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Article - Money Week

They make you stylists

A few years ago, the daily routine of Vincent Colin and Thibault de Drouas was largely indistinguishable from that of hundreds of other young graduates in business and management. On the agenda each morning: the crush in the Metro, then work in an impersonal, open-plan office. In the background, anthracite grey suits and light-blue and white shirts bought off the peg.

Magazine Money Week - Ils font de vous des stylistes

Today, the two friends head up a young, growing business. Their showroom, just off the Place de la Madeleine in Paris, has nothing at all in common with the open-plan offices of Paris’s skyscrapers. The shirts to accompany the suits, however, have become their stock in trade. Thanks to a web-based platform, each of their customers can enter his measurements to create his own shirt. From the fabric to the shape of the collar, through to the look of the cuffs and the stitching, nothing is left to chance. The idea came to Thibault de Drouas in 2003, when he was studying in India. He recognised that, in France, there was no way to get a made-to-measure shirt at an affordable price, meaning that managers had no option but to dress in clothes from off-the-peg collections. Once he had returned to France, he discussed the idea with his childhood friend and flatmate, Vincent Colin. They both thought the idea had appeal, but were heading in to different careers. As a graduate, Thibault worked in management accounting, starting with Renault, the giant automotive manufacturer, before moving on to Legrand, an electrical systems manufacturer. Meanwhile, Vincent’s career path took him into the world of recruitment, where he joined the Michael Page agency.

Vincent, in particular, began to tire of his work. He left the HR consultancy to take time out and write a business plan. Thibault supported him from time to time, and over the course of several weeks, they searched for a name. Their challenge was to create a brand, not just a simple service for businesspeople in a hurry. They hesitated for a long time before settling on Swann & Oscar, a homage to Oscar Wild and to Marcel Proust’s character, “two dandies who suited our personalities well: one of them quite discreet and the other more depraved,” quips Thibault de Drouas.

In autumn 2007, Thibault resigned to devote himself to the project full time. Using their personal networks, they were able to find investors who provided the company with 40% of its backing, allowing them to obtain enough financing to launch their website. In order to overcome challenges in the supply chain, they chose to manufacture their products in France. This choice gave them the dual benefits of fast delivery (15-20 days on average) and the ability to make any required adjustments more quickly. In order to preserve their margins, they decided to do without a marketing and advertising budget and to rely primarily on word-of-mouth. At the outset, the company faltered and the two entrepreneurs were mainly selling to their families and their circle of friends, but business picked up when the media got word of them. Each new appearance in the press generated new visits to their website, which turned into new orders.

Their biggest media coup to date: climbing the ranks of the BFM Académie contest for start-ups, reaching the semi-finals. At the time, they were already producing 500 shirts per month. The next step was to open a store on rue de l’Arcade, in Paris’s prestigious Eighth Arrondissement, and no doubt to add to the team. For Thibault de Drouas, there’s no question of returning to management accounting for a heavyweight industrial manufacturer. “In the world of industrial-scale manufacturing, I felt out of place. My role within Swann & Oscar allows me to combine a variety of different roles, from design to accounting, not forgetting manufacturing and sales. I would really struggle nowadays to focus on a single aspect of the business.

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