GolfNation recently caught up with Tony Q’aja at his new HQ in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We interviewed Tony about the fashion impact he made on the European & PGA Tour’s as well as his plans for the future.
GolfNation: How did you first become involved with golf, and what was the main factor that persuaded you to enter the golf market?
Tony Q’aja: “I became involved with golf via some personal styling I did for a sports psychologist (Jamie Edwards) who was used at the time by ISM (Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler’s company)”. “Chubby always used to comment on how well Jamie dressed and wanted to know who was making his suits? Chubby then got in touch with me and asked if I could make some bespoke suits for him”. “This resulted in Darren Clarke (who Chubby manages) commenting on how well Chubby dressed, then Darren got in touch asking me to do the same for him also”.
“Prior to my involvement with Darren, he would spend approximately £70,000 a year on clothing and rarely got any compliments on how he dressed”. “As soon as I started styling Darren and making his suits, suddenly everyone wanted to know why he looked so good. He was that impressed with the feedback he was getting from the public/media he then wanted me to make a full wardrobe for him”.
Darren then asked me: “If this is what you can do for me off the course, then what can you do for me on the course?” “So from that day forward, Darren wanted me to make his golf trousers”.
GolfNation: Where did the inspiration come from for all your innovative designs? For example, the side slits you pioneered on golf trousers?
Tony Q’aja: “When I initially started working with Darren, it wasn’t uncommon at the time for tour players to supply their own trousers”. “When Darren asked me to make him some trousers I said to him, give me a couple of weeks to do my homework and I’ll have some samples for you”. “As a non-golfer I started researching golf trousers and was amazed by how plain and basic golf trousers were, without any specific advances on a normal every day pair of trousers”.
“I also noticed that the players were rooting around in their pockets a lot (looking for markers), which led me to creating a marker pocket”. “I also noticed they crouched down a lot on the greens (reading putts) which led to me creating the side slits to ease the tension to allow the trousers to flow”. “Darren loved the designs, which were completely new and unseen in the world of golf at the time”.
GolfNation: Once Darren was seen on tour wearing your trousers, what reaction did he get from the players and did you end up working with any other players as a result?
Tony Q’aja: “At that point in time the trousers I was making for Darren were a massive step up compared to what the other players were wearing in terms of fit/flare/colour/design etc, so it created a lot of interest from other players”.
“On the European Tour I worked with: Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Soren Hanson, Miguel-Angel Jimenez, Ricardo Gonzalez & Thomas Bjorn”.
“On the PGA Tour I worked with: Scott Piercy & Phil Mickelson (in conjunction with Callaway Golf)”.
GolfNation: Can you talk me through the process from making initial contact with a player, to him wearing your clothing at a tournament?
Tony Q’aja: “Players would see me at tour events on a regular basis and were familiar with the work I was doing with Darren. I would meet a player at the tournament or with them at home. I would find out details of their current sponsorship deals (for polo’s and knitwear) to establish if they wanted branded or unbranded items”.
“I would assess their current range of clothing, go through fabrics with them, look at colours, design/fit (fitted/relaxed fit, pending physique), establish what would suit them and what they felt comfortable with wearing, then I’d measure them up, produce some samples and go from there”. “I would produce one item for the players to test to make sure the fit was right, then if any minor alterations/tweaks were necessary this would be done prior to wearing it at a tournament”.
“This was all new to the tour at that time, but once the concept started to grow on the players, they became more adventurous and styles became bolder”.
GolfNation: You are about to re-launch Q’aja Golf this year, what are your plans and are you excited about being involved in golf again?
Tony Q’aja: “Yes, i’m very excited about becoming involved in golf again. I’ve been asked by lots of clients (past & present) when am I coming back, so I’m looking forward to launching my new range”. “I’ve been working on lots of new ideas in my absence”.
“On past experiences, I can’t compete with the major brands in the ready to wear market, so I’ve gone back to my roots concentrating on my bespoke service, but enabling a wider reach through the modern phenomena, the Internet”.
“I’ve always had many clients in the US who through simple communication order bespoke trousers and polo shirts that generally fit well and generally comment that they’re the best golf outfits they’ve ever had”.
“This procedure led me to introducing my bespoke service online with a simple process of designing your own trousers and polo shirts”.
