Javelin: A Passion for Fashion
As he marks 30 years of Javelin, his independent boutique brand, owner Jeremy Clayton tells Alice Ryan how the business began, has evolved and continues to go from strength to strength
Jeremy Clayton’s father and grandfather were retail entrepreneurs before him yet, growing up, he had no plans to follow in the family’s footsteps. After doing A-levels, Jeremy was all set to go to university, agreed to help out in his dad’s shop over the summer “and just never left,” he laughs. “That was 1987. I try not to think about how long ago that is. . .”
This month sees Jeremy celebrate 30 years of Javelin, the independent boutique brand he runs with wife Joanna. With stores in both Bury and Sudbury, offering an equal split of men’s and women’s fashions, the brand is synonymous with style that’s elegant and effortless, yet always with a finger on the pulse.
The brand has not only survived, it’s thrived over those three decades. “We’ve never stood still: that’s part of it," says Jeremy. "And we’re always, always led by the customer. I like to think our relationship with our customers is really special. They’re part of the Javelin family. And we wouldn’t be here without them.”
Jeremy, Joanna and their now 25-strong staff are throwing a party to celebrate Javelin’s milestone. Taking place on the evening of Thursday, October 10, it will see cocktails and shopping at the Bury store followed by food, drink, a fashion show and DJ at Gastrono-me, the independent bistro which sits opposite on Abbeygate. Tickets are £20 and all monies raised will go to children’s charity Barnardo’s, to fund its work within Suffolk. The party is, says Jeremy, both a celebration and a chance to support “a really important cause”.
It’s a time for reflection, too. Jeremy’s grandfather was the first in the family to open a shop in Bury: founded in 1953, it was a country sports store, specialising in shooting and fishing gear. His father then took the helm in 1976, shifting to more mainstream sports.
By the time Jeremy came on board, in ’87, “the business was struggling” and another shift required - this time into first skiwear, then surfwear. The timing was perfect: surf style became one of the 1990s' biggest trends, and, with labels like Quiksilver and Billabong on their rails, the Claytons were able to ride the wave.
Ambitious for the business, Jeremy opened a sister shoe shop on Brentgovel Street and started looking for a new home for the main store, then in The Traverse. In 1989, it moved into a period property on Abbeygate, still part of the shop you see today. “It’s a beautiful building: parts date back to the 14th century,” says Jeremy. “But we had to take it back to bricks.” It was on relocation that the Javelin brand was officially born.
Realising that more and more people were coming to Javelin for fashion statements rather than sports gear, Jeremy took a chance on a first non-sporty label: "Urban Stone, which probably no-one’s heard of now." Boxfresh, Diesel, Miss Sixty and Firetrap followed, with Ted Baker added in the later 1990s; “We’ve stocked Ted Baker for almost 20 years now.”
The evolution from sportswear to designer labels “actually happened quite quickly,” reflects Jeremy. “Within a couple of years we realised this was the way forward. It just took off. And also we enjoyed it.”
Jeremy and Joanna’s ability to gauge customers’ current and forthcoming fashion moods remains unrivalled. Today, Javelin’s stock spans a deliberately broad range of price-points, from impulse purchases through to investment pieces, and encompasses both household-name brands, like Ted Baker, to more off-piste labels, notably from Scandinavia, that offer “something our customers won’t see elsewhere. That point of difference is important”.
Through the 1990s, the business grew considerably: the second store opened in Sudbury in 1998, then a third on Cambridge’s Green Street in 1999. Javelin had “a great nine years” in the city, before property rents and the changing face of the high street prompted Jeremy to think again. Giving up the Green Street store, he decided to focus on expanding Bury instead; taking on the next-door unit, formerly a lingerie store, he increased the shop’s frontage from 16ft to 50ft.
Today, that one shop houses a top-floor boutique of high-end womenswear and accessories; a ground-floor filled with on-trend, lower-price-point ladies’ clothing, shoes, accessories and a carefully curated home and gift range; and a bigger-then-ever menswear department in the just-converted basement space, where Polo Ralph Lauren is among the new labels.
As well as inspired buying - he and Joanna are always on the look-out for their next great find, scouring both shows and social media - Jeremy says Javelin owes its success to “an amazing team, some of whom have been with us since 1988, before this shop opened” and a clear sense of identity. From the artful window displays and flower-decked frontage, which would look well at home in Covent Garden, to the prosecco always chilling in the fridge, in case a customer would like a glass, “it’s the little touches that make a big difference,” says Jeremy. “Those things are part of Javelin’s DNA, I think.”
Running an independent retail business is never, admits Jeremy, without its challenges. In 2015, the Sudbury store was ravaged by a fire, which spread from a neighbouring property, “and that has had a legacy. It takes time to come back from something like that”.
His passion for the fashion business remains undimmed, though. “Joanna and I both love discovering new and unknown brands and bringing them to our customers,” says Jeremy, who says a balance of “experience and gut instinct” informs all their decision-making.
“I know we’re biased, but I do think we’ve got something special here,” he adds. “In so many ways, Javelin is one of a kind.”
Tickets for the 30th birthday celebration are selling fast, so make haste to get yours! Visit javelinonline/30th-birthday-party-ticket or the Abbeygate store.
See our Javelin@30 special in this month's Velvet from pages 72-81