“You get what you pay for”: Q&A with 38 year-old Chesterfield clothes shop
Zebra Menswear has been a part of the Chesterfield indie shop scene for four decades.
By Dean Lilleyman
Published 30th Jan 2024, 16:16 GMT
The owner, Stuart Smith has seen many changes in the town, from the bustling 1980s to the not-so bustling 2020s.
And yet, Zebra still survives, does what it does, selling top quality menswear in the same 38 year-old shop next to the Winding Wheel.
Stuart sees no shortcut to style, his mantra handed down from his mother: “You get what you pay for”. Choice is also important, his stock from select quality manufacturers that may be seen as niche, not generally seen in chain-store outlets, hand-picked by Stuart himself. Let’s ask Stuart some questions.
1. What inspired Zebra Menswear?
“The shop was opened in March 1986. The inspiration, I was already working as a manager of another menswear store in the town, and I decided that I wanted to start up my own store. In the early 1980s there was a bit of a sea change in menswear, and I drew inspiration from certain Sheffield shops that were promoting more Italian-based clothing at a higher price point. I think in the early eighties there was a bit of a glam fashion statement coming out, from the pop bands of the day, the Sheffield scene. All of a sudden there was a bit of an awakening… The whole eighties was like an aspirational decade, and we were all going for it. People were dressing up. They were wearing suits to go round town on a Friday and Saturday night. That was the scene at the time. Men wore trousers, shirts and ties. A different vibe to what it is now. And you’ll find, if you look around, there’s a lot of menswear independent businesses that were established in the 1980s.” Photo: Stuart Smith outside his shop
“No. I was already in the menswear business. This is what I wanted to do. I was only 28, and I was thinking, well, nothing really to lose. Earlier than that I was in the record business. That was tough, trying to make a living out of the record business. Very difficult to make it pay. It was called Some Kinda Mushroom. I didn’t manage to get my hands on that business, but I was running it, and I could understand how shops were operating. But two years working with Geoffrey Davis drilled in some discipline. Because you’re working for a bigger chain, and they’ve got targets, all the rest of it, do the book-work every day. I learnt a lot working for them. The product, I didn’t really enjoy selling, but the fact is, I got a skill on seeing how a big business is supposed to be run.” Photo: Formal wear in Zebra, Chesterfield
“It’s my home town. I’ve lived here all my life. Grew up in Brockwell. Went to Chesterfield Boys School. Because I’ve always enjoyed retail, from working in a record shop at the age of 14, all the way through to I’m now 66. It’s a very social job. It’s like being in a pub eight hours a day, and talking to people.” Photo: Stuart inside Zebra, Chesterfield
“Quality of fabrics, basically. The industry is driven by a lot of Italian design, and the quest for more superior sharp product look, and that’s why you’ll find a lot of Italian products in our store. I love Italy. I like going to Italy. If you’ve been to Italy and looked in the shops, they do it great. The choice, and fabrics and quality is great. But there again, their industry seems to be more independents. It’s not dominated by these great big corporate operators like Next, and Sports Direct, and JD Sport. They’re the big players now in menswear in this country. It’s all getting consolidated down to just a few players, which is bad really for the customer. We need choice.” Photo: Through the door at Zebra