Escrito por: Jane Ryan
A passion for a properly-tucked shirt was all Johan Ekelund needed to retire from a life behind the bar. That, an ability to sew and a penchant for dropping his trousers at every moment, has turned Johan from bartender to business owner, and potentially the industry's best-dressed man.
You're going to need the full kit if you want to be as stylish as the owner of Sharp & Dapper. And make no mistake, we're talking real style here; as Johan says "fashion is something you follow, style is something you have." Sounds like a quote Coco Channel herself could have penned. So what do you need to complete the dapper look? At the very least, you'll need shirt stays, braces (clip-on buttons optional), a tie, a pocket square and even collar stays.
Johan first coined the idea for Sharp & Dapper in 2011 when he was tending the bar at Quo Vadis in London. He'd already been wearing an early form of shirt stays for two years, and even back then he was more than happy to drop his trousers and explain the concept of attaching his shirt tails to his socks via a simple piece of elastic. The light bulb switched on one Sunday morning; he could make these and sell them. By Monday evening Johan had a business partner.
"I've always enjoyed making an effort with how I dress. I won the 2008 MATCH best-dressed man, much to the disappointment of Michael Sager, and when working in the East Rooms I was looking for shirt stays, or shirt companions as some companies call them. There weren't any out there of decent quality so I started making my own."
Johan learnt to sew during his childhood in Sweden and now makes all of Sharp & Dapper's shirt stays, and he takes great pride in doing so. As anyone who follows Johan on social media will know, he really is passionate about looking sharp, and finds it upsetting that others don't follow suit. But Johan never imagined he'd make a career out of being a well-dressed bartender. "I always thought I'd open my own bar. That was the dream."
Once he'd bought Durham Atkinson on board, the two scraped together what little funds they had, whilst still working fulltime behind the bar. As for the name, they both liked the concept of looking sharp and simply turned to the thesaurus for a little added inspiration. Sharp & Dapper was born.
For a business model it was fairly straight forward, the concept hadn't deviated from that lazy Sunday morning. With their initial funds Johan and Durham ventured out to purchase material. They opted for the second cheapest Argos sewing machine, funds might have been limited but they weren't scraping the bottom quite yet, and got to work. Zdenek Kastanek, now of 28 Hong Kong Street, was the first to try out the prototype shirt stays.
"There were never any investors, the money we made went straight back into buying materials. It was nice that way."
The boys handed out a few samples to fellow bartenders, to get comments, feedback and to spread the word. The original shirt stays were simply elastic with no adjustments, Johan thought he would make them in different lengths to account for differences in height.
Their first paying customer, one Nicholas Reip, came as quite a surprise as they'd never met or heard of him before. "I don't know how he discovered us. I remember the feeling of selling my first product, because I still get that feeling every time someone orders something. It's surreal and amazing. It's the same as opening a bar and your first customer paying for their drink and I always remember that you should feel grateful each and every time someone chooses to spend their money with you."
Sharp & Dapper grew organically through word of mouth, and sales increased. Johan thought about getting his products made in Asia and shipping them over but the samples he was sent were too low in quality.
For the first few months of the business Johan continued at Quo Vadis, before leaving to work on the business for a few months. At the time Durham was helping Ali Burgess with his newly launched bar Happiness Forgets. Ali then offered Johan three to four days work a week; Happiness would become his place of employment for the next two years and his last ever bar job.
As 2013 began, Durham and Johan went their separate ways. Durham went off to open his pub, Hops and Glory and Johan ploughed on with Sharp & Dapper. "It was daunting to go at it myself. People who don't have shares can say whatever, it's the same when it's not your bar. Having Durham was great because he was invested, we could discuss decisions. I never thought that I would run my own business, but from the moment of its conception I've loved every second of it."
One year ago Johan stepped away from behind the bar completely. He may have retired from bartending life, but Johan is still very much part of the industry, and it's not unheard of to find him away from the sewing machine and mixing drinks for friends' in their bars. And there are some habits that don't disappear; he's still most active at night and although he starts work early in the morning it's in bed with his laptop processing orders and dealing with emails.
"I don't feel out of the industry. All my friends are still in it and it's given me so much. I do miss it sometimes, when I go into a bar and remember how much fun it can be but then I see the staff cleaning and remember that whole side to the job as well. Mostly it's the social aspect I miss, working from home you can get stuck inside the flat a lot."
Having his main customer base in hospitality was a no brainer, after all it was behind the bar that Johan first started searching for shirt stays. The London scene has certainly embraced looking sharp, and it was a natural step for Johan to start selling braces. From there the product range has grown to include socks, ties, bow-ties, undershirts and pocket squares.
"Classic, practical and timeless is the mantra of Sharp & Dapper. As such, I'll be adding other brands when I feel they adhere to our ethos. There's nothing wrong with making a good impression or an effort."
As for owning a bar, well that dream isn't quite out the window. Never say never. But for the moment Johan wants Sharp & Dapper to be the go-to brand and known for making good products. "I want it to support my life. I have no plans to be rich, but to make a good living looking good."
One final style tip from Johan? When dropping your trousers to show off your newly purchased shirt stays, double up on the underwear. It's what Mr Sharp & Dapper himself does.
Sharp & Dapper