Touker Suleyman, BBC Dragon and CEO at Hawes & Curtis

We sat down with Hawes & Curtis CEO Touker Suleyman

To many people you appeared on the scene suddenly, when you purchased Hawes & Curtis in 2001, what made you want to purchase the brand? What did you see in it that attracted you? And what did you do to add value?

I discovered a passion for shirts in 2000 when I was manufacturing for Ralph Lauren Europe. Luckily for me, the proprietors of a Jermyn Street shirtmaker called Hawes & Curtis were selling the business as it was about to go into administration.

In 2001, I bought Hawes & Curtis for just £1, taking on all the debt. It was the best investment I have ever made, and today the business is debt free, has 26 stores nationwide and has plans for international expansion. I have developed the brand into other areas beyond shirts, including suits, outerwear and casualwear.

I was attracted to the brand because of its rich heritage. Since the first store opened in 1913, Hawes & Curtis has served many of the best dressed men in the world, including the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, and it has been awarded four royal warrants. I saw an opportunity to make this iconic British brand great again.

What were you doing before you bought Hawes & Curtis?

Before I bought Hawes & Curtis, my brother and I built Low Profile, a womenswear wholesale business. The business became very successful and today it supplies a number of leading retailers including Marks & Spencer.

Where can you see the Hawes & Curtis brand in five to ten years?

Hawes & Curtis has grown from a relatively small UK business to a globally recognized brand in a short space of time. The brand has an extremely promising international future and in the next five to 10 years, we will be focusing on aggressively expanding this aspect of the business. We already have a franchise agreement in the in the Middle East as well as stores in Germany. We have a huge online presence with successful UK, American, Australian and German websites.

I understand you live in Kensington, what is it about that part of London that makes you want to live there as opposed to anywhere else in the UK?

London is one of the greatest cities in the world. Kensington is a stunning part of London and I love being so central.

If you could describe three ‘milestones’, in your career that made you the businessman you are today, what would they be?

My fascination with retail and manufacturing began early. My first business venture was in clothing; I used to purchase clothes for my grandmother to sell on to her friends. This eventually developed into my own successful clothing manufacturing company which supplied to notable high street names including C&A, Dorothy Perkins, Dunn Stores and Topshop.

In the 1980s I bought a substantial stake in another manufacturer and then invested in one of our largest retail clients. After a revealing audit, one of my companies was forced into liquidation. I was forced to sell my house to repay my debts. I was virtually wiped out financially, but it was the best lesson of my life. I learned a great deal about business and loyalty during this difficult time.

I had to pick myself up and start again so I bought a small cash-and-carry business with my brother. That became Low Profile, a manufacturer of clothes for the main women’s fashion chains. Low Profile was extremely successful and I used the profits to invest in property.

Do you wear clothes from Hawes & Curtis? And who is your favorite clothing designer and why?

I always wear H&C suits and shirts for important meetings and TV appearances – I may sound biased but the quality is second to none! In the office I tend to wear jeans with our shirts.

You recently joined the Dragons’ Den panel, what made you decide to do that?

I am a huge fan of Dragons’ Den and I would have loved to have had the opportunity to pitch to the Dragons at the beginning of my career. I am passionate about creating the big brands of tomorrow and I want to support the next generation of UK entrepreneurs.

In terms of investments, your career has been built mainly on manufacturing and commercial property, are there any others areas you would consider investing in that you might find exciting or ‘challenging’, for lack of a better word?

I am open to investing in all areas, not just manufacturing and commercial property. For me to invest in a business I have to like and trust the people and I have to see that they are passionate about their business.

Are you a fan of art? If so what is your favorite piece?

 I love Pop Art and I am a huge fan of Andy Warhol.

Describe your typical working day?

My working day is really varied. If I am not filming for Dragons’ Den I tend to spend my day in my brands’ headquarters. I have a very hands-on approach to business and like to be involved in all major decisions.

How important is PR to the Hawes & Curtis business? And business in general.

It is important to honestly showcase your brand in the best possible light.

What do you get up to in your spare time?

I spend my spare time with my two daughters.

If you could choose one male and one female to be representatives (or ambassadors) for Hawes & Curtis, who would they be and why?

Tom Hiddleston would be the perfect brand ambassador for Hawes & Curtis because he exudes a quintessentially British gentleman, he has great style and he is very charming. I would also choose Kate Middleton because she exudes power, sophistication and style.

Who are your political (if applicable) AND business role models?

My father is my business role model. He opened his own restaurant when my family moved to the UK from Cyprus. I have always been inspired by my father’s work ethic and I learned many of the values that I maintain today: hard work, determination and always making time for family.