Ted Baker doesn’t advertise. Never has, never will. Since its inception in 1988, it has grown into one of the great British fashion labels. We really admire the company’s founder, Ray Kelvin – as much a skilled entrepreneur and master of frugal marketing as he is a highly talented creator of quirky, colourful fashion.
In town for the opening of the first Ted Baker store in Singapore, at VivoCity, 50-year-old Kelvin greets me with the warmth and familiarity of a long-lost pal, while the attractive ladies in attendance are singled out for an even more affectionate welcome. His card reads not CEO or creative chief, but ‘The Closest Man to Ted’ – an enigmatic title that says a lot about the man himself. Ray Kelvin, that is, not Ted Baker. Baker, you see, is nothing but a figment of Kelvin’s imagination, invented to provide a mysterious mascot for the label – shoes Kelvin feels he couldn’t fill.
“People would be disappointed if they saw me and thought I was Ted Baker. I’m a fat Jew from north London.”
Ray’s too hard on himself, because whatever he may think or say, he really does embody everything the brand is about – cheeky, brash, colourful, and very, very London. But he refuses to play the lead in the Ted Baker story, resisting all temptation to bask in his own (or indeed, Ted’s) glory. He rarely grants interviews, won’t allow his photo to be taken, and throughout the course of our chat, repeatedly plays down his importance as overlord of the Ted Baker universe, heaping credit for the label’s success and growth everywhere but on his own head. It’s about the team, he says, and the people who choose to spend their hard-earned money in Ted Baker stores. “We live the life of Ted Baker, because it’s not about the life of a single individual who works here. It’s not about I and me,” he says of his crew. “It’s about the customer, the customer is king. So, it isn’t just another soulless operation. It’s tangentality – if you work at a tangent, and you care for people, it’s going to come back to you. We call it the four Ps: People, Product, Passion, Profit. If you think about the money, then it’s always going to be about the money.”
Though money’s very evidently not Ray’s primary focus, Ted Baker has made him plenty of bread. Tellingly, he winces and quickly changes the subject when I mention, in passing, his position among Britain’s wealthiest on the Sunday Times Rich List. No doubt he enjoys the material benefits of Ted’s runaway international success and lucrative listing as a public company, but you get the feeling that heading up such a vibrant business is, to a large degree, its own reward for Ray. “We want to have a lot of fun, and we’ve got a good attitude. It runs through everybody’s veins,” he enthuses.