New Norwich label is more than just a fashion brand

Nathaniel Mahoney, who set up the T-shirt brand Mr Shift, pictured at The Lounge in St Benedicts. P

Nathaniel Mahoney, who set up the T-shirt brand Mr Shift, pictured at The Lounge in St Benedicts. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

A new fashion label made in Norwich is not just a t-shirt brand it's bringing career aspiration to many young people. EMMA HARROWING talks to Mr Shift founder Nathaniel Mahoney to find out more.

Nathaniel Mahoney talks passionately about his new business venture. Placing his finger over his top lip to mimic a moustache, he explains how he came up with the logo for his Mr Shift brand after getting involved with Movember.

Then his confident air is contradicted as he leans over and whispers that in fact inside he is as nervous as hell about this interview.

Not that he has anything to feel jittery about. His fashion label Mr Shift was set up in October last year with the official launch in January this year. The brand enables students from Norwich and from over the UK to design t-shirts for the online store to get their work noticed and to make money while they are studying.

'My friend Jacob Bailey and I came up with the idea of a student led business last summer,' says Nathaniel. 'There are many t-shirt brands on the market but not many that are driven by a collaboration of students.

'Jacob is at university in Southampton, so Mr Shift has two branches with around 30 student designers contributing to the brand in Norwich and 20 from Southampton.'

Mr Shift sounds like a fully fledged business, but Nathaniel has only just begun studying for a degree in graphic design at the Norwich University of the Arts.

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'Why wait until you have graduated before you start to set up a business,' says Nathaniel. 'Establishing Mr Shift now means that I have three years to get it right, find the people I want to work with and hopefully have a business that I can go into after graduation, rather than worrying about whether or not I will get a job.

'People often ask me how do I know how to set up and run a business and the answer is I don't, I'm still learning and this is part of the attraction.'

Despite a lack of business experience Nathaniel has passion, determination and design skills that have got his business to where it is today in a short amount of time.

We are sitting on a leather Chesterfield in Lounge, a bar on St Benedict's which is one of the businesses who has helped Nathaniel grow Mr Shift.

'The guys here have been great and in return for me doing some artwork for them they allow me to us the place as a venue for product launches - in fact we had our launch party in here,' says Nathaniel.

'I used to be in a band but we spilt before we all went to uni. Music and fashion goes hand in hand at Mr Shift, so our launches will always coincide with a gig. The band Whisky Jacks played at our launch and we are currently planning another launch in May with, hopefully, Lucy Rose who used to be in Bombay Bicycle Club playing.'

Nathaniel showcased Mr Shift at the Norwich Fashion Designer Boutique during the Norwich Fashion Week Wrap Weekend in March. Here his t-shirt designs were used in a flash mob style fashion shoot.

'From this we met Dorothy from childrenswear shop Cocolino who wants us to do some artwork for her new coffee shop Coco Tree,' says Nathaniel. 'In return she is going to buy some of our t-shirt designs to sell in the shop.'

Mr Shift has also had interest from other independent shops in Norwich with Nathaniel preparing presentations for Dogfish, Catfish and Seven Wolves, and Drug Store.

'It would be great to see Mr Shift for sale in an independent retailer in Norwich,' says Nathaniel. 'After all most of the t-shirts are designed here and they are printed by Ink and Stitch on St Andrew's Hill. It would be great to keep the whole process here in Norwich.'

Talk turns to finance and Nathaniel's brow furrows a little.

'I have ploughed all my savings into setting up this business and now we are at the stage where we need funding in order to take Mr Shift further,' says Nathaniel.

'We have already applied for funding and loans, we have even applied to Dragon's Den and have got through to the next part of the selection process. Quality and good customer service in key to the Mr Shift brand (the t-shirts are printed on high quality t-shirts from American Apparel) but to ensure continued quality as we grow we need funding.

'It would be good to give other students from other universities the chance to design for Mr Shift and have their work for sale on the website.'

Nathaniel talks with determination and a little romance as he explains how they are planning to launch a competition for young designers and photographers to design a t-shirt that can be sold on the Mr Shift website.

He has also entered Mr Shift in an award which could see the young company receive funding. The Brainchild Award, set up by the Norwich University of the Arts to highlight and support young entrepreneurs was won last year by textile student Katie Whitton who used the money to design the Norwich print.

'Presentations to pitch for the awards take place in the next two weeks,' says Nathaniel. 'It's nerve-wracking but it would be great if we won as we will then have some funding to take Mr Shift to the next level.'

As we get towards the end of our chat, Nathaniel shows me some of the t-shirts that are already available on the Mr Shift website. Some are graphical designs, others photographic, then there is the Mr Shift branded t-shirt complete with natty moustache.

'T-shirts are just the beginning,' says Nathaniel. 'We are currently working on a collection of hats and in the near future you will be able to buy bags and hoodies too.

'Mr Shift is going to be more than just a brand, it's going to be a lifestyle.'