“Exploding with ideas”

‘You see those walkers on the Pennine Way? Well one day they won’t be wearing Levis jeans but our trousers. We shall call them Bags’ - Paul and Sarah Howcroft sometime in the 1970′s

tony and friendsMy name is Tony Jones. I joined Rohan in 1977 and stayed with them for seventeen years, with one break.
I was employed as a manufacturer’s agent responsible for developing a dealer network in the Midlands & South Wales.

I was a very keen hill walker and used to spend my holidays with my sons in the Stubaital Alps in Austria each year.

For me meeting Paul & Sarah was a once in a lifetime opportunity. They were working from offices in Skipton and had a small range of well-made garments in their collection. As an agent my golden rule was to work for a UK original design manufacturer, because in that way one can learn and grow, and they were certainly exploding with ideas.
I used to visit Skipton for product briefings, both at their townhouse and eventually at their farmhouse overlooking the Dales.  At one meeting Paul & Sarah said over a cup of tea, ‘You see those walkers on the Pennine Way? Well one day they won’t be wearing  Levis jeans but our trousers. We shall call them Bags’

Paul Howcroft showing a customer a boot at COLA show Harrogate 1970's At the time it seemed an outlandish prediction, but it came true, and Bags became the fastest selling lightweight trousers in the UK.

It was a wonderful education for me. I learned something fresh every time I came in contact with them.

 

On one memorable occasion I wrote to Paul, ‘Why don’t you drop the black patches from the Super Striders breeches?’  This provoked an immediate and angry response: ‘Tony, you must realise we are at the cutting edge of technology.  We design and use the latest fabrics because we are striving to make the best products in the marketplace.  The patches are there for a reason. They offer protection and longer product life in the mountains.  To ask us to remove them is like asking Harold Pinter to take out the silences in one of his plays” – Oh dear!

However I was eager to learn and persevered. ‘Why are you calling the product range Pampas, Tundra, etc. Again came a convincing answer, ‘Being an outdoors company, we are naming the products after the climatic zones around the World’ –  Of course, why didn’t I think of that.

Sarah Howcroft COLA Show Harrogate early 1970'sThe twice-yearly visits to the COLA trade show at Harrogate were very exciting. This was the place where the manufacturers  showed their new season’s ranges, and the specialist retailers placed their orders.
It was also the place to hear lectures by Chris Bonnington, Al Hinks, John Cleare, Chris Townsend, and the social whirl of  high-spirited dances and diners were a never to – be forgotten experience.

COLA was also the place to meet the press. One well-known journalist said to me that Paul was the only designer/manufacturer  he knew who could quote verbatim press releases that could be printed without editing. Not all of us can think on our feet so readily.

As the product range grew and the superb advertising campaigns bought consumer awareness, my dealer list expanded dramatically.

However, I was still trying to improve my product knowledge. ‘Why not use VELCRO? Sarah & Paul answered simultaneously,  ‘Never, it catches on everything’

‘We have a production size scale for trousers of: 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, and 36 etc. Why 31 inches? Paul replied petulantly ‘Well, it’s my size’
‘What is this new colour for a shade of blue we have in the catalogue called ECIN?’  ‘It’s nice spelt backwards silly’
‘Why OLFIO? ‘Tony, must we spell-out everything for you, it’s the number plate of our Saab car!’

I was still asking questions: ‘You are opening shops but not always in the heavily populated areas.
Why don’t you open in the West Midlands? Back came the shrewd marketing reply, ‘We are following the Heritage Trail.
Once you set the scene by opening in the classic towns and reflect a quality image, you can then open anywhere.
But you must set the scene first’. I did appreciate this answer, and it proved I was still learning.

The reputation of Rohan certainly opened many doors for me. Paul & Sarah were news and the trade wanted to know about them  and stock their products.  They both helped me enormously to realise my ambition of combining my hobby with earning a living,

Jan and I are now in retirement, but we are travelling extensively and we always wear Rohan, even if our waist sizes have increased somewhat. We were fully kitted-out for our recent trips to far-flung places such as Patagonia in 2003, New Zealand &  Tasmania, Australia, and this year, Peru & the Galapagos in May 2009.Rohan 40 years

I do feel privileged to have witnessed at close hand the growth of such a small acorn to such a mighty oak, and to have shared in such exciting times. The Rohan and COLA combination (and not forgetting one other manufacturer), were quite simply, ‘The Golden Years’.

Tony Jones

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