Late blooming entrepreneur aims to launch dedicated fashion brand

Simon Middleton admits that it took him until his mid-fifties to find his true inspiration, and is now determined to prove that being middle-aged is no barrier to building a branded business which embraces musical instruments as beer as well as clothing.

The Shackleton range of clothing, all inspired by photographs of Shackleton and his men on the Antarctic ice exactly 100 years ago, is currently the subject of a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform, through which Middleton is trying to raise £30,000 of development money for the project.

If he succeeds his company will produce jackets, trousers, shirts, boots and accessories, all under The Shackleton brand. Middleton has already produced a small range of Shackleton knitwear which is on sale in the world’s most southerly shop, in the Antarctic itself, and which Middleton has exported as far afield as Moscow and California.

The entrepreneur says he spent over thirty years doing ‘conventional’ jobs before branching out on his own. He trained as a primary school teacher, and has been a nurse and an NHS manager, as well as an advertising copywriter and creative director. In 2010, after more than a decade in the marketing industry, he wrote a book called Build A Brand In 30 Days which became an Amazon Bestseller in its category, leading to speaking engagements and consultancy projects – and ultimately to the idea of creating a branded business of his own.

“I’ve made numerous mistakes since then of course, including running a specialist left-handed guitar shop, which somewhat narrowed down my potential market,” Middleton said.

“But a couple of years ago, whilst retailing imported banjos, I had the idea of manufacturing banjos in Britain, which hadn’t been done here for well over 60 years.”

This decision led to Middleton’s first Kickstarter campaign in the autumn of 2013, which became one of the top 2 per cent most successful Kickstarter campaigns up to that time, raising £48,000 and funding the opening of Britain’s first and only banjo factory in more than six decades.

The company named its first banjo model The Shackleton, inspired by a banjo’s important morale boosting role in Shackleton’s 1914-17 Endurance expedition. When his ship was crushed and sunk by the Antarctic ice, leaving the entire expedition stranded on the ice, Shackleton described the instrument as “vital mental medicine”.

Having called the instrument The Shackleton, Middleton was approached by Shackleton enthusiasts from all over the world, and so the idea of a brand with a life beyond instruments was born.

Middleton first produced a range of craft beers, initially brewed in Norfolk but now moved to a family brewery in Essex in order to allow higher volume production, which are shortly to have distribution across East Anglia, with plans in place for national coverage.

Then last autumn the company produced a small collection of Shackleton knitwear, designed from photographs of Shackleton in Antarctica and knitted in Leicestershire from British-grown wool.

Now Middleton is in the last three weeks of his second Kickstarter campaign, trying to raise the remaining £15,000 of his target, to fund the development of a complete range of Shackleton clothing.

“I’m not exactly the model entrepreneur,” Middleton admitted. “I’m not the aggressive youngster or the hi-tech genius, or even the senior guy coming out of a big corporate. I’m a bit of a late bloomer: a middle aged bloke with lots of passion and an understanding of how brand stories work. What I’ve discovered is that there is a real market in the UK and beyond, for high quality, British-made products which are connected authentically to inspiring stories: and stories don’t come much more exciting than Shackleton’s.”

“For me the thrilling thing is developing a brand which seems to engage people so strongly, and which shows every sign of being able to become a substantial business, creating jobs. We’ve already created three full time and three part time jobs, and there will be many more as we grow. I didn’t expect to be doing this in my mid-fifties so I’d urge other mid-lifers with an entrepreneurial urge to think of themselves as ‘old enough now’ rather than too old,” Middleton added.

But the entrepreneur also has words of warning for would-be brand-builders.

“You can only undertake this kind of adventure by committing fully to it. It’s been a completely life-dominating journey for me for the past two years. Virtually everything else has to take second place until the business and the brand are established.”

The Kickstarter campaign for The Shackleton clothing range runs until the end of January. If the campaign hasn’t secured pledges of £30,000 or more by then, Middleton receives nothing.

He said: “I’m confident that we’ll get to the target. We’ve had a great deal of interest and it’s growing everyday. We’re halfway there now and we have our fingers crossed for a late surge, which is a common pattern on Kickstarter.”

Middleton’s admits to being an unfailing optimist. “That’s another bit of advice really. Only go into business if you’re optimistic by nature. Things are tough enough in reality without you having to imagine the worst. Caution is useful, but it has to be coupled with a genuine belief that you can succeed. That was pretty much Shackleton’s outlook too.”