Bespoke shirtmakers and related fashion accessories
View Emma Willis fashion collections on London Fashion Review Blog
Introduction to the Emma Willis Brand
London fashion designer Emma Willis found herself in the world of bespoke shirt making completely by accident. After dropping out of university and then art school, she went on to try her hand at a number of things, including amateur singing, drawing portraits and then selling clothes door to door. The booming 1980’s, sparked Emma into the idea of selling shirts to London’s stockbrokers instead of door to door. Emma Willis soon found herself selling over a hundred shirts in a week. Realising the potential of selling business shirts to affluent businessmen of the city, in 1987, Willis decided to set up her own shirt-making business.
Willis went to leading shirt makers, Turnbull and Asser’s, and asked them if they had any spare productions; much to her surprise they did – the Emma Willis brand was born. At first, all her shirts were made at Turnbull and Asser’s factory but before long, with a little help they were making all of their shirts themselves from an office in Soho. As time progressed and the business expanded, the brand took over a small bespoke factory, which allowed Willis to expand her operation overseas and measure men for bespoke shirts in New York and Paris – building up clients and connections in the process.
In 1999, Willis opened her store on London’s Jermyn Street, a street synonymous with the world’s finest bespoke shirt makers. However, this almost never happened when Willis thought of giving up the business to concentrate on her family life. Fortunately, Willis had a change of heart and continued to see her brand go from strength to strength.
As well as the store on Jermyn Street, Emma Willis shirts are sold online on the brand’s ecommerce site, through Selfridges and various other retail outlets throughout the globe including the USA, Japan and soon India.
Emma Willis – Shirts For Soldiers
To thank and support the British troops for their courage and their efforts both at home and overseas, Emma Willis and some of her team visit the Headly Court rehabilitation centre every few months to make complementary bespoke shirts for injured servicemen. The servicemen choose their own fabric in a colour of their choice. Unsurprisingly, they are always appreciative when the finished custom-made shirts arrive. The brand funds the majority of the operations themselves, supplemented by generous donations from customers and fundraising activities from the prestigious Eton College. Information on how to make a donation to the cause can be found of the official Emma Willis website.
The eight staff members at the Emma Willis brand make approximately 5 shirts a day and, as of Christmas 2010, over 300 bespoke shirts had been made for the British servicemen. Speaking of the initiative, Emma Wills said: “I heard a programme on Radio 4 about Headley Court and it was so moving, I found it deeply touching and decided I wanted to do something to help…Then I realised that I could make the bespoke shirts because I could make them to fit them.” ARRC commander Lieutenant General Sir Richard Shirreff, said: “What Emma and her ladies are doing is a symbol of what the nation should be doing – putting their arm around these boys and supporting them.”
For the ‘Shirts for Soldiers’ initiative, the Emma Willis brand received a Morale Award from the British Forces Foundation and in 2010 they were nominated in the Sun Military Awards for Support to The Armed Forces.
Future of the Emma Willis Brand
In the future of the Emma Willis brand there are hopes of expanding their wholesale business abroad, but there are definitely no plans to open a second Emma Willis shop, home or overseas. The label believes that there is too much globalisation in the world of fashion – and that the Emma Willis brand with have a stronger identity if it has just the one store.
Visit the official Emma Willis website here.