Inside the luxury men’s sunglasses brand run by former reality TV star Hugo Taylor

Hugo Taylor and Charlie Morris have gained global success with their sunglasses brand Taylor Morris.
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Taylor Morris

If you ask Hugo Taylor, co-founder of the Taylor Morris sunglasses brand, what he knew about the eyewear business before he and close friend Charlie Morris started the company in 2013, he’ll reply: “Absolutely nothing.”

However, the former star of Channel 4’s reality TV show “Made in Chelsea” told Business Insider that using his connections and being confident early on has been the key to the brand’s appeal.

Taylor Morris’ eyewear is now in Harvey Nichols, stocked in Bloomingdales, and forging partnerships with iconic British brands like Morgan Motors.

“When you’re in this fertile business environment you travel, you try to be outgoing, and you use everything you have at your disposal to try and beg, borrow and steal your way in,” Taylor said.

For Taylor Morris, this meant getting celebrity friends to wear the sunglasses early on and forming partnerships with big brands.

“A lot of our friends were leaving their traditional British aristocracy jobs like banking, law, finance, and insurance, because either they were becoming disenchanted or being laid off, and a lot of them were starting their own businesses.”

“We thought, what we have is good relations and good friends, and a good spirit of helping each other.”

British Polo Day

Charlie and Hugo at a World Polo Day event promoting the Taylor Morris brand.
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Taylor Morris

This led the brand to partner with British Polo Day, a global organisation that hosts polo networking events all over the world, and to team up with the BRIT Awards.

“We’re opportunistic – we have to be,” Taylor said. “We’re not mega-funded. We started this business off with a very small amount of money, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use what you do have.”

The brand is also about to launch a collection with the classic British car manufacturer Morgan Motors.

“We’ve made a pair of sunglasses inspired by the very first car they designed, which is a three-wheeler car that the founder used to use to get up and down the hills in the area of England that they’re from,” Taylor said. “It’s our first collaboration, and doing it with a company that old adds weight to the brand.”

“As Dylan Jones of GQ said: ‘Men will only ever respond to success,’” Taylor said. “We’re seeing the biggest response in 25 to 35-year-old men, and we’ve done almost nothing to attract that kind of customer. They’re just naturally coming to us.”

Morgan Motors

Taylor Morris is working on a collaboration at the Morgan Motors factory.
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Taylor Morris

Taylor and co-founder Charlie Morris were born and bred in London, and Taylor attended traditional British boarding school Harrow.

“I was always trying to find ways to conform but also rebel, which is a big part of our brand now,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to wear the traditional uniform, but you want to wear it in your own way. Enjoy being part of the system, but also try to be above it.”

He then went on to study History of Art at The Cortauld Instiute of Art.

“It really gave me an appreciation of beauty. A lot of people studied economics, law or medicine – my father is a QC so he was really keen for me to do law – but I was committed to the idea that I went to University every single day and loved what I did.”

After he graduated and realised his parents “weren’t going to pay for everything forever,” Taylor waited tables and then started promoting London nightclubs. He met fellow co-founder Charlie Morris while working in marketing and PR for the iconic Chinawhite nightclub in London.

“I left school when I was 18,” Morris added. “The [nightclub] industry really pulls you in because it’s a good money maker, but it’s long days and long nights.”

He said the pair would come into the office wearing sunglasses, with bloodshot eyes from being tired and hungover. “That’s how the beginning talks came about,” Morris said.

The idea was put on pause when Taylor quit the nightclub industry to work in restaurants and then in TV, where he played a crucial role in the launch of London-based reality show “Made in Chelsea.”

Hugo Taylor and Charlie Morris

Coming up with the idea for the brand in Ibiza in 2012.
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Taylor Morris

Morris said he and Taylor finally came up with the idea for Taylor Morris while on holiday with friends in Ibiza.

“We came back to London, sat down with a notepad and thought: ‘Where do we begin? We don’t have a clue.’ We knew exactly how we wanted it to look, we just didn’t know how to get there.”

It was their third business partner, Taylor’s economics-minded childhood friend Nicholas Dellaportas, who pulled together a business plan.

Becoming a top 10 brand at Harvey Nichols

“We launched exclusively into Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, Manchester, and Liverpool in September 2013. Now we’re with them nationwide and globally,” Morris said, adding that of the 72 sunglasses brand stocked in the department store, Taylor Morris have come out in the top 10 for over a year.

The brand has also launched into Bloomingdales, and has seen success in countries such as Mexico, where Taylor Morris is one of the best-selling brands at high-end department store El Palacio de Hierro.

Taylor said that now the brand is navigating how to operate as a luxury business with Brexit looming ahead.

“We’ve got to change our pricing structure,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to massively raise our prices – we’re very price loyal to where we started and want to be accessible, but how long that remains possible we’ll see.”

The pair are also trying to develop more consistency across Taylor Morris’ collections.

“We started with the tagline ‘British sartorial elegance with timeless Hollywood glamour,’” Morris said, adding that the first collection included frames inspired by Hollywood stars such as Jack Nicholson and Audrey Hepburn.

However, Taylor said the brand is trying to focus more on its British roots.

“We have a whole collection coming out inspired by British country sports, like shooting – the greyness of the sky, the finishes on shotguns, the colours of the feathers on pheasants – stuff that is representative of us,” he explains.

“We don’t want to come across as elitist – polo and shooting aren’t exactly the normal thing – but it is a part of our country and who we are.”

And it seems that who they are – Chelsea Boys-turned-businessmen – is definitely working for them.

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