Oliver Pollock has a confession to make — he stops people in the streets to ask where they got their T-shirts from.
It’s a bit of an obsession, in fact. He has at least 50 grey and white ones in his wardrobe at any one time.
It all began in 2012 when he took a cab ride to Bergamo Airport after a holiday with friends in Italy. The 23-year-old, a former Immanuel College student, set his sights on the driver’s shirt.
“He was wearing the most unbelievable grey T-shirt,” he says. “I gave the cab driver €20 and he gave me the T-shirt off his back. Because I never got his name, I’ve always called it Bergamo’s Greys.”
And that was the name of the company he went on to launch in the quest to sell the “perfect” T-shirt.
Mr Pollock, who counts former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy as an investor, is part of a rising tide of start-up entrepreneurs capitalising on the increasing demand in menswear and luxury cashmere.
Analysts now expect sales to overtake womenswear in the next five years — making the rising tide of fashion-conscious male consumers top bait for Bergano Greys.
Mr Pollock, who is based in Maida Vale, west London, said: “There’s not much choice at the moment. There’s the high-end £100 T-shirt, which is usually covered in ostentatious branding — or there’s the lower-end £15 one, which shrinks after one wash.”
He launched Bergano Greys with the aid of £5,000 from Start Up Loans, a government-led mentoring and financial support scheme for aspiring entrepreneurs.
He immediately hired a freelance technical designer but added: “I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know whether to go to China or England for fabrics — but the technical designer told me to go to Portugal and Italy, where the quality is amazing.”
He then sat in his father’s office learning to sketch and design clothes that mirror his own “classic” wardrobe.
He used family and friends for market research, before cold-calling department stores.
“I also started selling the pieces online and to friends — but I was making a loss,” he adds. “I knew the clothes were good, but I wanted to see them in department stores.”
Mr Pollock, who confesses to being “stubborn”, saw his efforts reap rewards, with House of Fraser set to stock his brand in April.
“The buyer really understood the brand,” he says. “It was a really proud moment to see everything I had sketched come to life.”
He is now looking to expand in fashion cities across the globe — including New York, Paris, Milan and Tel Aviv.
But unlike many other start-ups, he will not be relying on social media to market the brand.
“I accept that it’s an important part of some businesses, but my brand is classic— it’s not trendy,” he says.
“I would like to develop the brand by word-of-mouth through loyal customers.”
With limited resources, he has had to be selective about retailers and colleagues.
“I only work with other people on a freelance basis at the moment,” he says. “I’m the only one who has the brand’s interests at heart, so for now, it’s something I have to control.
“I wouldn’t be able to handle too many retailers, so I have to pick carefully.”
But the Cardiff-born entrepreneur says he was not always so ambitious. He was initially set on entering his family’s watch business after graduating from Leeds Metropolitan University student, where he read business studies.
“I never wanted to get spiralled into the whole process of applying for jobs at university. I was always going to work for myself or a small company.
“Nowadays people go off and study fashion for years — but I hadn’t done any of that,” says Pollock, whose family attend Radlett United Synagogue.
“I told someone in the fashion industry about my idea and they said it was great. I also spoke to my dad, and he said ‘if you still think it’s a good idea after a month, then go for it’. That was what I did. I dropped everything.”