One of the UK’s leading specialists in marine upholstery, Passmore, is celebrating 60 years in business.
From what started as a small outlet making soft furnishings in 1960, the British company now successfully supplies the international luxury yacht market and this year marks a big anniversary as Director Rik O’Hanlon-Smith explains:
Passmore was founded in 1960 by my grandmother, whose maiden name the company still uses today. It started out with domestic retail stores in Colchester and Ipswich and entered the marine market in 1978, following significant success in the yachting sector.
Today we work with luxury yacht builders such as Oyster Marine, Spirit Yachts, Hardy Marine, Gunfleet, Vortec Marine and Fox’s Marina. In fact, the ‘superyacht’ market has become so integral to our business that we opened Passmore of Southampton in 2013, in order to work closely with a major customer’s yard on the South Coast. We provide upholstery for their 80ft to 120ft super yachts.
I joined the company during my father’s time at the helm in 2001 and fully took over family ownership of Passmore of Colchester in 2012. Prior to this I worked in London and Sydney as an art director.
The main challenge of working in this sector is the sheer uniqueness and individuality of each project/yacht, along with build times and complying with the Multi Yacht Code. The time taken to complete commissions is often measured in years rather than months: work on one of the Oyster superyachts, for example, started in 2015 and was completed in 2019
Passmore works closely with yacht owners or their interior designers from the early stages of fit out to help them decide on materials and colour schemes and, where welcomed, offer our expertise and advice.
We supply everything from yacht seating to soft furnishings, headboards and covered bulkhead panels, berth mattresses, curtains and roman blinds, non-slip bound carpets, deck cushions, marine covers and leatherwork. My wife and business co-owner Julie- Ann is our general manager and we always invite clients to our West Mersea showroom in Essex, where they can touch and feel products before deciding on the final designs and fabrics.
Projects range from award-winning, modern superyachts that are over 100ft long to luxury, wooden yachts built for both racing and cruising circuits. This recently included undertaking upholstery for the award-nominated Spirit Yachts 47CR cruising yacht.
Our core sector is the marine market; it’s where our experience lies and where we have built a reputation for quality and service across the industry. However, we are also commissioned to work on domestic projects that need our technical expertise or level of finish.
All our upholstery is crafted by hand and customised to suit each yacht. Everything we do is bespoke, which entails sourcing materials from all over the world and visiting international design and marine trade shows to ensure we are offering the latest innovations on the market.
Recent introductions have included an exclusive new mattress created in conjunction with Vispring, the luxury bed and mattress manufacturer. Feedback from the five super yachts fitted with them has been extremely positive.
In terms of products on the bench, we have been working closely with Hardy Marine on its new motor yacht, a collection of stunning new Oyster Yachts ranging from 56ft to 118ft and a new Spirit sailing superyacht with curved upholstery built into the side of the hull for optimum design and use of space.
Given the highly specialist nature of our work and the fact there are actually very few companies operating in this sector, we offer our own training and apprenticeship schemes to ensure we retain the skills and expertise needed to go forward. Of the 13 staff working at Passmore, seven are skilled upholsterers with a further four trainees learning the craft at any given time.
It’s an exciting, fast moving and often complex field of work but incredibly rewarding too. Watching a new superyacht take shape and having an integral role in the creation of some of the most stunning vessels to sail the seas, is an extremely satisfying business to be in. Here’s to the next 60 years!