To an outsider, the fashion world probably seems untouchable – an industry entered by those who fit a certain profile, have a lot of experience, or at least have strong connections to people working in it already.
What makes this story remarkable is not only the brand itself, but the people behind it.
At the ages of 49, 44 and 34 respectively, Mike Williams (above left), Cris Marzoli (middle) and Shaun Peach have none of the aforementioned qualities.
Except a love of clothes.
When asked if having a mid-life career change to become fashion-industry newbies was a problem, Mike’s reply was bullish.
“Not at all, and it doesn’t scare us either.”
In fact, prior to founding Macclesfield-based IQ, the guys had careers in pretty much everything aside from fashion, but they are all successful businessmen in their own right.
Cris moved to the UK from Milan 10 years ago and has worked in the catering industry ever since; Mike has done everything from stacking shelves in Tesco to working in IT, whilst Shaun has his own printing business.
Despite having such a variety of previous careers, working independently and having their own business is a common goal for all three of the men.
“I like autonomy,” Mike tells MM at their Cheshire base.
“I like to be in charge of my own destiny, and I don’t think you can do that by working for someone else.”
PAUL SCHOLES QUOTES
Cris and Mike have been friends since 2011 and founded their own Italian food brand. Cris is a huge AC Milan fan and with Mike being a lifelong Manchester United supporter, he admits that away from work football is their main topic of conversation.
“We love some of the quotes that other […] footballers said […] there were some brilliant quotes about Paul Scholes we liked. We thought ‘Wouldn’t that be great on a t-shirt?’”
Armed with a basic idea of putting quotes on t-shirts, no hint of a business plan and no name for the company, the pair got in contact with Shaun – who worked in the same office building – to ask about printing.
Shaun was such a huge fan that he wanted to help develop the concept into a fully-fledged business by providing practical knowledge gained from his years working in the printing industry.
And just like that, IQ was born.
Fom there the idea snowballed. According to their brand story, the IQ philosophy is a simple one.
“If we have something to say […] we’ll emblazon it on our T-shirts, hoodies and caps with passion and pride.”
Less heart on sleeve, more slogan on chest. And this simplicity in design extends to the conception of the business.
“We were getting on a bit, so we thought ‘We need to do this now,’” says Mike.
Following the advice of another, more established clothing brand, they just did it.
However, IQ is not an amateur business. The trio have employed a crack team of social media influencers, designers and marketers to help realise their dream. Learning along the way, the group are using the skills and lessons they have learnt from their individual careers to develop the brand.
“It’s been very calculated,” says Shaun.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into it and we’ve taken the good from the individual businesses we’ve created from scratch and implemented it into IQ.”
RESTORED COTTON MILL
Over the last few months the label has continued to develop and is due for first release in 2019.
IQ will produce eco-friendly cotton garments spun in a restored mill in Dukinfield: the first new cotton spinning mill to open in the UK in the past 150 years.
The printing ink will be vegan, and everything from the packaging to the labelling will be recyclable.
The customer will even be able to trace the exact location of where in the 200,000-acre Californian farm the cotton used to make their t-shirt was harvested.
Being 100% ethical is something that the guys are extremely proud of and as people become increasingly aware of the environmental and humanitarian problems associated with ‘fast-fashion’, IQ is founded on the basis of being “socially responsible and ethical.”
When asked to sum up the concept, Mike says: “We’re British ideas and British passion…[Cris interjects] with an Italian touch.”
Shaun then adds: “There’s no real meaning for what IQ stands for, this is what we love: inspirational quotes.
“It has loads of different meanings.”
Whatever the significance, IQ clothing is designed to have an impact. These are items which the guys hope will foster a “culture among people in a pub or at a social event to create and engage conversation.”
But perhaps the inspiration goes further than the clothes.
The real inspiration here is having the courage to follow through with an idea or passion despite the potential risks.
“If you’ve got an idea at least get to the point of saying yes or no to doing it and you can say ‘I’ve gone as far as I can, it’s not going to work,’” says Mike, when asked to give advice to anyone who wants to start a new business or personal venture.
Nobody can predict how well the IQ apparel will sell once it’s released, although with the ambition, enthusiasm and business acumen of its founders, it wouldn’t be a surprise if, as the trio hope, IQ does become “the number one t-shirt to buy out there.”
Because, in the words of Shaun, “If you’re going to put that much energy, time and effort into someone else’s dream, why would you not put it into your own?”
Images courtesy of IQ, with thanks.