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)

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it