Tony Power was a lion of a man who earned respect the world over for Panache, the global lingerie brand he started from scratch in the family garage in 1982.
It was typical of him that, at 78, he didn’t think of his own safety as he searched for his missing brother, a dementia sufferer, in Darnall’s High Hazels Park after dark one fateful night in October 2012.
He was attacked and robbed by local man Imran Khan and never recovered from catastrophic head injuries.
Last March, after Khan was jailed for 26 years, Tony’s sons Danny and John Power vowed: “We will work hard to make him proud.”
It took six months before they could fulfil their promise, however. “When dad died we were in the middle of a re-brand and were restructuring to build for the future. We were so devastated we couldn’t do anything,” says John, 48, who became Panache’s M.D. on his father’s retirement in 2007. “There are still many times when his death totally knocks you sideways. It is still very raw for us.”
But eventually, the determination they had so often seen in their father, rose in their blood. For the last year, Danny and John have steered the family company Tony treated like his fifth child to ever greater profit.
In the last financial year, profits were up by xxx. The world-leading designer and manufacturer of D plus lingerie despatched over 1.7million bras, briefs and swimwear items to 53 countries, an achievement which won Panache the Queen’s Award for International Enterprise for the second year running.
Perfect fit - comfort up to a K cup, the maxim that Tony ran the business by, is still the cornerstone. Panache has offices in New York and China and over 170 employees worldwide, but its Drakehouse HQ is the hub. The firm, says John, will always retain its Sheffield roots and the close-knit, family feel that Tony insisted on. But John and Danny are not doing all of it dad’s way.
Under Tony, Panache mostly made lingerie for high street names. The brothers believed that market could leave them vulnerable to cancellations and price wars. They upped the company’s technical expertise to devise ever-more effective fit and glamorous new lingerie collections. Now the majority of sales are own-label; the Panache name is sought out by discerning customers the world over.
“We have done things dad wouldn’t have agreed with,” says Danny, 38, whose daughter was born on the very day his father was attacked. “But we know they are right for the company.” Danny came back to the business for the third time six months before his father’s death. Between working as Calvin Klein’s European director for business solutions and five years at Hugo Boss as head of UK operations, under his father Danny established Panache’s hugely profitable American market from scratch. “Dad was about sales figures rather than developing the brand. Though I think he would have loved the fact that we are now on the rails in Selfridges, an achievement solely down to my brother’s dad-style perseverance,” he adds.
Agrees John: “Working with dad taught us so much. This company as his legacy. That motivates us to make it ever stronger. But we do what we think is right.”
Panache is poised for big growth, the brothers say. But it will not be achieved at the price they saw their father pay again and again.
Say the brothers: “Neither of us feel we will ever be as good a man as he was. Dad lived every day as a lion. He’s our marker. But he was so driven he rarely switched off. We now afford ourselves more of a personal life than he allowed himself. That bottle of wine you’ve been saving; you drink it. That family holiday you’ve dreamed of; you arrange it. What dad’s death taught us was how precious life is.”
The man who made his name in women’s lingerie would have become a Catholic priest if his mother had got her way.
But in his 20s, the Irishman came to Sheffield to be with his two brothers in the steel industry. He found lodgings in Hackenthorpe, fell in love with Maureen, his landlady’s daughter, and decided to stay. He landed a job in sales with Playtex and 20 years on, when the company wanted to move its top salesman, by then a father of four, to London, he decided to go into business himself.
“Mum inspired him,” says John. “She was making good money from selling ski jackets by party plan.”
Tony started buying and selling surplus lingerie stock. He named his business AJ&D Marketing after himself, John and Danny. His daughters already in nursing careers, he was earmarking his boys early for the family firm.
Eventually he had his own collection made in Nottingham. Panache was born and at 18 John was selling from the back of a van. “He was a tough boss. He was determined to teach me how to sell,” says John, who then went to Berlei Lingerie for five years, returning to a thriving Panache. Tony had been to China to set up a production deal. “It was long before the big lingerie brands did it. Chinese people literally fell of their bicycles at the sight of dad, six feet tall with a shock of grey hair,” John recalls. “He re-mortgaged our home to fund it. Even as kids we knew he was different to other dads.”