Hugo Taylor strolled off our Made in Chelsea screens after series 3 in 2012 and hasn’t looked back.
Is it any wonder? He is the co-founder of the Taylor Morris sunglasses brand, with his best friend Charlie Morris.
Just take a look at who’s wearing their frames…
And here Hugo is now, in a Cambridge University lecture room on 21 February, talking to some of the brightest minds in the land about entrepreneurship – an event hosted by the fantastic folk at Cambridge University StartUp Society (CUSUS).
If you had to describe the appearance of the reality star turned entrepreneur in three short words, they would be sleek, stylish and svelte.
He is as tall and lean as in his Made in Chelsea days – and has a languidity about him, a calm almost nonchalant quality of effortless ease, that makes you wonder what his secret is.
It’s hard to imagine even one droplet of sweat daring to beat a path down his untrammelled brow, and yet entrepreneurship generally involves vast quantities of blood, sweat and tears.
Possibly, you might assume that his secret is a very simple tried and tested formula:
A. Be rich.
B. Be attractive.
C. Get famous.
D. Flog merchandise.
While A-D must form some part of the equation, the last decade has seen us besieged with a glut of reality stars who have achieved A, B, C and D and yet haven’t come close to attaining Taylor Morris’s level of success.
And so while Hugo may appear to glide through life, it would be wise to assume that there is a lot of intense paddling that keeps him afloat.
After all, Hugo has a track record for creating opportunities rather than waiting for them, as he first proved back in 2010:
“I was previously living in LA and there was a show on at the time called The Hills which was very popular.” Hugo knew some of the people in it who, like him at the time, were club promoters and he found that they were making”absurd” amounts of money for each episode of the show.
“Why can’t we do this back in the UK?” he wondered.
Then The Only Way is Essex launched in the UK and the famous four thought they had missed their chance.
It was a week after Christmas 2010 that the fateful call came; an executive from The Only Way Is Essex had seen their pilot and recognised its potential – the rest is history…
Although Hugo regrets not having much contractual experience or knowledge of syndication rights at the time, he and Spencer proved fairly savvy, negotiating a bigger fee for the second season if they hit a certain target of viewing figures than in the first series:
“Spencer and I were the only people to negotiate our contracts that aggressively – because we believed in (the show) – and when you believe in something sometimes you have to put your neck on the line.”
Hugo glided away from Made in Chelsea in 2012 and into the deep end with his stint on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
It’s here that we start to recognise a pattern of behaviour peculiar to Hugo; namely putting himself in uncomfortable positions to test his mettle:
“It’s a bit of a cliche but you learn the most about yourself when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. I can’t stand camping and I can’t stand bugs,” he confesses, but he has observed a trend:
Push yourself as far as you can and good things seem to happen.
While the world continues to laugh at reality TV stars and their silly little ways, Hugo’s 18 day stint on the show was a shrewd move that won him a national audience – and the seed money to start a business:
“You’re on reality TV and it’s very difficult to be taken seriously,” he admits – and it must be particularly galling for the Harrow-educated Hugo, as he has always treated any advantages in his life quite seriously:
I studied very hard at university. I did five A levels and got five As. Working hard was always in my blood and I guess I really wanted to prove to everyone that I wasn’t just a reality TV star.
So I was like okay, let’s try the hardest thing in the world, let’s start my own business.
Hugo’s brow must have perspired a little, for prior to reality TV, we learn that he was waiting tables for a living. But it was his background in marketing that set him up for business.
For he and Charlie Morris met when working together as promoters for legendary nightclub, Chinawhites, long before Made in Chelsea aired:
“There was a lot of drinking, a lot of partying, everything bad that you can humanly imagine,” says Hugo, surprising no one at all.
Predictably, the mornings weren’t pretty – and the office of the nightclub had no curtains so the pair would wince into work decked out in sunglasses – and found that they admired each other’s taste.
“We’d get our paychecks and we’d be like – why don’t we go sunglass shopping? It was something we really bonded over,” explains Hugo.
The partying pair went on to lose their treasured and expensive sunglasses in an Ibiza club one night, giving them pause for thought: why couldn’t they find sunglasses that represented who they were – at a price they could agree on?
Why couldn’t they start a sunglasses business?
