Challenging the fashion industry with Cubitts, The Chapar and Grabble

Last Tuesday we hosted the second of our Challenger Project Live evenings at the eatbigfish offices on Bermondsey Street. This time around we focused on the broad theme of fashion with the founders of three emerging UK challenger brands taking to the floor to tell the audience what change they are bringing to the industry. Three very different brands, with three different strategies meant for a lively and varied discussion - from the benefits of OCD, to 'concept education', to how to trend on twitter, there was plenty to digest.

Tom Broughton, Cubitts.

Tom Broughton, Cubitts.

Our first speaker was Tom Broughton, founder of new eyewear brand Cubitts. Tom has had a varied background, from applied statistics, to forecasting traffic flows, to being a children’s TV expert. After 10 years of what he called 'procrastinating’ he’s now settled on spectacles - a subject and craft he’s long been passionate about.

Tom told us how his team's lack of prior experience in the eyewear industry has allowed them to take a fresh approach to thinking about presenting the brand and customer journey. “We over compensate for that lack of experience by really fussing over every little detail’ he said whilst jokingly adding that a mild case of OCD in himself and the team could also play a role.

It’s very important for us to make the whole experience impeccable - it’s not just about the product it’s about the before and after.
— Tom Broughton

The detail and depth of the Cubitts brand may go un-noticed by many; “99% of people don't give a sh*t and just want a nice pair of glasses” he said, but also recognised that it’s what's driving differentiation for the brand as well as a strong preference with their fans.

Sam Middleton, The Chapar.

Sam Middleton, The Chapar.

Following Tom was the founder of The Chapar, Sam Middleton, who’s business aims to provide a ‘third way’ for men to shop. Founded in 2012, The Chapar offer a personalised shopping service, whereby a stylist recommends clothes based on customer preferences and then sends a case of items for customer for them to try on at home or at the office. Sam defined their target audience as "the regular guy, the guy who wants to look good but doesn’t have the time and is not fashion engaged”. Despite having sizeable investment behind them, and steady sales growth, Sam also talked with honesty about what they have found really tough with pioneering the idea in the UK.

Our biggest challenge is what I call concept education - how do you communicate an idea that doesn’t really exist yet?
— Sam Middleton

His solution? Leverage the equity of the well known brands that they sell, such as Converse, Ralph Lauren and Levis - "We're just starting out and most people haven't heard of us, so let's use the power of these brands instead". A classic example of a challenger with little resource using the reach and resource of others.

Daniel Murray, Grabble.

Daniel Murray, Grabble.

Our final speaker was Dan Murray, founder of fashion-tech start-up Grabble. Often dubbed ‘the tinder for fashion’ because of its swipe functionality, Grabble is the app for daily hand-picked fashion providing a platform for over 1500 brands to display and shop their inventory.

Dan talked about the business's “magical pivot”, from starting out as a web-based social commerce product in 2013, to re-launching as a mobile-focused app a year later. “If you ask me it was a learning experience, if you ask my business partner it was a massive f*ck up” he said.

When re-launching the business, fortunes were at rock bottom, existing investors were unwilling to re-invest and it was a struggle to pay people’s wages. “When you’re a founder and you’re completely and utterly f*cked you have to make a massive bet” He said. Realising drastic action was necessary to stay in business, Daniel explained his last ditch attempt to get Grabble trending on Twitter.

To the bemusement of his team Daniel spent hours painstakingly putting together shareable pop culture memes containing the word 'Grabble' and sent them to 100 influential student twitter accounts to tweet at a specific time of the week. An example read 'when something you like on Grabble comes on sale' accompanied by a smirking image of Frodo Baggins from The Lord of The Rings.

Sunday night is the busiest time on twitter in the UK because there’s football on between 12-6pm and then X-factor from 7.30pm onwards. If you want to trend, that tiny gap between the two is your opportunity.
— Daniel Murray

The effort and risk paid off and Grabble began trending, subsequently hoisting Grabble up into the app store at number seven on their (re)launch. A crucial moment which led to new funding and a new lease of life for the business.


A big thanks to Anspach & Hobday for providing the beers for the evening, to everyone who braved the cold to join us, and to our three brilliant speakers. Challenger Project Live will return on Thursday 3rd March 2016, make sure you're signed up to our mailing list to get your tickets as soon as they're available.