Mixing Business With Pleasure – And Succeeding!

Londoners Deborah Marx and Tom Cridland are two young entrepreneurs from London. They met at the University of Bristol six years ago, fell in love and have been together ever since.

When the pair graduated in 2013, their peers were very surprised about two elements of their post University plan: an application for a £6,000 government start-up loan to start a fashion brand, Tom Cridland and their decision to work together on it, despite the fact they were dating.

Since starting the brand the following January with that £6,000 government start-up loan, the company has gone on to become one of the world’s leading sustainable fashion labels. This is predominantly thanks to the release of the anti fast fashion garment, the 30-Year-Sweatshirt, that is guaranteed to last three decades – designed to encourage people to stop treating clothing as so disposable.

Debs and Tom have seen their dream go from strength to strength, and have already produced items for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Rod Stewart, Brandon Flowers and Frankie Valli, to name but a few. Debs says: “We love working with each other and we can’t understand why so many find it so surprising that we want to do so because we are boyfriend and girlfriend!”

We must admit we were dubious that mixing business with pleasure could ever really lead to success, so we decided to find out a bit more…

How did you meet, and what were the first things that attracted you to each other?
We met in halls at the University of Bristol. We were both studying Modern Languages but Tom wasn’t working very hard! He upped the ante and passed first year when we started dating, so we wouldn’t have to spend a year apart on our year abroad. For that, we travelled together as part of the course, living in Lisbon, Santiago and Paris. We were attracted to each other almost instantly, despite having different friend groups in halls, and, since we started dating properly, it’s always been magical. We just really enjoy spending time with each other and hardly ever argue. We both want to make the most of life and to be with each other as much as possible. It’s proven a great recipe for nearly 7 years so far and, living and working together on Tom Cridland, we’ve never been happier.
What is the secret to keeping the peace in work and at home when you disagree?
We rarely disagree! Debs is a lot more disciplined when it comes to waking up early in the morning and doing her work out. She is more disciplined and careful, but extremely talented and hard-working. Tom is more gung-ho, not afraid to take risks and applied for the £6,000 government start-up loan with which we started the Tom Cridland brand. He also does not mind working till 2am or 3am if he feels inspired. That said, he is not good in the morning!
We are on exactly the same page when it comes to what we want in life, so we just try and work as a team. We don’t really take days off but we travel a lot and certainly find the time to relax and enjoy life.
What have been your biggest challenges?
Starting the brand with just £6,000! We only managed to afford our first stock order by manic word of mouth promotion, flyers, online newsletters and social media for a pre-order sale we ran off the less than impressive first incarnation of tomcridland.com. We’ve grown the brand organically with no further investment to become a leading sustainable fashion label but it has not always been easy, particularly at the start, especially with no previous experience in business or fashion!
Did anybody warn you not to go into business together, for the sake of your relationship?
No! Our family and friends do not tend to question our relationship, and they are nothing but supportive of us working together. We’ve always shared our money, since the beginning of our relationship, and have never had a single argument about it.
What have been your biggest achievements?
We have campaigned for sustainable fashion with The 30 Year Sweatshirt, a garment we guarantee to last 30 years, been a finalist in Fortune Magazine’s Cool Companies Competition, been listed on this years Sustainia100 and have made clothing for a host of really big, and stylish, names!
How do you relax?
We love travelling and seeing the world, going out for dinner, hosting and cooking for dinner parties and parties with our friends, we wish we had more time to binge on films and TV box sets, we are both extremely musical and listen to records at home and in the car all the time (and we also go to our favourite karaoke bar every time we are in Lisbon), we obviously enjoy clothing, beautiful art and furniture too, Tom plays drums, Debs plays piano, violin and sings and we both also desperately would like more time to get back into reading.
Who has been your inspiration?
[Tom says] Nigel Olsson inspired me to persevere. I was almost hopeless and had run out of money trying to start up the Tom Cridland brand two years ago, aged 23, when I sent an offer of a complimentary pair of our trousers to Nigel Olsson, who has been Elton’s drummer since 1969 and was one of my favourite musicians, via his rep. Much to my surprise, I had an email from Nigel himself the next day, saying he loved the look of my designs. Since then, he has ordered every pair of Tom Cridland trousers and commissioned custom jackets and sweatshirts, as well as becoming a friend. Nigel, however, remains our favourite ever customer and I will never forget how close to giving up I was before I received that first email from him.
Where do you see yourselves, personally, and the business, in five years time?
Aside from Tom Cridland, we recently co-founded Tom Cridland Public Relations and Tom Cridland Entertainment. Personally, we’ve never been happier! We plan to get married and start a family at some point, but it will have to remain a surprise – and there’s no rush! We want our wedding to be an excellent party!
Emily Cleary

Emily Cleary

After almost a decade chasing ambulances, and celebrities, for Fleet Street’s finest, Emily has taken it down a gear and settled for a (slightly!) slower pace of life in the suburbs. With a love of cheese and fine wine, Emily is more likely to be found chasing her toddlers round Kew Gardens than sipping champagne at a showbiz launch nowadays, or grabbing an hour out of her hectic freelancer’s life to chill out in a spa while hubby holds the babies. If only!


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