All mouth and trousers - the rise of Joe Bloggs

'I DON'T know anything about cricket,' says Shami Ahmed. 'I don't follow the game.' But he knows enough about publicity to recognise the sales value of the world's best batsman.

Shami Ahmed runs Joe Bloggs, Britain's trendiest clothes manufacturer. When he spotted the West Indies player Brian Lara, who had just thrashed a world-record 375 runs against England, stepping off the plane at Heathrow wearing a Joe Bloggs T-shirt, Ahmed pounced. 'I didn't even know they sold the stuff in the West Indies, let alone that Brian Lara wore it.'

He signed a sponsorship deal with the cricket star. To commemorate Lara's record- breaking feat in the Antigua Test, Joe Bloggs produced a special run of '375' T-shirts and jeans. But no sooner had the first batch been produced two weeks ago than Lara spoiled it all by scoring his astonishing 501 runs for Warwickshire, a world record in first- class cricket. Ahmed decided to bring out a '501' series of jeans and T-shirts - pitching him into a well-publicised confrontation with Levis. The giant American firm threatened to take legal action to protect their own 501 label. In fact the spat between Levis and Joe Bloggs has been just one big publicity scam. 'There never was any chance of legal action,' says Ahmed. 'The publicity men at Levis just dreamt it up. It was very clever. They've had more publicity over it than they could ever have hoped for.'

But anyone who knows Shami Ahmed will find it hard to believe that it was not he who dreamt it all up. For if there is one thing that Ahmed knows, it is how to make a little publicity go a long way. He has become a very rich man by adroitly exploiting the media to promote his products.

Shami came to Britain from Pakistan in 1965, when he was two. His father, Nizam, was an RAF mechanic. Nizam Ahmed left the service to run a stall in Burnley market, which soon developed into several shops. Young Shami began helping out with the family business while still at school. When he was 15, Shami persuaded his father to buy a cash-and-carry warehouse. Shami, still a schoolboy, managed it by working out of school hours. When he was 16, he started work full- time in the family business. In 1986, tired of selling other people's clothes, he decided to launch his own label. Thus was Joe Bloggs born.

The label was launched just at the time when the 'Madchester' club scene was taking off in Manchester. Ahmed was never part of it, but as with Brian Lara he knew how to seize an opportunity when it came along. 'We were lucky,' he admits. 'We didn't go to the bands. The bands came to us. They knew we were here, so they came to us to produce gear for them.' That is how Shami Ahmed persuaded thousands of Mancunians to wear 25in flares and turned himself into a millionaire in the process.

The Madchester scene has long since gone. But Joe Bloggs has survived by moving on and branching out. There are now Joe Bloggs bicycles, Joe Bloggs toiletries, Joe Bloggs underwear and Joe Bloggs soft drinks. The firm has an annual turnover of pounds 30m, employs 150 people directly (and another 1,500 indirectly), is the leading British jeans manufacturer and is now about to challenge the American giants - Levis, Lee, Wrangler, Pepe - on their home turf.

Shami Ahmed tells you all this at breakneck speed, but with great charm, verve and good humour. Along the way he adds little homilies about family values, business ethics and the importance of hard work. But Shami Ahmed is also a man who has been as successful in selling his own image as he has his jeans. He is so good at seamlessly stitching together fact and myth that it is often difficult to tell which is which. He has perfected the kind of meaningless banter that sounds very appealing. He told me at one point that honesty was the key to business success.

'My father told me that there are two roads you can take. There is the dishonest road which is cluttered up and the honest road which is empty. 'If you want to succeed' he said, 'take the honest road'.' When I asked him what he meant by 'honest' and 'dishonest' roads to success, he was, for once, stumped for words.

At the same time Ahmed is careful to avoid areas that might tarnish this image. He wants to play down the jet-setting, loose-living, playboy image that stuck to him in the past, nor will he talk about politics. 'I'm not interested in politics. It's businessmen who run the country.' He is even wary about discussing racism. 'I'm lucky,' he says. 'I haven't really come across it.'

He avoids discussing the darker areas of business, too. He insists, for instance, that his is no sweatshop operation. 'We have fully computerised factories,' he says. What he doesn't say is that he also employs many workers who work from home - that is how he is able to deliver new styles to shops so quickly. The fact is, you do not become a multi-millionaire, especially in a cut-throat business such as the rag trade, without being ruthless and hard as well as honest and hard-working.

The secret of Shami Ahmed's success is that he is a child of the Thatcher years who has astutely exploited the backlash against Thatcherite values. He lives the lifestyle of an Eighties yuppie - a Bentley and Ferrari, a penthouse flat on Park Lane, holidays in Cannes - and espouses Thatcherite individualist money-making ethics. But Joe Bloggs clothing appeals precisely because it is cheap and lacks exclusivity. The very name reflects a desire to be ordinary. As Ahmed's brand manager puts it, Joe Bloggs is 'a non-elitist designer brand'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing