I will always stand by the brand’s use of traditional regimental colours. I find it incredibly exciting to think of ways that we can continue to adapt and improve our merchandise. We are currently growing the business internationally and I look forward to continuing to bring a taste of British heritage to all corners of the globe. It is a fantastic time for Smart Turnout, we are acquiring new stockists every day which allows us to bring our products to many new markets and into the hands of customers who may not be familiar with the brand.
And just like that, it was on to the important questions…
ST: You’re marooned on a desert island. What 3 things do you take?
PT: Sweets, for sure. Lemon bonbons are an all-time favourite. My dog would most definitely be coming along with me. Twinkle is a rough-haired terrier; I opted for a very traditional English name. Lastly, I think I would take some matches, it’s always good to be resourceful.
ST: Lemon bonbons? Great choice. Speaking of food, if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?
PT: Fish of any kind. Simply cooked on a smoky BBQ.
ST: Ah, a classic! If you could travel back in time, where would you go and to which era?
PT: I would head back to Victorian times. Either remaining here in London with a view of the old trams running through Piccadilly or, most likely, head to the countryside. I am a real fan of horses, so heading back to a time when horses played a huge role in people’s lives would be ideal. It would be utterly interesting to attend some of the Victorian sporting events, surrounded by gentlemen in their finest tweed jackets and caps.
ST: Would you rather know the history of every object you touch or be able to talk to animals?
PT: That’s a tough one…knowing the history of everything I touched would be wonderful. I’ve always been fascinated with skill and craftsmanship so it would be incredibly interesting to know the history of how things were made. I think my fascination stems from my love of hedge laying as a skill, so I would like to be able to appreciate all the other crafts that exist a little more.
Keep your eyes peeled for more exciting blog posts to celebrate our 20th birthday!