“I didn’t set out to become a shirtmaker, it happened serendipitously,” says Audrey McLoghlin, founder of Frank & Eileen. We’re speaking between LA and London over Zoom, and she’s sitting at home with her shock of auburn curls in a chic white shirt – every inch the polished proprietor. “My parents left Ireland in the 1970s and came to the US. I was born a few years later. Growing up my whole life long, they told me we came to America so that you can be anything you want, so long as it’s a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.”
Engineering won the day, and McLoghlin chose to study at engineering school, before experimenting with a tech start-up, and ultimately moving from Boston to LA with a view to applying her entrepreneurial brain to clothing manufacturing. McLoghlin describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur” and with close to half-a-dozen businesses to her name, it’s clear she’s not one for standing still.
When I was in high-school, I worked for the GAP. I loved working with textiles. There came a point where I just decided to learn the business side of how to actually design and manufacture apparel. It’s so much more tactile than tech
— Audrey McLoghlin
“It’s kind of funny, on some level I just knew I wanted to build something – but I wasn’t sure what it was,” she explains. “When I was in high-school, I worked for the GAP. It was such an incredible experience for me; I loved working with textiles and then really understanding how to dress different women’s bodies. There came a point where I just decided to learn the business side of how to actually design and manufacture apparel. It’s so much more tactile than tech.”
And so she did. Initially, McLoghlin launched a local chain of multi-brand retail stores, before launching a cut-and-sew knitwear brand with a partner factory in LA in turn. Then, in 2008, she discovered something else that piqued her interest. “I was in a factory in Los Angeles working on a completely different product,” she says. “I started pulling some books from the bookshelf and I found a catalogue filled with the most beautiful menswear fabrics I’d ever seen. Immediately, I asked myself, ‘why are these fabrics used for men and not for women?’”
She’d discovered one of Thomas Mason’s collection books, and an idea was born: to create a luxury women’s shirting line using the same fine materials, finishing and styling details that you’d expect of high-end men’s shirtmaking. As for the name, that was an easy decision.
“I really love naming companies after my family,” McLoghlin says, “so I named the brand after my grandparents in honour of my Irish heritage.” The romance of her grandparents, who were married in County Wicklow in 1947, has always inspired her. “We really built all of the branding around their love story,” she explains. Today, this tangible sense of care now feeds into her work designing and crafting shirts.
Frank & Eileen launched in a handful of small, independent menswear stores in 2009, and has since grown to supplying around 200,000 shirts per year. The brand originally conceived as a womenswear brand, but shortly after the launch McLoghlin found herself beset with requests for men’s shirts of the same quality, too, and launched a men’s collection almost immediately.
Of course, McLoghlin makes her recipe for success sound simple, when really it’s anything but. “For me, the first ingredient in making a great shirt is to use the most beautiful fabrics in the world – that’s where Thomas Mason and Albini come in. The second ingredient for us is classic menswear detailing reimagined for a modern feminine silhouette. Then, the third ingredient is our secret washes by artisans in sunny California.”
These washes are a Frank & Eileen signature, and a closely guarded secret. “We wash everything,” McLoghlin explains, “it’s just a slightly different, relaxed experience to owning a very crisp, dry-clean-only kind of shirt. Sometimes we garment-dye shirts, sometimes we crinkle them and sometimes we stonewash. We like to take the beauty of Italian craftsmanship and then tumble it up with the California lifestyle. It’s really unique.”
Beyond taking great care to create a unique product, Frank & Eileen also inhabits in a unique space in the retail landscape. McLoghlin and her team are passionate about sustainability, and not only is Frank & Eileen a certified B-Corp, it has the highest score of any female-owned B-Corp in the USA.
“It was a very intense application process,” McLoghlin says. “They lift up and look under every hood in the company. That includes looking at every single step in your supply chain from the farms you use to harvest the cotton, right through to finishing, your warehouse logistics, hiring practices, environmental policy – I mean everything. I was so nervous when we applied, and I’m so proud of what we achieved when the certification was awarded.”
Of course, with its highly transparent, traceable supply chain, Thomas Mason played some small part in this. The brand remains the only textile supplier that Frank & Eileen uses for shirts to this day, and McLoghlin has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the collection. “My favourite Thomas Mason fabric is Downing, I’m wearing it right now,” she says, plucking at her shirt. “It’s a super-luxurious cotton poplin that we call Super-Luxe. We used it to launch one of our icons, the Silvio, in honour of the late Silvio Albini.”
Before our call wraps up, I ask McLoghlin what she thinks the most important lesson she’s learned is in founding Frank & Eileen. Her answer speaks to the long, close relationship she’s enjoyed with Thomas Mason over the years. “I think the most important thing was the proving out some of these theories I had about my priorities early on,” she says, thoughtfully. “I had this initial theory that fabric is really the key to a great shirt. That’s why our partnership with Thomas Mason was so critical at the beginning.
“We didn’t have any money to invest when we launched the business, so I was determined just to focus on product and the fabric. If you create the best product, with the best materials, then the brand can stand behind it.” Certainly, with close to a quarter-of-a-million shirts a year going through her LA factory each year, McLoghlin has proven her point.