Menswear recently had the privilege of sitting down with Louis Copeland who, along with his brother, Adrian, is the third generation overseeing one of Ireland’s most iconic family businesses, Louis Copeland & Sons. Taking a breather from kitting out his stylish customers, the Dubliner reflected on the company’s legacy while also giving us some insights into how to succeed in the ever-changing fashion industry
In Ireland, when you think of men’s fashion, there’s one name that automatically springs to mind: Louis Copeland. The genesis of the much-loved business can be traced back to the early twentieth century when Hyman Coplan travelled from his native Lithuania to the Emerald Isle where, along with his new wife, Harriot McCarthy, he opened a clothing workshop on Capel Street in 1908.
Thanks to their son, Louis, in 1933, this venture expanded, adopting a name that, to this day, is synonymous with quality, style and elegance: Louis Copeland & Sons. Over the decades, high-profile names such as Pierce Brosnan, Richard Harris, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan and Conor McGregor have all been suited and booted by the family-run business. Currently overseen by Louis’ sons – another Louis and Adrian – it employs north of 70 people and, simply put, is deemed nothing short of a national institution, boasting five stores between Dublin and Galway – and that’s saying nothing of their state-of-the-art online store. “In the early 1960s, I started working in the tailor’s workshop, sweeping the floor, and learning what I could along the way,” Copeland recalls. Despite being in his late sixties, the award-winning entrepreneur is showing no signs of slowing down. “As you can imagine, a lot has changed since then.”
He continues: “Nowadays, I definitely think men are more stylish – in the advent of the internet and social media like Pinterest and Instagram, as well as television and magazines, men are much more aware of fashion and what looks good. They are tuned into celebrities and footballers – what they’re wearing.”
This, he suggests, is in stark contrast to the olden days.
“Back then, they didn’t have a clue,” he jokes. “A man would put on a suit and as long as it went over him, he was happy! If it was the size of a tent, he didn’t care! Today, men are much more aware about the fit of a suit.
“Men are more into their figures – going to the gym regularly – so now there’s a demand for sizes such as slim and super slim,” says Copeland – who is also a fan of the gym, which might go some way to explain his knows-no-bounds energy.
If men are more eager to dress to impress, when it comes down to spending habits, are they more willing to part with their hard-earned money today than in the times gone by?
“I don’t think men are as price-conscious as years ago,” says Copeland. “Now they’re much more open to better quality and are willing to pay more; they are more educated in the field of fabrics, for example.”
He adds: “There’s one mistake that retailers often make – they cut the price, but that’s the wrong road. Customers want quality – they know how it’s made. They want a better fit. If you trade down, there will always be someone who will offer it for less.”
In addition to a shift in his customers’ spending patterns, Copeland believes there are numerous other changes evident in the current retail landscape in comparison with the past decade and beyond.
“The challenges in retail today are different to those in the 1990s,” he says candidly. “In the 90s, it was all about having great stock, great people and offering great service. Today, while all of that is still essential, it’s not enough. Today, customers are looking for a unique, friction-less, omni-channel experience, that’s why we are focused on digital media and our website.
“The bigger stores are stronger than ever, meaning that independents need to have a distinct point of difference – you just can’t be run of the mill! Service is more important than ever.”
In fact, it’s this service that has allowed Louis Copeland & Sons to stave off the threat from the likes of fast-fashion retailers such as Penneys and Zara.
“We are in a different section of the market to the fast-fashion retailers,” Copeland mentions. “While they focus on quick stock turnover, we focus on offering the best service and a premium product.
“We are always learning – from the fast-fashion retailers, we learnt to adapt to the ever-quickening pace in retail, with quick stock turn and always focusing on new trends and adding them to the business quickly, to stay current.”
Copeland explains that the business sees itself as “curators”, travelling the world and buying from the very best suppliers, and describes the importance of collaborating with suppliers who are experts in their fields.
“The shirt factory that produces our shirts have been in business for over 40 years and only make shirts, they truly know how to make a shirt!” he explain. “So, it is a combination of unique stock and a unique experience in-store that set us apart.”
Speaking of manufacturing their own wares, 60 percent of Louis Copeland & Sons’ stock is now their own brand. Over the past 10 years, they have been developing various collections with some of the leading manufacturers in Italy.
Copeland reports: “There are a lot of brands in the market who are going on their name but aren’t necessarily good quality or a good price. We manufacture our own suits and are involved in all aspects of the process.”
Elsewhere, their main brand would be Canali, who, according to Copeland are “great people and a family business. We’ve had fantastic success with them for over 30 years.”
In terms of trade fairs, they go to Pitti in Florence, which, Copelands tell us, “is, by far, our favourite show for premium menswear. We meet our suppliers, look for new trends as well as gathering ideas for our own Louis Copeland collection.”
If ever there was a person well-positioned to advise the men of Ireland on the one must-have staple for every wardrobe, it’s Copeland.
“For me, the Swiss Army Knife of fashion is the plain navy suit – it should be in every man’s wardrobe!”
Looking ahead, Copeland’s thoughts on the future for the independent retail industry are, as you’d imagine, insightful but also come with a measure of caution. “Independent retailing is becoming increasingly difficult when you’re competing with big non-indigenous companies with lots of resources,” he warns. “We need to be individual and show our personality.” More personally, he adds: “We [will continue] to take the time to curate a really excellent collection each season and offer a unique experience and range to our customers and continue to offer excellent service.”
Having enjoyed so much success over the decades, it us understandable that Copeland struggles to name a single highlight. Eventually, he decides on winning Retailer of the Year in London exactly 20 years ago in 1998.
“It was a great prize – and an honour to be recognised in the UK. Also, surviving 10 years of recession – that’s definitely a highlight! To survive, you have to be big on service.”
When probed about the most important lesson learned in his years involved in the rag trade, Copeland’s response is short but, like one of the business’ most-famous admirers – a certain MMA fighter – it packs a punch.
“The customer is king, never forget that.”