“Phase one will be introduced this season, which is a step-by-step guide on the website for designing your own trousers and polo shirts”. “Phase two which will come at a later date, will be a 3D viewing experience of what you have created to make sure you’re happy with the look”.
GolfNation: You’ve also created bespoke golf clothing for many celebrities, can you tell us how that came about?
Tony Q’aja: “Being involved in the celebrity world came about initially from being asked to provide clothing for certain celebrity golf days”. “I’ve been approached by event organisers who want their event to stand out and be seen to be making an effort to use a leading golf clothing brand”. “Certain celebrities have taken a liking to the clothing and have then contacted me for a personal service”.
“Overseas interest in the celebrity world caught on through the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour, Samuel L Jackson was the first Hollywood star I worked with”.
“Darren Clarke introduced me to Sam; we met in the Old Course Hotel at St Andrews”. “After initially greeting each other, Sam said” “Ahhhhh so you’re the guy who does all these fancy pants and things?” To which I replied “Yes, so you’ve heard about me then?” Sam replied “Yes, i’ve heard plenty about you, all the guys are talking about all your cool stuff” to which I replied “so, you’re an actor aren’t you?” “then we both cracked up laughing and ending up getting on really well with each other”. “Sam asked me to start making his golf clothing straight away and also asked me to supply the polo shirts for his annual golf day”. “Alice Cooper attended Sam’s golf day and liked the shirts, shortly after he got in touch with me wanting clothing for himself”.
GolfNation: With the emergence of the “Modern Golf Athlete” and with more emphasis on fitness and more sportswear than ever being worn by Pro’s and Amateur’s, do you think the “Classic Golf Look” we’ve been familiar with over the years is dying out?
Tony Q’aja: “The big sports brands introduced clothing to ensure they didn’t lose interest to other brands and made sure in the process that their players became obliged to wear it as it part of their contract, thus making it difficult for private companies to compete”.
“I think it’s a good time for me to get involved with golf again as many other smaller private companies have taken a step back as the sportswear giants have effectively manipulated the market into sportswear”. “I’m giving the people who still like to be different, the chance to still be different, as an alternative to the sportswear look”.
GolfNation: How can the golfing public get in touch with you to buy your new clothing once you’ve launched it?
Tony Q’aja: www.qajagolf.com email@example.com Twitter: @tonyQaja @theclubhouseexl
GolfNation: Do you plan to get your new clothing line on tour again?
Tony Q’aja: “I would welcome a return to the tour, subject to being approached by the right players to fit the brand and also on the right terms”.
GolfNation: When supplying players on tour with clothing, how much clothing do you supply each player with? How often? And what’s the process involved?
Tony Q’aja: “Clothing I supplied to tour players varied player to player pending status and profile. Some players would get 20 outfits a year allowing for enough rotation event to event, the more high profile players would get 50 outfits a year”. “If a player was away for a three-week stretch (for example) they would often take six pairs of trousers (more neutral in colour) that they could wear ten different coloured polo shirts, which would lend itself to easy rotation”.
GolfNation: Your most famous client was Phil Mickelson, can you tell us how you ended up working with Phil and the work you did with him?
Tony Q’aja: “A golf fashion editor in the US, who was a fan of Q’aja, introduced me to Phil”. “He told Phil he could possibly benefit from my input from a style and fit point of view”. “I arranged to meet Phil at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill; during our first meeting we struck a rapport with each other straight away as we exchanged ideas/views on clothing”. “Phil at the time was kind of getting a hard time from the press for the way he looked on the course, so he was open to discuss new styles/looks”.
“He found that the polo shirts he was currently wearing were uncomfortable especially in hot weather and didn’t meet his expectations, so the choice of fabric was a key element for him”.
“I made some samples for Phil to try in a specific fabric and in a specific shape to accentuate his athleticism”. “In terms of the look and colour choices, Phil has quite a reserved outlook on what he wears so it was a gentle transition, but as we progressed he became more adventurous”. “Phil allowed me to create the whole look and package”. “When he tried the shirts for the first time he reacted by calling me up straight away saying they’re the best polo shirts he’s ever had”.
“The polo shirts I created for Phil were in conjunction with Callaway Golf”.
“Phil recently sent me a gift, which was one of the shirts I made for him which he signed wishing me all the best, we’re still good friends stay in touch”.
Rob Brooks @GolfNation_