50 Years of Mod Clothing: Merc London Celebrates Their 50th.
2017 marked Merc London’s 50th anniversary. Here is the story of Merc Clothing, from Carnaby Street and onwards, from the original founder of the shops and clothing brand, Javid Alavi.
The Merc trading name has been in use since 15th September 1967. In the early stages Merc traded in Kingly Market and Carnaby Court, aka the ‘Flea Market’ and the Merc name was only displayed inside the shop at that time. By 1973 Merc was registered as a business name and within seven years we managed to purchase a number of shops from Lord John (Warren Gold) and John Stephen, ending up with units 8/9, 10/11/12 and 17/18 Carnaby Court, these in addition to our number 15. Lord John and John Stephen had control of Carnaby Street at that time but somehow, due to involvement in some heavy litigation, they were short of money.
I recall meeting John Stephen in a coffee shop in Foubert’s Place and asked him if he ever wanted to sell his lovely shop at 8/9, on the corner of Carnaby Court and Carnaby Street, to let me know. He said that everything was for sale at the right price: so I made him an offer 30% over his asking price, quickly got the key, and moved in. Opposite, at 10/11/12 Carnaby Court, facing onto Carnaby Street, was a Lord John shop. The shop was huge but the small entrance door was hidden away on the corner, hardly visible to customers. I contacted Warren Gold and told him that his shop was not doing very well and asked why he did not sell it.
In short, I paid double the asking price, got the key and over the weekend installed 5m glass sliding doors which opened the entire frontage onto Carnaby Street and employed 12 staff who worked nonstop. A short time later we also acquired the other corner shop at 17/18 Carnaby Court onto Foubert’s Place. With all of these places trading well, we also purchased the Galt Toy Shop Company, on the corner of Foubert’s Place and Great Marlborough Street, opposite the pub.
We next bought the freehold of 15-21 Ganton Street which afforded us 2,000 sq ft retail space, 2,500sq ft basement storage, and 5,000 sq ft of light industrial/office rental space. Within 2 years we opened two fully furnished factories and a large warehouse in the East End of London. By this time Merc were exporting about 4,000 trousers and jackets alone to Europe and Scandinavia, mainly Norway.
You may ask..How did we do so well? The rules were laid down by me, Javid.
- Be extremely strict but always fair.
- Pay your suppliers before they ask for their money.
- Never sell a product that your wholesale customers will be unable to sell.
- Never take an order that you cannot deliver.
- Never mislead customers, suppliers or members of the public.
- Never borrow, take or accept any loan that you are unable to pay back.
- If problems arise, as they do in business, keep everyone informed… so, no nasty surprises.
- These rules have always worked for me and, although we have gone through both good and bad times, we have always managed to make a good living and, as a family, developed a group of Merc companies which will survive for years to come in spite of the present, troubled economic climate.
There are enough stories to tell about Merc trading activities to fill up a book or two and maybe that could be my job when I retire, in another 20 years, as I’m only 76 years of age at the moment.
(Left) Merc’s founder & owner, Javid Alavi, photographed c. 1960s.
I am asked what the most joyful time has been for Merc over these past years. Before I answer that I must say that since 1967 we have always traded 100% correctly. As my father used to say, “In life, one is a thief or an honest person, life is black or white, there are no shades of gray and 99% is not good enough.”…And he was absolutely right.
I started trading with very little capital and have always made paying my way a priority. When, in 1998 for personal reasons, I put one of my companies (Merc Leisure Ltd) into liquidation the company owed over 1.5 million to suppliers. We closed the company and I paid every penny owed to my suppliers and also collected over 95% of the monies owed to the company. We are, to this day, still trading with some of those same suppliers and customers.
Merc traded fairly but also never allowed others to take advantage of the Merc family, including the very powerful Mercedes Benz – which brings me to my most joyful moment.
In 1997, for whatever reason, the Mercedes Benz Board of Directors (Germany and UK) went mad and decided to issue proceedings against Merc for the use of the ‘Merc’ trademark claiming that they, in fact, were the owners of the Merc name/trademark, that we should cease trading immediately and pay them compensation for any profit that we had made using the Merc name. We wrote back telling them to back off because, actually, Merc was our intellectual property.
Being Mercedes Benz, with very deep pockets, they chose to issue legal proceedings in the High Court and we then had to endure four years of litigation. The greatest joy for me and all the Merc staff, customers and suppliers was the final judgement in the High Court in January 2001. Mercedes Benz lost on all counts, were ordered to pay all the court costs and the judge ordered two of Mercedes Benz 100 year old trademarks to be partially cancelled… Best day ever for Merc and me!!
On the back of that judgement another giant German corporation, Merck Pharmaceuticals, who had also issued proceedings against Merc, quickly backed out and accepted a co-existence agreement with Merc… that was the icing on the cake!!
A big ‘Thank You’ to all our customers for all your continued support for our brand over the years!
(Top Photo - A rare photo of Merc at 13 -15 Ganton Street, just off Carnaby Street in c. 1978-9. Merc was next door to The Cavern Store, (with the Union Jack sign) which Javid Alavi later bought & developed as well.Underneath was a nightclub which later suffered an arson attack.)
This article was originally published in Up&Atom magazine, Issue 8. Many thanks to Javid & all at Merc.