Shirt maker and owner of Grosvenor Shirts Limited, Karl Dunkley, was recently awarded the Royal Warrant by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. This makes him the Queen’s official tailor.
We start with a range of classic shirts but increasingly we become more uptown, more interesting and more unique. We first of all start about a year ahead with designing of the clothes. Then we make a whole range of a collection – very limited edition. So there would only be 10 to 12 shirts designed for only one store and potentially they could be the only 12 in the world because they could just be uniquely made for that store.
How long have you been in this business?
I have always been in the clothing industry; I started working at Harrods when I was 16 and I worked my way through different things before ending up in the clothing business.
How did you break into the Nigerian fashion industry?
Nigeria came about because of my factory in the UK. We have our own boutique in Mayfair, just off New Bond Street. Before then, we were in Selfridges, we always had a lot of Nigerian customers. I think the shirts are more appreciated by Nigerians than other nationals.
You have been granted Royal Warrant by the Queen of England…
We have been granted a Royal Warrant by the queen as outfitters; basically, there are only three royal warrants that are issued. One is from Her Majesty the Queen; the other, from His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip; and the third, from His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. These are the only three people who can grant royal warrants. To be granted a royal warrant, you must have been a regular supplier to the individual or household for a minimum of five years.
How did you get that link to the British royal family?
I have always had contacts. I have been doing it for many years in previous companies. I looked after royal warrants in those companies.
Clothing the Queen, what’s the experience like?
We don’t deal with individuals, we deal with staff within the household.
You don’t take measurements?
It has not been necessary so far. I am not saying it won’t be, but not at this stage.
How then do you determine the size of the individual you are sewing for?
In previous companies, I have met with different members of the royal family.
It must be a huge responsibility.
Clothing the royal family is not like clothing the ordinary man on the street.
But we have a lot of very influential people that we are dressing. We also do made-to-measure for a lot of people as well and we have a lot of very high level customers from Nigeria and Ghana.
Do you only cater for the deep pocket, the very rich and influential clients?
Our shirts retail from about £95 to £140 (about N23,000 to N33,500 per shirt) , so they tend to be at a high level.
Why are they so expensive?
It is because they are made out of beautiful fabrics. There is an enormous amount of detail that goes into making a shirt.
There is a lot of adding, cutting and attaching. A lot of fabrics are used, a lot of material is wasted. It is not like the normal shirt where there is a pattern and it can be cut and just sewn together. These are extremely difficult.
Which members of the royal family do you sew for? All of them?
All I can say is that we have won the royal warrant to be outfitters for Her Majesty, the Queen.
That should fetch you a lot of money.
No. The issue is not the money. I think it is just very nice to be granted the warrant. It shows that we are a good quality company.
What do you think this can do for your brand?
I think it is nice and I am extremely honoured to have been granted the warrant. We will be able to put the insignia on our packaging, boxes and business cards. Also, it is very important for us to continue creating the right shirts and investing in training for the staff.
You mean people are going to be looking at the brand from up there?
We hope so.
In line with that, what are you doing to up your standard?
We are looking at new products, improving techniques in the factory and in marketing as well as new retail locations.
Do you have female customers?
Yes. We have shirts for ladies.
Is your Nigerian clients different from others, especially the Europeans?
I think the shirt is more important, not just in Nigeria but probably in Africa. We have a store opening in Ghana in March as well. I think maybe African women like to wear shirts more than English women. A lot of English women like to wear knits because it is colder in Europe. Also, African men care about their shirts more than English men. English men know they will just throw a jacket on it and wear it all day but here, quite often, people move around without their jackets on.
So you get a lot of requests here?
Is that why you are introducing so many colours because you know Nigerians like colours?
No. To be honest, this is what we wear in London as well. This is not a unique collection for this place, we have this in London. It is basically to get a bit of variety. We do have a few more classics but it is one collection for all our outlets. However, when we do shirts with liberty, we try to combine them so that each store has something that is a completely limited edition.
Do you encounter challenges as you move around the African market?
I don’t think so. We share information between the stores here. We have a good relationship. If I’m here, I may invite customers to come and see the stores. One of my highest spending customers is coming this evening; I called him when I got here and he informed me that he was in my store in Mayfair.
Your highest spending customer is a Nigerian!
More than all your customers in the whole of Europe?
Yes, as an individual, he spends more than any single other customer.
Who is he?
No. I won’t tell you who he is.