By Nicky Godding
SLF Office

International cosmetic brand creator and owner SLG is flying high, and its new Cheltenham HQ is a sight to behold

Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, one of the UK’s fastest-growing beauty and male grooming brand companies has broken out from its former funky subterranean studios and flown into an incredible new urban space at the Brewery Quarter in Cheltenham.

Global beauty brand company SLG has turned what could have been run-of-the mill offices into a creative and inspirational space which it hopes will drive further creative growth.

The move cements a major intensification of its business ambition. Once a family business, established in 1985, successfully and contentedly designing and manufacturing beauty brands badged “own label” by major retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, it has left contract manufacturing and private labels far behind.

The company, which turned over £38 million in 2017 and has 120 employees, now works with international fashion brands such as Superdry, Missguided and Laura Ashley and millennial vloggers such as Zoella. It also owns the UK’s fastest-growing (and also now States-side) men’s hair styling brand Johnny’s Chop Shop.

Chief Executive, Miles Dunkley, says the business is now focussed on creating and scaling amazing brands that are either owned by SLG or tied into a strategic licensing partnership. “Essentially, we have replaced the largely commodity private label business we once had with far more dynamic and globally scalable brand assets,” he says. “As a result we have greater control of the brand’s destiny and can generate potentially very valuable IP.”

Licenced to thrill

SLG collaborates with well-known fashion and lifestyle brands under licence. This relationship works well for both sides. “We manage the design and development process of the brand and products and, crucially, determine how it is best positioned within the beauty sector,” explains Miles. “Our skill is to marry up brand with market gap opportunity and execute the concept with creativity, precision and commercial viability.”

Barber range is no Johnny-come-lately

Working in collaboration with well-known brands has been a great success for the company, but it didn’t fulfil Miles’s ambition to develop his company’s own brand assets.

He put that right in 2016, with the launch of Johnny’s Chop Shop – his über cool barber shop and male grooming brand that fuses 1960s retro style with modern day hair trends.

Currently there are Johnny’s Chop Shops in Marshall Street (off Carnaby Street), London and a concession in Topman’s flagship store at Oxford Circus.

SLG recently signed deals with Topshop for two more concessions, at Westfield Stratford and in its Westminster store. Miles says that the chain may open up around 10 barbers in total.

The Marshall street shop in particular is becoming well known on social media. “We cut the hair of some well-known You Tubers such as Marcus Butler and celebrities like Freddie Flintoff. It is a media showcase for the brand.”

SLG has no plans for Johnny’s Chop Shop to become a major high street retail chain but having strategically placed outlets around London gives the product range vital barbering provenance, says Miles.

He first noticed the barber trend emerging around three or four years ago.

“I was watching my sons styling their hair. They really didn’t want to go to a regular hairdresser. Instead they wanted to go to an indie barbershop where the atmosphere was edgy and cool.”

He’d hit on a global phenomenon. This January, Johnny’s Chop Shop products launched in 3,500 Walmart shops in the USA and are already in Russia, South Korea and 10 other countries.

After just two years the brand has a retail value of around £6 million.

Recently, Miles signed the lease for the first Johnny’s Chop Shop barber shop in America, in one of the hottest retail sites in New York, in the hip Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, across the East River from Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

It will be next door neighbour to the fashion and skate brand Supreme, the most in-demand Generation Z fashion brand in the world (though you might not have heard of it unless you’re male and aged 14-35 years, or the parent of one).

“To be neighbours to a phenomenon like Supreme is a great brand adjacency for us,” says Miles.

“Johnny’s Chop Shop barber shops are now in London and New York and our products are sold all over the world.”

With its barber brand growing globally, SLG has more new brands in incubation. The company’s most natural audience is Generation Z and millennials, says Miles, those born from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s.

“We are highly design-geared and fashion orientated, and we’ve found that this particularly creative approach works well with Generation Z customers.”

Glance upwards, above Urban Outfitters, as you stroll through Cheltenham’s newest retail and entertainment quarter and you might catch sight of SLG’s funky new working space.

The company’s new lab and studios at The Brewery feels like it could be a cavernous loft in Manhattan’s fashionable TriBeCa neighbourhood in New York.

“We’d been looking for fresh accommodation for some time,” explains Miles. “We couldn’t find anywhere to buy.

“I particularly wanted a city centre location and open plan space which is almost impossible. But Kurt Wyman, my commercial property agent and friend, came upon The Brewery.”

Miles says his jaw hit the ground when he walked into the huge, open space. The landlord was about to apply a standard fit-out – plastered walls, raised floor and suspended ceilings. “I said. Stop! Leave it to us, we want the raw, urban space.”

The new offices cover 27,000sq ft of which SLG is taking around 21,000sq ft. It will sub-let the remaining space.

“This workspace has become the most incredible opportunity to narrate SLG’s design-led approach and create something remarkable,” says Miles.

I’ve visited creative offices spaces before and sometimes wonder why so much money is invested in them. So I ask.

SLG Beauty turns concrete into class

“There is often a complacent approach to the creation of work environments by businesses owners,” says Miles. “The easy and usually uninspiring “standard” fit-out is often the default when, with vision, investment and belief, something more inspiring can be created.

“If you believe that a company’s most important asset is your staff, then it’s a no-brainer. You make the investment. I want my team to feel proud of their company, to show it off to friends and family, and to love being here.

“A company like ours thrives on creativity. If you can immerse your staff in a sense of design, style and cool, then your creative ideology naturally embeds. It’s an investment in our brand values. And it’s not just our staff. Customers, suppliers, associates – all who visit us feel it too.”

A bold approach like this is not necessarily going to be suitable for more conservative businesses, Miles admits, “It’s difficult to imagine an insurance firm having a fluorescent orange slide linking the claims team with the underwriting department. “But it is important to create as inspiring an environment as possible for our staff.”

It’s not just the physical environment, he says forcefully. “You need a great culture too. In fact, that comes first. We’ve always aimed to be dynamic, creative and friendly.

“Creativity has driven our business to where it is now, which brings me back to our office. Give people somewhere fabulous to work and they’re more likely to thrive and that’s great for the company.”

Miles commissioned local graffiti artists to paint some of the walls and ceilings. The space also showcases neon pop-art and provides social hubs, a kitchen bar, hammocks, shower rooms and designer bathrooms with GHD hair straighteners and Dyson hairdryers.

The boardroom has a graffiti fresco ceiling and there’s an event space which can accommodate around 120 people, with a vast media wall. Miles hopes to offer this as a venue – perhaps hosting fringe events during the Cheltenham Festivals.

A central “freeway” runs through the office on which staff might be seen skateboarding and the whole space is remarkably close to his original design concept of early 2018.

“We first took our staff to visit last summer. We projected our design visuals for the space on to the walls. There was quite a cheer and an emotional reaction when they saw them. It was then I realised that we were doing the right thing.”