In the beginning there was one man, his wife and their dog, Ralph. It was 2012 and days spent roaming Europe and beyond in a beat-up T4 called Douglas Fir was all that mattered.
There’s a reason you might not have heard much about the man behind it all. For all these years Passenger founder, Richard Sutcliffe, has shied away from the limelight. A man of simple pleasures and true to his word, you’ll find Rich in the outdoors, away from it all on a journey of his own.
For the first time in his own words, here’s the story of how, and more importantly why, it all began...
Left: c. 2013 Enjoying a warm brew after a long day roaming in the New Forest. Top: Snowshoeing in the Canadian Wilds. Bottom: Exploring the West Country with my adventure companion Ralph the whippet who is no longer with us. Watching the sun go down after a surf and taking it all in.
“Sometimes I still remember just how I felt back then, I was an electrician and my (now) wife Alex a sick graphic designer. They were day jobs for us and the only thing on my mind was when and how we could find our next slice of escapism.
I grew up surrounded by waves and trees, my first memories are paddling in the sea around Lepe and making dens under Redwoods of the New Forest; these are the places I still get lost in today. As a teenager we’d surf everyday on anything we could. Just a sniff of a wave and we’d be in until sundown.
In later years I grew restless and deep down felt a little lost. I was searching for something, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but it felt like something was missing. I remember the need to channel my creative energy and find a way to satisfy a constant aching for travel and adventure.
Straight up we had no idea what we were doing, I just had a vision and something to say. Thankfully, Alex is an amazing graphic designer and she was able to bring my ideas to life. Realising designs, products and the brand in those early days was like therapy, good times.
We spent every available moment on the road. If there wasn’t any swell we’d head off to the forest, mountains or anywhere we could slow life down a little and tap out. We’d always take our travel companion Ralph the whippet who is sadly no longer with us, which has certainly left a hole.
c. 2012 After a sunset Surf on Vancouver island, I headed over to our beach fire and watched the colours in the sky, I'd never seen anything like it before.
So much at the start was done on the road in the freezing cold, wrapped up under sleeping bags with Ralph keeping us warm. Websites, copy, graphics; it was in these spaces that we felt most creative and would get into a real flow.
c. 2013 Vancouver Island. This was the trip that inspired so much, we found the footage on an old sd card!
We spent a lot of time over in Canada with friends and family, our home from home. It was over there on a beautifully vacant, driftwood beach surrounded by waves & trees when I had a moment of real clarity. I remember it like yesterday, salty skin thawing out fireside, Alex cooking up some chille, beer in hand watching the sun set behind the horizon. Ever since that moment I’ve known my purpose, protecting the places we play and inspiring meaningful escapism.
Top: c. 2013 The time and place Passenger was born. Chopping wood for a campfire cook out with my wife Alexa, surrounded by waves & trees. Left: The essence Passenger was built on, the 3 of us together drinking in the good times on the road again. Right: Squamish, British Columbia. just taking in that view, hammock style.
It took over a year and a half to get things running properly. Suppliers, sustainability, websites, fabrics, product design, marketing; everything. I was learning as I went along, acting like a sponge picking up whatever I could that might be useful!
It still felt like we had no idea what we were doing but I’ve learned to trust my gut. We launched a small range of beanies and t-shirts and could not believe people were actually buying them. I’m sure it was a lot of friends and family helping out, maybe my Mum’s loft is full of original Passenger beanies...
It really snowballed from there, growing and gaining momentum all the time. I’ll be honest during those first years it broke me on a few occasions. Luckily, I had a good network around me to pick me up, dust me off and go again. My family said I was mad, but I think you need that in you to make it work when the going gets tough.
We were part time for a few years, juggling life and spinning a bunch of plates. Products were in the loft, living room, kitchen and our workspace and samples bunched in our conservatory.
“I remember it like yesterday, salty skin thawing out fireside, Alex cooking up some chille, beer in hand watching the sun set behind the horizon. Ever since that moment I’ve known my purpose...”
We would work weekends, early morning before and after our day jobs. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I remember the sense of endless tasks and endless possibilities at the same time. It was full on building a brand from scratch, using our home as a mini warehouse and business.
