Follow The Leader: Declan Mahon, Collar & Cuff

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In the latest in our series of interviews with business leaders from across the country, we speak to Declan Mahon, founder of tailoring company Collar & Cuff, about his business drivers. Follow the Leader: Declan Mahon, Collar & Cuff:


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From part-time jobs at school to founding bespoke tailors Collar & Cuff, Declan Mahon has always been in the “rag trade”. After six years working for Cambridge Clothing in Australia as wholesale and retail manager for the entire eastern seaboard, he returned home to Dublin and a role in another suit company – before going into business for himself at his wife Aine’s suggestion. He opened Dublin-based suit specialists Collar & Cuff in 2013, taking possession of the shop keys on his 30th birthday. 

What’s the elevator pitch for Collar & Cuff?

“Our main business is weddings. It’s always a special day, but at Collar & Cuff we have a tradition of offering something a little different, with both our product and customer experience. From differently styled suits to a nice welcome, and an appointment system where people are not rushed through or fast-tracked in any way, it’s all about providing something a bit extra-special.”

What was the key motivation and raison d’être behind your business?

“Men’s fashion is an underlying passion of mine. My grandmother was a seamstress and all her brothers were tailors, so it’s something that was ingrained in me long before I’d even known that it was. No matter what I’ve tried to do in terms of other jobs throughout my life, I’ve always come back to the men’s fashion industry.”

Recommended reading: Follow the Leader: Pat FitzGerald, Beotanics & FitzGerald Nurseries

Looking back now at the early stages of Collar & Cuff, would you do anything differently in terms of leadership?

“I have a mantra in life where I don’t regret anything. If I’ve got to look at mistakes, I call them learning curves. Obviously you need to carry them forward, so that you don’t make them again, but the most important thing is that you learn from them.

“One thing I would have done differently is surrounding myself with better suppliers in the beginning. I was a new business with no reputation, so I was grateful that companies gave me the opportunity to stock their products. But in the long run, it turned out that they weren’t the right match for me. If I’d been a little more patient, or tried harder to get better suppliers, I’d have had a better start to the business.”

What keeps you engaged and motivated to drive the business on?

“My main motivation is to support my family. I have a wife and two young daughters. I want to provide for them and give them the best possible chances in life – that’s very important to me.

“I have a sporting background as well: I’m quite competitive in whatever I do. In Australia, I played soccer at a high level. Then at home I immersed myself in Gaelic football. That’s fed into my business life, where the driving force is my will to be successful.”

What does achievement and success look like for your business?

“It depends on what day you ask me. If we’re having a slow week, success could look like staying in business. But if we’ve had a record day in takings, or booked a lot of weddings, I might say: ‘Maybe it’s time to expand and open another shop.’

“There’s probably a middle ground where success for me is a small amount of growth year on year. I don’t like to look too far into the future with five- or 10-year plans. I really want to establish what I have before growing anything else.”


“I have a mantra in life where I don’t regret anything. If I’ve got to look at mistakes, I call them learning curves”

Declan Mahon, Founder, Collar & Cuff


 What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

“‘The day you stand still is the day that you get caught.’ Fashion changes quite regularly – for example, David Beckham wearing tails at the royal wedding created a surge for a look that had disappeared for a long time. You’ve got to move with these things.

“You also have to keep moving in terms of how you use social media – you always have to improve on it. Then as a straight-out businessman, you’ve got to keep your house in order, and keep all your suppliers and commitments regular. I don’t like to stand still at all.”

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

“The Irish wedding website weddingsonline is held in very high regard by brides and grooms throughout the country for inspiration and to find the top suppliers. In 2015, 2016, and this year, 2018, we were named their Groomswear Supplier of the Year, which is no mean feat. It’s something that I am very proud of.

“But just as important an achievement for me is when suits are returned from a hire – and they tell us how great everybody looked and how well the day went. I want to stay close to meeting those smaller achievements.”

Your approach as leader is best described in which three words?

“Approachable, brave and honest.” 

Did you have a role model or mentor in business who helped you establish and grow Collar & Cuff?

“In Australia, I worked very closely with Enzo Saccotelli, general manager of Cambridge Clothing. Throughout the process of launching Collar & Cuff, I was in direct contact with him – and I still am to this day. He’s a friend, he’s a business role model and he is definitely a mentor.”

How are you preparing and planning for Brexit in your business?

“It’s a difficult one because it’s a bit of an unknown as to how it’s going to affect me directly. I do deal with a lot of Irish suppliers, as it’s important for me to support the industry here, so I may be protected from it in that regard.”

Parting shot: what’s next for Collar & Cuff?

“Today, it’s to open the shop this morning and be competitive and mad for business. But in the longer-term, it’s to remain successful, remain grounded and try to build a reputation. In a short period of time we have built a very strong reputation, so now it’s to cement that, which takes hard work and a lot of commitment and dedication. We need to continue what we’re doing, and do it better.”

By Penelope Rance

 

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