If you’ve been to Goodison Park or indeed anywhere around Liverpool in the past few years you will - knowingly or unknowingly - have come across sportswear brand Montirex.
The story behind the increasingly-iconic emblem centres around a phenomenal journey of two young businessmen, who have grown their company from a living room in Kirkby to a multi-million-pound sensation that has its sights firmly set on competing with the world’s biggest names following a meteoric rise over the past four years.
Merseyside-born founders Daniel Yuen, an Evertonian who also attended Everton College, and best friend Kieran Riddell-Austin first met playing football on a field outside their parents’ houses when Daniel was 10 and Kieran was 12.
Daniel secured a job in engineering with his grandfather after college, while Kieran entered the IT industry following a degree in the field at Edge Hill University but, after growing disillusioned with their first roles in full-time work, the duo took the step of becoming business partners in 2019.
Their first venture of building websites proved brief but, undeterred, they swiftly moved on, pouring their relatively modest personal savings into a pot to launch a sportswear brand after identifying a gap in the market.
However, despite their extraordinary success in recent times, things didn’t take off immediately.
“We noticed there were a lot of brands out there doing going out t-shirts and everyday clothing but nobody was doing sportswear apart from Nike, Under Armour, Gym Shark and all of those big players,” explains Daniel, who is now 25 years old.
“We thought we’d have a go. We started off with three t-shirts — a blue one, a red one and a grey one — and it was proper slow at first.
“We’d put all our money in and when it began so slowly and we thought, ‘What have we done here?’ but we kept at it and tried to market it as best as we could and tried to get the product out to people.”
With sales coming almost solely from close friends, a major breakthrough came three months later when discussions with suppliers uncovered a space-dye t-shirt design that would become one of the most sought-after items of clothing in Merseyside and, thus, a catalyst for progress.
“Once we got that space-dye t-shirt, it was a switch and it literally changed overnight,” explains Daniel. “I remember standing in the living room with a white backdrop that I’d bought off eBay behind me — I had the t-shirt on and had my mum taking photos and cutting my head off them!
“Kieran and I uploaded them, got them online, got them across Instagram and then I went to my nan’s but I’d left my phone at home to charge. By the time I got back, I had about five missed calls off Kieran and a message asking if I’d seen what had happened. It doesn’t sound much now but we had about 100 orders, which was big back then, in the space of about two hours.
“People had seen it and were saying they hadn’t seen anything like it before and it snowballed from there.”
Daniel and Kieran refined their designs, improved the fit of their items, decreased the size and introduced a reflective finish to their logo.
The range grew, too, with woven and fleece tracksuits amongst the pieces added to their staple t-shirts and shorts offering.
Determined to capitalise on an encouraging spell, the duo retained their day jobs but headed to a small 200-square foot office every evening to continue work on their products and processes at Montirex.
Then, in late 2019, came a call from a national chain that would change everything.
“Footasylum approached us,” says Daniel. “Some of their buyers had been to festivals over the summer and seen all of these t-shirts and were trying to find out what it was… It was our stuff.
“We were told we had to trademark everything before it could go to stores so there were legalities to sort out but we got that sorted, then we were ready to go by the start of 2020,” adds 27-year-old Kieran, who is a Liverpool supporter. “They also didn’t want us to launch with a few products, they wanted us to build a range so we had a bit of floor space in the stores and make it more presentable.
“Once they placed the first order it didn’t stop — they couldn’t get enough of it.”
Breaking into a highly-competitive market of sporting wear is no mean feat and, perhaps equally as impressive, being afforded a collective nod of approval from fellow Scousers who often lead the way in fashion trends in the UK.
Understandable, then, that Daniel — a lifelong Evertonian who has been a Season Ticket Member in the Gwladys Street for more than a decade — says there was a deep sense of pride when he began to see their clothing while attending Everton matches.
“Football has always been massive for both of us,” says Daniel. “I’ve been a Blue my whole life and Everton is something I’ve loved for as long as I can remember.
“It’s boss when you go the match and you see the whole Everton end wearing it. It’s better on an away day, to be honest! At Goodison, there’s obviously about 40,000 people there but when you go away and it’s only a few thousand and it feels like every single person is wearing it, it’s a boss feeling.
