Years spent on the treadmill in high-octane businesses came to an end for Richard, founder of luxury clothing company Patria, in January 2016 when he attended a dinner sponsored by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC).
He was moved to learn from its founding CEO Robert Robson that he had signed seven “casualty cheques” for the families of servicemen killed in action over the Christmas and New Year period in his first year in charge. These £12,000 cheques are issued by the charity immediately to the families of men or women lost in service.
“It was a sobering and deeply affecting moment and the start of Patria’s story”, says Richard Thackray, who served in the Royal Navy for five years in the 1980s. “It set me thinking about how I could help.”
Richard immediately set about raising money for the charity – by completing a series of sponsored runs, peaking with a 100km ultramarathon. This brought in £10,000, but was just the start.
“While running, I had a lot of time to think and it occurred to me that there was always going to be pressure on government budgets, in terms of the armed services. It was clear the public were very generous in supporting service charities, but there was a finite amount of charitable giving. We had to do it in a different way.” Gradually, while pounding his route, Richard worked on an idea for a business which would provide quality products for the public to buy, while helping to raise money for service charities. The difference? The products would be 100 per cent British made, using the best materials and the best construction and ten per cent of the company’s profits would be donated to the three main armed forces charities, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund and the RNRMC.
The tipping point for Richard came in October 2016, when his young daughter became ill. Waiting at the hospital bedside, Richard realised he was willing to undertake another start-up – this time to make a difference in the lives of others.
He resigned from his job the same month and, once his daughter had emerged from the difficulties of developing type one diabetes, he began to reshape his professional life.
At this point, Richard proudly shows me he is modelling Patria’s products, a fine knit jumper and sturdy looking boots. He also explains how he came up with the idea of luxury men’s fashion. “Five years ago, I wore a suit to work every day. Today, many professional working men wear business casual. I realised my customer would be a 35 to 45-year-old metropolitan professional who was a patriot, who wore a poppy each November and who appreciated quality UK clothing – not cheap, but good value.”
Slowly, with the help of two fellow service veterans with business experience, Richard began to source materials and manufacturers – the finest cotton from the United States, to be woven into T shirts and sweatshirts at Dukinfield , near Manchester, the first new cotton mill to open in the UK for 60 years; boots made in Northamptonshire; cashmere sweaters and scarves knitted in Scotland.
The sweatshirts feature the Patria logo – Jack, an Airedale terrier. During the First World War Jack successfully delivered a message under enemy fire, alerting the Allies to a number of trapped men on the battlefield and so saving them, but died of wounds he received en route.
Richard is proud of what Patria has achieved in just under a year. The company launched in November and is based at his home near Maidstone, Kent, which he shares with his Brazilian wife Analicia and their daughters Isabella, nine, and Allegra, seven. Marketing has largely been through PR to keep advertising spend to an absolute minimum and save costs. In addition, Patria has a “commitment to onshore manufacture which gives our products the lowest carbon footprint possible and we eschew wasteful packaging.”
My interview with Richard completed, he offers to show me the “global hub” of the business – an outbuilding on his 50-acre farm. It contains a computer, printer and one wall of shelving containing a small assortment of products for display only.
I drive home with Richard’s philosophy ringing in my ears: “We believe in world class quality and world class service – if we don’t delight our customers someone else will. We care deeply about the armed forces community and want to give back to those who have given so much for us. We care deeply about our country and want to foster employment in our skilled manufacturing base.”
To top it all, Richard is attempting to swim the Channel this August in support of the RNRMC and Diabetes UK.