Thursday 20 June 2019

This former Connacht rugby player has his eyes on men's grooming

How Michael Swift went from a 16-year career in rugby to launching a range of men's grooming products with his wife

Former Connacht rugby player Michael Swift with his FrankMan range, pictured at the Alex Hotel. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Former Connacht rugby player Michael Swift with his FrankMan range, pictured at the Alex Hotel. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Former Connacht rugby player Michael Swift with his FrankMan range, pictured at the Alex Hotel. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Michael Swift for Connacht in 2015
Michael Swift and wife Gill in 2016
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

Michael Swift is used to keeping a cool head under pressure. After 16 years mucking in on the pitch with Connacht Rugby, he hung up his cleats in 2015 to focus on a career in business and like all professional athletes, his next chapter was one of careful consideration.

"I was in my early 30s and seeing the injury rates and watching guys retiring - I think the average career is about eight years -  I was lucky enough to get 16," he tells Style. He launched Frank.Man, a four-piece range of haircare products in November of last year and the products are already in 40 pharmacies around Ireland. Before launching, Swift did his research. What does the modern Irish man actually want - and not just what social media tells him to?

"I had seen a transition in my last years of playing rugby, with my colleagues and the amount of time they were spending on their appearance. There was a new breed coming through. And that's where Frank.Man comes in. We keep it frank and cut through the bull, and we try to speak a language men can engage with.

"I had some great support from Rugby Players Ireland, the players association which is geared towards helping you adjust to life after rugby and creating a support network," he explains.

Lifestyle partnerships after - and during - rugby are becoming increasingly commonplace: Tommy Bowe has XV Kings and Lloyd & Pryce, Robbie Henshaw has Henshaw Eyewear and Gordon D'Arcy set up pilates studio Form School in 2013 with his wife Aoife Cogan.

He caught the entrepreneurial bug in 2014, when he launched a beauty subscription company Powder Pocket, an Irish version of US-bsaed Birchbox or the UK's Glossybox, which sells travel sized versions of upscale products every month to subscribers. The brands featured get exposure to new customers and the facilitator makes a profit through its subscription model. His foray into the beauty business would prove to be a wise investment personally, as well as professionally, as he met his wife Gill, a former marketing manager for La Roche Posay, through his research.

"Being a rugby player for 15 odd years, I've learned to control my nerves, but going into L'Oréal to talk about women's beauty with six women is a different story," he says. "The pitch went well and we ended up getting married."

Gill, who is expecting the couple's first child, has been invaluable in the advice she has given to the product, utilising her years of experience in the beauty industry to help give them a leg-up in those tricky-to-navigate waters of cosmetics.

Michael Swift for Connacht in 2015
Michael Swift for Connacht in 2015

"It's taken us two years to come to market which is more than we anticipated, but we wanted to build an incredible brand and get trust in the marketplace. I wanted to get a true understanding of the men's grooming arena - what customers look and most importantly, what they don't look for," he says.

Part of those two years was a focus on keeping it as Irish as possible: the scent was created with the help of a French fragrance house in Dublin. A decision was made early that white labelling (when a product is made in a large scale factory, usually in a different country, that is then sold as unique) wouldn't be the route they wanted to take.

It's not just his ambitions talking, the proof is in the pudding, which in this case, is the sheer amount of money being spent on grooming as a whole, with men's spending nearly exclusively contributing to the global beauty boom, of which Ireland is no exception. There was a 56% spending increase in men's grooming from 2016 to 2017.

"On the back of social media, there's an increased pressure to look good now and you see men embracing that. There was a time when a man using moisturiser was seen as different, but now that movement has been embraced. It used to be the Lynx effect and sex was used as a tool to sell your brand, guys have moved on now. They want an arm around the shoulder and a buddy to guide them," he says.

"If we launched a year ago, the market was ready for it, but in the last 12 months, things have grown significantly."

Swift, originally from London, has a three year road map for his company's ambitions, which include an extended product range and global expansion, his confidence fuelled by the fact that they are already in talks to be sold in parts of the Middle East by this summer.

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