“There came a point when it felt like [Montirex] took over the city. The amount of people who had it on in Liverpool, it almost felt like a cult. It felt like the whole of the city had it on. At the start, you’d go outside of Liverpool and nobody else would be wearing it but that’s different now.
“The way the city is — and the whole country, to be fair — everybody wears sportswear as everyday wear now. I don’t think it’s just fit for sportswear, it’s all-purpose.”
Kieran continues: “It’s probably at the point now where we’re so used to seeing it every day that it starts to feel normal but for the first months and years when it was popping up everywhere it was totally surreal.
“We’d take pictures of random people we’d see wearing it and things like that! Like, ‘Look at this in Manchester!’ And things like that. We see the products every day now.
“That’s definitely not to say we’re not grateful of everyone who is wearing it but you do get used to it.”
On his time at Everton College, Daniel added: “I had some really good experiences while I was there. I’ve always loved footy and when I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do.
“I didn’t know what career path I wanted to take and I didn’t really want to stay in education but when I found Everton College it was like a mix of what I loved - football - and what I had to do - education. When I was there we went to Finch Farm to play football and that was something that enticed me in!
“I played in quite a few tournaments there, trained there every week so that was a good experience in itself."
A key part of the marketing strategy has been collaborations with athletes both close to home and around the world, with rising stars in the world of boxing and MMA key targets in the business’ early days.
Perhaps most notably in their current roster is Birmingham-based UFC star Leon Edwards, who linked up with Daniel and Kieran at the very beginning of Montirex’s journey.
Both sides have remained loyal to each other ever since and the Montirex owners were cageside as Edwards fought his way to UFC glory by overcoming the previously unbeaten Kamaru Usman with a stunning knockout finish to clinch the Welterweight crown of MMA’s premium promotion in August last year.
Similarly, local boxer and fellow Evertonian Jazza Dickens, followed a similarly steep trajectory to the top while donning Montirex, winning the IBO world featherweight title by defeating Lerato Dlamini in October 2022.
“When we were marketing in the beginning our sole market was Liverpool,” reveals Kieran. “We knew we wouldn’t listen to ‘influencers’ on social media ourselves. We were designing clothes that we would wear and we cottoned on quickly that it had to be marketed in a way in which we would buy it ourselves.
“The first thing we did was look at athletes rather than influencers. We found a bit of a niche route of speaking to boxers and MMA fighters. We found they were really down to earth and half of the time, because they were so busy training, if you sent them clothes they didn’t want paying for it they just wanted something to train in.
“Unless you’re a massive, massive name the deals like AJ with Under Armour are few and far between. So for us, being new and wanting to be a sports brand, we were sending them clothes and getting really easy content back from them because they’d be posting about being in fight camp or training daily in our stuff.
Daniel Yuen (left) and Kieran Riddell-Austin (right)
“That was our first strategy in marketing. The Smith brothers [Paul, Stephen, Liam and Callum] really helped us out and Leon Edwards, too, in the very early days.”
Montirex, which loosely translates to ‘Mountain King’ in Latin, celebrated four years of trading last month.
As well as being available on their own website and through Footasylum, the brand can now also be found in JD Sports stores across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The exponential growth of the company has seen the pair grow their workforce to 35 employees at their Speke-based HQ — and their shared passion to keep things local is equally as strong as their vision to dominate on an international scale.
“JD Sports are putting us in five doors in Europe across France and the Netherlands but once it works in there it will grow out further,” explains Daniel. “It’s the same for our own website in terms of going international. We’re looking to take it worldwide this year, really push on and capitalise on the markets. It’s one of them where people go, ‘You’ve smashed it’, and I think we have in terms of here but there’s a massive world out there where nobody knows what it is.
“We’re ready now to take over.
“[Staying in Merseyside] something we’ve discussed and it’s something we’ve drilled into the team — we are a Liverpool business, a Liverpool brand.
“We want to give people in Liverpool the opportunities and the jobs that come with it being in the area. We aren’t taking it to Manchester or anywhere else, it’s staying here.
“The talent pool in Liverpool is great and it’s grown a lot.
“We are definitely staying here.”