Friday Profile: Mulberry founder Roger Saul

November 25, 2011


Somerset entrepreneur Roger Saul has a track record for creating brands and building businesses from scratch. Here the founder of iconic fashion company Mulberry talks to Anne Gorringe about his passions including a scheme to regenerate Shepton Mallet’s historic Kilver Court, and his ever-supportive family…

IT’S strange how life can turn on a twist of fate. Driving home from work one night back in 1996, Roger Saul found himself diverted by roadworks and going down an unfamiliar road.

At a time when he was desperately looking for new premises to relocate the growing Mulberry company nearby Chilcompton, the journey provided the perfect solution. The new route took him past Kilver Court, once the headquarters of the Showerings drinks company, then up for sale.

“It’s a road I wouldn’t normally have gone down,” he explains. Today, that decision to buy the site and locate the Mulberry Factory Shop there continues to shape his life, and his future.

Initially, the countryside location for the upmarket factory shop was greeted by some with scepticism. But it quickly became a ‘well known secret’ for fashion lovers who flocked from far and wide to Shepton Mallet.

On one famous occasion, a family travelled all the way from Japan to snap up bargains for a fifth of the price they’d pay at home, and today the shop continues to go from strength to strength, pulling in around 130,000 visitors a year.

“I certainly did the right thing,” says Roger Saul, who, having been forced to relinquish ownership of Mulberry in 2003, continues as the successful shop’s landlord.

With premium shoppers already aware of the location, this has surely helped with his plans for the next stage in his development of Kilver Court, a £10 million regeneration scheme to creating the ultimate designer shopping centre.

Together with his wife Monty, the former Dior model he met 38 years ago at a Paris fashion show, Roger is working hard to continue the revitalisation of Kilver Court and turn it into a destination in its own right.

Family is key to the couple who, in November 2011 became grandparents for the first time. Their eldest son, William, who is a DJ and has his own record company, Simple Records, has just had a little boy, Henry.

All three of their sons remain close. His youngest son, Freddie, is brand director for the ‘upcycled furniture’ range on sale at Kilver Court. Upcycling is one of the hottest trends, involving combining vintage pieces, such as wooden boards and turning them into something new with a modern twist.

Recently, Freddie has been working with Bristol reclamation company Robert Mills and, has used modern steelwork frames to transform vintage wooden boards into coffee tables and dining tables.

Middle-son Cameron, has also continued his work with the Bottletop charity in Uganda. He originally went there in his gap year and, together with his father, helped create a range a belts and bags from ring-pull tops.

They have been featured in top fashion magazines are, of course, on sale at Kilver Court, and the charity has raised more than a quarter of million pounds for disadvantaged youths world-wide.

Since leaving Mulberry, Saul has certainly kept himself busy. His decision to get into organic farming was driven, in part by his sister Rosemary’s illness and another twist of fate.

Over the years, bought land around his house near Glastonbury. When the farmer retired Roger made the decision to take over, and created Sharpham Park farm food brand in 2005.

The organic farm he created specialises in growing spelt, a nutritious grain that is easier to digest than wheat. It was a decision inspired by his sister Rosemary who, the time was suffering from cancer and was trying to eat only natural products.

 “I could see that it was a wonderful, healthy grain – ancient, high protein and slow release – and to find something that tastes good and does you good is unusual.

Sadly, Rosemary has since died. But Roger continues to believe in the importance of promoting organic healthy food. He built the first dedicated organic spelt floor mill in the world and is now one of the leading organic food companies selling to Waitrose and stores nationally. He also rears and sells rare bread cattle, deer and sheep.

Adding the Sharpham Park organic farm shop, and a cafe offering excellent quality food to Kilver Court has been a natural progression and Monty has worked with him on this. Additionally, designer-hunters have been able to take time out to visit the restored Kilver Court Gardens and nursery.

There’s also a wellness centre on site and it has also proved popular as a wedding venue.

But with everything, regeneration and sustainability have remained key concepts and he believes that shoppers want something different and that the quality and tradition and beautiful location of the centre will pull in the designer shoppers. “Environment is key”, he says.

With phase One of his £10 million regeneration scheme for the site well underway, Roger is enjoying the challenge. Since forging ahead in the summer, he’s held two extra special ‘grand weekend’ sales at the site where additionally top brands, like Joseph bring offer end-of-season stock for up to 80% off.

He believes that Kilver Court ‘Designer Emporium’ also has what up-market bargain-hunters want, quality clothes at a discount. No doubt his experience running Mulberry and the fashion contacts he made over the years,are proving invaluable..

Brands, such as lingerie from up-market range Myla to Duchamps and Toast at cut prices are on offer and, And, clothes store Aubin and Wills were the first independent company to move into the historic centre this month (November).

With an exciting future ahead, and hopes to even open a hotel on site, Roger can be sanguine about the moment he was forced to leave Mulberry, the company he founded. He sees the advantages of being forced him go in a new direction and face new challenges, But, he quietly admits, “I didn’t think so at the time.”

He thinks he is a different person today and says he has developed a passion for organics, which has taught him a lot. He also believes that providing good quality products at a good price is what appeals to customers in the current economic climate.

 ‘This is a new concept for the UK. No-one has yet merged the idea of a discount designer brand village with other lifestyle elements such as entertainment, accommodation, offices, conference facilities and gardens in a rural location as well as offering a delicious dining experience. All this with strong sustainable credentials.’

 “What I want to do here is create a magical place…”.

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Saul Facts

  • Roger Saul was born in Somerset and attended Kingswood school in Bath. At 18 he ran the 400 metres and played rugby for both Bath and Somerset.
  • At the age of 21 he created Mulberry with a £500 birthday present from his parents in 1971 and took it to international brand status with sales of over £30m.
  •  By 1980, Mulberry had won the Queen’s Award for Export and Roger was Chairman of the London Designers Collection.
  • In 1996 he bought Charlton House Hotel and created the first designer brand hotel and spa, achieving a Michelin star in its first year.
  • Historic Car Racing is a long-standing passion of Roger’s. Until recently he raced an Alfa Romeo P3 1934 racing car. However, this had to go when Roger realised that inevitably his new career in sustainable farming was completely at odds with using a gallon a mile! He has now developed an interest in electric cars.
  • Hobbies include tennis, gardening, pilates, tai chi and bee keeping. Monty makes all this activity possible by supporting Roger using her knowledge of reflexology and Bach Flower remedies.


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