Working on the road and grabbing those days of escapism was the key to Passenger getting to where it is today, I can’t encourage people to do that enough. When the going got tough and things were growing at a crazy pace it was a consistent source of inspiration, balance and allowed us to recharge.
Sometimes I don’t know how we made our way through everything and didn’t give up, that would have been the easy thing to do for sure!
Our first Passenger HQ was an old barn in the middle of the New Forest. We snuck a wood stove in there to keep the cold at bay but it was still freezing most of the year. It was a magical place to work surrounded by dense forest, deers roaming outside the window and rain on the old tin roof.
Deciding on the name was a challenge but we knew we got it right with Passenger. It represents everything we believe in, everyone is a passenger on their own journeys.
Left: c. 2014 Vancouver Island again, playing in the waves & trees. Right: Product testing our first ever waterproof jacket. It's still in the range today after many years of testing and evolving.
What we stand for.
We wanted a brand and product range that reflects who we are. To inspire others to live their life, travel, explore and escape. This is everything we lived for ourselves, so our offering is just a reflection of that.
We believe that our products need to live up to adventure and stand the test of time. Style, durability and sustainability can be accessible and not cost the earth. Spend your time and hard earned money on living, not on techy features, labels and sh*t you just don’t need.
It’s still an important value of the brand; adventure first, product second. When we’re designing products today we look at 3 principles to find the Passenger balance: Quality, sustainability and price. Everything you need, nothing you don't. This ethos is still very much at the core today.
Left: c. 2015 Looking chuffed after 7 days on the road sleeping in bothies and tipis, wild camping and hiking across Scotland. Right: Trekking across the Arctic circle. After 8 hrs of walking, we found a hut way out in the wilds to provide warmth and solitude.
It’s a crazy journey we’ve been on with epic highs and lows. There’s been a lot of arguments between husband and wife, designer vs visionary but it’s just made us stronger. With the passion that we both have for this brand that’s always going to happen from time to time. We’ve been able to experience all this together, meet so many inspiring people along the way and create memories we will cherish for a lifetime.
No matter what happens, there’s a trip me and Alex took some years ago that kind of summed the whole thing up perfectly.
We headed to the south of France in our van and arrived at the surf spot around 8:30pm. We were greeted by perfect 2ft peeling logger waves with an insane golden orange sky. There were one or two locals out and I couldn’t get in quick enough.
I ran out and logged myself silly for a few hours until it was pitch black. For those few weeks we surfed, camped, explored, unplugged, got creative and worked at Passenger, our ‘jobs’ from the road. Those days had a big influence on the direction we’ve taken.
Left: c. 2015 Product testing with our first ever backpack. Again, this product is still in the range today and has become a brand staple. Right-top: My wife and I somewhere lost on the west coast of British Columbia. Right-bottom: Early morning coffee in the Highlands, loaded up for a day of it.
Where we are now.
Over the years we have grown and managed to build an amazing team, so it's not just myself and Alex! We're still small but spirits are high and possibilities endless. Everyone has helped shape Passenger over the years as we have grown to the brand you see today.
It’s not often you can say you have the job of your dreams and get to work with your friends. We all share a love of the outdoors, surf, travel and living the simple life whenever possible. I’m humbled and feel lucky to have got this far, sharing my vision with the Passenger family.
We’ve recently had a beautiful baby, River, so we’re learning about how to escape as a family. We're finding our way back to that simple life in different but even more rewarding ways.
One thing that hasn't changed over the years is the passion I have, the reasons it all began and what we stand for.
France c.2015 After 12 hours of driving, this is what the first sight of the coast delivered. Perfect logging waves no one out and an epic sunset.
When I reflect on the place I was in before Passenger it gives me a real sense of gratitude. What I’ve learned is that purpose and the people around you are everything. When you find the thing that keeps you up at night and springs you out of bed in the morning grab it with both hands and don’t look back.
It's been a hell of a ride so far and the best part is that we’re just starting. What the future holds who knows but one thing I do know is that it won't be dull. Thanks for sharing the journey with us, here’s to many more.