We said: ‘Let’s do it – what’s holding us back?!’ – and lots was holding us back because we were idiots! Neither of us had any design experience.
However, fast-forward to 2012, having expanded his audience from an E4 audience to a national one, the timing was finally right.
Hugo had studied History of Art and was already skilled at drawing, and when the pair joined forces with a friend who had a little more business experience, all the pieces were finally in place.
Still, “it was a mixture of naivety, stupidity and passion,” acknowledges a rueful Hugo.
For Hugo and co knew “literally not one thing” about the sunglasses market.
But they had something a little more important than that:
“I think it was our passion,” says Hugo. The sunglasses brand is inspired by two best friends who shared a vision, or as Hugo puts it succinctly:
We are Taylor Morris!
It turned out that passion trumps knowledge: “Knowing how to make something and knowing how you want it to look as the final product are two very different things.”
Fortunately, the pair were clear about the latter and set to work trying to create sunglasses that combined timeless Hollywood glamour with rock and roll bohemianism.
“We went off to a trade show in Milan and we got different sunglasses prototyped three or four times,” explains Hugo. “We really pushed to make sure that when we eventually launched a product that it was fantastic.”
Hugo admits that they were very lucky that Harvey Nichols, big champions of independent British designers, took a chance on the startup and stocked their new range.
It wasn’t the only way in which they proved lucky… An Idol Mind asked Hugo how he had approached brands that he wanted to partner with before their sunglasses were well-known – and received a disarmingly genuine response:
“I’ll be really honest – we were unbelievably fortunate, people actually came to us. I can never figure it out how,” says Hugo, who never seems to downplay or apologise for his privilege, but rather makes it count and never takes it for granted.
He thinks about how he would reach out to brands if he wasn’t Hugo Taylor, and it all seems to be about synergies – connecting with like-minded brands:
“I think it’s about where your brand values lie. What does your brand offer that no one else does – put those down on paper and look for the other range of brands out there to try and find something to meet up with.”
Here are some of the entrepreneurial tips we gleaned from listening to Hugo:
Set high standards and have strong brand values: “We went to trade shows and suddenly there are loads of manufacturers and everyone’s clambering to make your product. We prototyped with four different companies. And then we went back to them and said: “We think we can make them better.” They came back and made them better. We kept on pushing and pushing to get it to where we wanted. And from there we introduced a company concept: Continual improvement – we can always make our product better.” To this day, Taylor Morris continue to “push ourselves design-wise.”
Work to your strengths: “The creative process is definitely the biggest buzz for me over the business side. It brings me such joy and happiness. My focus when I started the business was very much on the visual aspects of the brand. What’s resonating with the brand? Why is Taylor Morris different? Why are we different to Ray-Ban? Why are we different to Tom Ford and all these other competitors? Coming up with our USP and then hammering that home through the press.”
Get your hands dirty: Hugo acknowledges that in the early years of your business “you’re going to wind up being the coffee boy/girl, delivery boy/girl and you’re going to be doing all the dirty jobs as well as all the glamorous ones. A willingness to work and do crap jobs because you have to make money is very important to me.”
Work with partners and do things differently: “We couldn’t afford rent on Kings Road and we really wanted a store there. So we did a partnership with Bluebird Restaurant and we went and bought a garden shed. And Charlie, being amazingly creative, turned this garden shed into Taylor Morris Shacks, with all this recycled Indian furniture – revarnished it, painted it, put mirrors in and it looked absolutely stunning – and something that cost less than a week’s rent on King’s Road. We built the whole thing for £2,500 and it turned over £30,000 a month for 3 months. That’s the kind of entrepreneurial spark that you need to have for problem-solving.”
Look after yourself: “I think really part of being a entrepreneur is you’ve got to have a lot of confidence but you’ve also got to really respect yourself, prioritise yourself and prioritise your own health, feel good (because) everyone looks to you to come up with solutions to problems.”
Hugo’s tranquil face and languid demeanour remind you of the old adage that still waters run deep:
“I’d love to sit here and tell you that its been all smiles and roses – it’s not. Starting my own business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he tells us – and just for a moment we glimpse a flash of the grit and steel that lie beneath that calm exterior.
And all that work was oh-so worth it. You can see the fruits of Hugo and Charlie’s labour at the Taylor Morris website.