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Friends and business partners Ben Slaven and Andy Edwards are enjoying global success in the golf clothing industry, writes Carol Wilson

As youngsters, Ben Slaven and Andy Edwards grew up on the greens of Wilpshire Golf Club. And as business partners, they are helping golfers stay fashionable on the fairways.

The duo set up online golf attire company, somewhat fittingly, 18 years ago.

Ben admits they went into the business side of things blind: “We didn’t know anything about the online space when we got going. We learnt as we went along,” he says.

But their eyes remain open to an ever-evolving golf clothing industry that is both functional and fashionable – hence the name.

“Our brand was based on the idea that you have to get dressed up for golf, so the clothing was for the function, for the 18 holes,” explains Ben, whose dad, Walter, served as Wilpshire Golf Club’s professional for 30 years, retiring in 2016.

The path Ben has trodden seems a natural one, given that Walter also ran a golf shop alongside his playing commitments. But there was a diversion along the way.

“I went to Leeds University and was doing a mechanical engineering degree, so completely different to what I ended up getting into. I realised it wasn’t for me,” says Ben, 44.

“I wanted to be an architect when I was at school. 

“I’ve always been kind of on the fence between creativity, science and academia but ended up in retail. I love the variety of our work, I love the speed at which things change in online businesses and the flexibility that is essential for survival.

“The industry’s exciting again and now there’s a bit more creativity in it. Most people used to think that golf wasn’t a very creative sport but I think it’s leaning more that way. And it’s certainly becoming more relaxed in terms of what people are wearing.

“Golf style has changed a lot. For the best really – more relaxed. We’ve sold a lot of waterproofs recently because of the poor early season weather, but generally we sell a lot of hoodies, joggers and golf shoes that look more like trainers, which some PGA Tour players now wear, and in doing so have since become more acceptable on UK golf courses.”

Function18 stemmed from Fairway Golf Shops, where Ben was employed by Andy after leaving university.

“We did that for a couple of years and then we realised that we needed to do something that was a little bit different,” Ben continues.

“The business model wasn’t hugely successful, so we needed to try to find another way of giving ourselves a career path.

“It was the lack of control that we had with the shops. Getting the sales through the door was more difficult than it felt like it needed to be.

“Online retail was fairly well established with some golf retailers but there were one or two that were purely golf apparel and that’s the area that we wanted to focus on.”

From their headquarters on Longsight Road in Mellor, they have built up a global customer base over almost two decades of trade, riding the storms of Brexit and a pandemic, and attracting stars of other sports including football, surfing and ice hockey.

“There are a lot of surfers and skateboarders who play golf, it’s a sub-culture that you wouldn’t expect but there’s a big link between surfing and golf on the west coast of the States in particular,” said Ben, who once interviewed former Masters champion Sergio Garcia over a cheese and ham toastie at Wentworth.

“I think there’s a lot of that LA culture but also I think it’s the appreciation of the outdoors.

“Professional surfboarders and skateboarders can’t play contact sports because they’ve got to be really protective of their ankles and joints, but they enjoy the challenge and being in touch with nature.

“There are a lot of footballers who play golf because it’s basically the only sport they can play outdoors without getting injured.

“But it’s also very tough to master, so if they are competitive and they like a challenge, which sports professionals always do, then it’s a great thing for them to get into.

“We’ve got a lot of customers who are footballers, and not just in the UK – some Dutch players – all over the world really.

“We’re a worldwide business with about 40 per cent of our business going overseas,” Ben explains.

“America, South Korea is a big golfing region, and Australia. They’re the three biggest regions for us overseas.

“Instagram and Facebook are great to stay in touch with those consumers and to keep on top of the trends as well, because the demographic is completely different in America, the golf style is different and the way that they play the game socially is different. There’s less rain, which is a big part of it. But there’s a country club mentality at the big courses in America. It’s a lifestyle choice playing golf, it’s a long way detached from a slog round the Lancashire hills!”

While there has been less of that so far this year, with record rainfall delaying the start of the season in this region and beyond, golf as a leisure pursuit has taken a back seat in general for Ben since the birth of his daughter 10 years ago.

But from a professional point of view, business is booming thanks to a boost in golfing memberships after the pandemic, so expanding into a bigger unit is in the pipeline: “I think the game’s in a brilliant place and as a business, so are we.”



Tedd Walmsley

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