Outdoor clothing brand Passenger is gearing up for global expansion as it named one of the UK’s fastest growing online companies

Passenger clothing

Outdoor clothing brand Passenger is gearing up for global expansion as its named one of the UK’s fastest growing online companies

The New Forest company – which plants a tree for every order sold – has seen sales more than quadruple from 2019 to £11 million in 2021 as, driven on by pre-pandemic trends towards a healthier relationship with nature and outdoor wellbeing, travel lovers look for quality, sustainable clothing which lasts;

Passenger was founded ten years ago by Richard Sutcliffe and his wife Alexa, a former designer for Estee Lauder, who live close to the HQ in New Milton, Hampshire, with their five-year-old daughter River.

Passenger is aiming for sales of £100 million over the next five years as sales boom in the UK as well as America, Germany and around the world

It came third in the Lightning 50, a newly published list of the UK’s fastest growing ecommerce brands created by Brightpearl.

Researchers tracked growth rates for hundreds of companies across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sutcliffe, 39, said: “We are thrilled to be named one of the UK’s fastest growing online brands by Brightpearl.

“It is great that so many customers are coming to us from all over the world that share our love of escapism and outdoor living.

“We are a responsible company which makes outdoor clothes which are great for everyday wear and enable you to get out for your own escapism where we all unplug to recharge in today’s busy, always on world.

“We realised early on that if we were going to build a brand based on sustainability and outdoor living then we had to give back more to the environment than we take and that has been rooted in our DNA from day one.

“A key part of our success has also been locking in our responsible values to our clothing, ensuring the best quality and delivering it at an accessible price.

“We see a clear pathway towards sales of £100 million and don’t feel we have maxed out the opportunity at all. There is so much more for us to do.”

Passenger is riding a movement that has seen sales of outdoor gear grow by 19% in Europe last year (source: IPSO 2022) and Passenger’s best-sellers across men’s and women’s include outerwear, fleeces, and backpacks.

The brand updates the number of trees it has planted every month on its website and it is up to 325,208 currently.

It plants indigenous species and works with respected environmental partners all over the globe including in the rain forest in South America. They are currently funding the planting of fruit trees in Africa.

Sutcliffe said: “We choose our partners quite carefully so that we are planting the right trees in the right places. We need to give a true voice to the customer. Every year there is a vast acreage of rain forest we are trying to protect and sustain.”

Being based in the New Forest has played a crucial part in the development of the brand’s ethos, with trees and water in close proximity, reflecting the borderless appeal of two of nature’s most awe inspiring features 

Richard, having had the awareness that the business needed additional skills to realise its potential, in 2018 brought in business partners Justin Stone and Jon Lane, as Executive Chair and CEO respectivity, to help run the business. 

 “Together we have transformed the business and built Passenger 2.0 that has enabled us to achieve Passenger’s potential,” explained Sutcliffe.

Head count at Passenger is up to 25 and with a global sales footprint there are plans to open new warehouses all over the world as direct to consumer and wholesale sales grow, with international sales now accounting for 30% of total (up from 2% just 12 months ago).  

Passenger brought in Brightpearl to run its multi-channel retail operation earlier this year and help deliver on its plans for global expansion.

Sutcliffe said: “Brightpearl is allowing us to transition smoothly to a new level of growth.

“We delivered over £11 million as a direct to consumer business but we knew that we needed a platform component that would enable us to manage both wholesale and direct to consumer sales as well as future proof the business for our global expansion with stock in multiple locations.

“That is where Brightpearl came in. We knew we needed to bring a solution to manage that and we knew we didn’t have that in our existing tech stack.

“We got Brightpearl live in just 80 days – faster than the planned 100 day implementation-  and it has been working for us for two months and it has been terrific. It is managing our new warehouse and it has really changed the way we run some of the key processes as a business and sorted out a couple of real pain points that we really needed to solve.”

To compile the Lightning 50, Brightpearl asked brands to submit annual growth figures from 2020 to 2021, with each brand ranked solely on its net growth percentage during that time frame. 

The UK Lightning 50 top ten, what they sell and the recorded growth for each company are:

1. Pinter (home brewing) – 626% growth

2. Progress JJ (Jui Jitsu clothing) – 446%

3. Passenger Clothing (fashionable clothing for travel lovers) – 362%

4. Kick Game (sneakers and streetwear) – 353%

5. Wild Cosmetic (deodorant redefined) – 322% 

6. Naturecan (CBD products) – 220%

7. Naturewall Group (slatted wood wall panels for homes) – 221%

8. Centre of Excellence (life changing elearning) – 207%

9. Tradeprices Bathrooms (bathroom fittings at discounted trade prices)  – 175%

10. Gym Plus Coffee (Quality hoodies for gym goers) – 169%

The full Lightning 50 list can be found here

Last year’s Lightning 50 winner was another alcohol brand – Swansea pals Charlie Morgan, 26, and Jackson Quinn, 29, with their brand Au Vodka. The pair experienced skyrocketing growth and saw the friends make the Times Young Rich List and Au Vodka become a game changer within the alcohol industry. 

Brightpearl CEO Derek O’Carroll said: “When we consider the unpredictability and uncertainty of the last couple of years, from the pandemic, to the global supply chain crisis, through to the skyrocketing costs brought on by the Ukraine war, high rates of inflation and increased cost-of-living, it’s easy to paint a bleak picture for business. 

“There can be no doubt that there are many obstacles for retailers to overcome. However, many have risen to this, and now the results are in, we can see that some firms aren’t just showing resilience – they are absolutely thriving, despite the difficult circumstances. When we look behind the data, there’s a combination of factors for that success, primarily driven by people and the innovative, data-driven technologies they are using that allow them to react quickly to the challenges they face. 

“It’s fantastic to once again be able to celebrate and recognise the hard work that has gone into this growth, and I’d like to congratulate everyone who made it into the Lightning 50 list.”

 Andrew Busby, a global industry analyst  in retail, said: “The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns gave rise to a whole new genre of eCommerce entrepreneurs. What is interesting looking at the Brightpearl Lightning 50 is that the fastest growing eCommerce brands are not necessarily household names.

“However, one thing characterises them, they know their market and their customer and they have a laser-like focus on delivering for them. 

“It’s brilliant but actually no real surprise that the UK now dominates ecommerce. The UK has been at the forefront of eCommerce innovation and growth and it doesn’t show any sign of letting up post-pandemic.”