05 Nov 2015
We were presented with the opportunity to appear on a new TV show that was being commissioned by UK TV earlier this year. It was an unusual week in May as it was exactly the same week that we were also approached by the the Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, production company to also potentially appear on their new series.
While we had an idea of the Mary Portas show and what that would entail. Because the Money Pit was a new experience we struggled to envision how it would work for us. We had a brief telephone conversation with a member of the production team who explained the concept of the show. The idea of crowdfunding was one that we easily understood. Since banks had stopped lending to small businesses alternative and exotic funding (and investing) opportunities have sprung up like mushrooms in the finance market. But while we understood the crowdfunding concept we admit that we did have trouble trying to vision the ‘pit’ and the humorous element of the show which Jason Manford would bring. Of all the exotic pairings that we have become used to over the years, including ‘bacon-jam’ and salty ice-cream, surely money and humour are the most unlikely?
So we debated and sought the counsel of some wise heads in our network: Mary Portas or New Show? How could we possibly choose? Well a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush I vaguely remember being advised and as we had no contract and only birds in the bush Phil and I continued to communicate with both teams. Around mid-June, one of the teams went completely quiet on us. We guessed it was a case of ‘don’t call us, we will call you’ so we set out to wait to see if we would be shortlisted by Liberty Bell, the makers of the New Show.
Phil completely got cold feet. Not even possessing a TV (for good reason), he felt completely uncomfortable with the idea of appearing on a comedy game show/crowdfunding hybrid. But refrains of ’all publicity is good publicity’ was on loop in the outer corners of our minds. So we continue to contemplate yay or nay? A good friend talked Phil into going for it, pointing out that we probably would never be able to afford that kind of publicity.
During June due diligence checks were performed and then early in July we were given the thumbs up: we would be one of the 30+ businesses that would appear in the new series. So it was full steam ahead preparing for our 'pitch in the pit’ which was a good exercise in taking a good objective look at our products, finance, business models and future plans before appearing in front of potentially thousands of people. It had been 3 1/2 hears since we launched the brand so a good objective look at ourselves was in order.
As Phil was away on a much needed holiday when we received the call it took me 5 days and nights to get the paperwork back to Liberty Bell in time to be forwarded to the potential bakers. I prepared a summary of our business and marketing plan which even at just 4 pages was not short enough. More was eliminated and the bare bones of our business was presented.
Another 10 days went by and we were then given the opportunity to go to a rehearsal at Alexandra Palace. At this point I got cold feet and spent a day in bed feeling totally ill at the prospect of being in the spotlight. I totally had to force myself to go to the rehearsal reasoning that it was a good opportunity to have a really good look at the set up. We hadn’t after all signed any contracts yet and there was still time to back out! For the first time we understood the concept of the pit. It also afforded us a great opportunity to meet the team and the other contenders. We were asked to stay away from the backers which was OK, they were easily to spot as they were all under the spotlight looking far more confident than the businesses pitching. Following the rehearsal we committed.
The actual day of filming was great fun. All the members of the Liberty Bell team were amazing professionals, full of positive energy, very energetic and very organised. It was an intense 4 hours recording. Having our marks marked out for us and being directed took a lot of concentration. Once the adrenalin kicked in and the spot lights turned on it really was show time.
Our pitch was written over about 4 days, cut in half and half again. Two minutes was not a long time to try to get the main points of our business across but we had a good crack at it. Stepping into the pit I was intelligently nervous but quietly confident that I would deliver. I got 3/4 of the way through and my brain froze. Because of how we had planned to deliver our pitch, this meant that Phil did not have his cue which meant that as the seconds ticked passed as we contemplated what to do Phil’s final statements were cut out as the bell went.
The floor was then open for questions and a few of the backers came down to have a look at our line. Most memorable was Sheridan Shed Simove (@ShedSimove) who was completely drowned in our Raw Denim Bomber Jacket. By contrast Dominic Frisby looked very sexy in our Purple Tweed Waistcoat and continued to wear it for the remainder of the show.
Our ethical and sustainable stance and or commitment to produce 100% of our collection in the UK seemed to be a novel idea to most of the but as our brand and product did not fall in the bracket of the "sublime to the ridiculous” scale we felt that we had a good chance to raise the £25,000 needed to secure a full time marketing professional and get our line to a trade show.
All in all the experience of appearing on a national TV show as very good and I would recommend it to anyone given the opportunity. The results of our endeavours can be seen here.
Andii & Phil pitch on the Mnoey Pit.
15 Oct 2015
It's quite mind boggling to think that just under 50 years ago almost 100% of mens' clothing were made in these isles. Apart from the specialist or exotic items that hailed from across the seas in France or Italy, the coats, jackets, trousers, shirts, socks and underwer were all produced within here. Most UK towns had a specialism: Luton was known for its hats; Northamptonshire its shoe production; Hawick, knitwear, Macclesfield, Whitchurch and Spitalfields, silk; from Kidderminster and Pembrokeshire were known for their carpets, and Newton survived by its tanning and clog-making expertise.
The strides made in the UK during the industrial revolution resulted in the UK becoming the fabric manufacturing titan of the age until that is, it was overtaken during the ‘second industrial revolution’ by the strides taking place in the USA. Clothing manufacturing, however, remained strong in the UK until the 1980’s. Up until that time clothing was coveted, saved for, sourced, bought and cared for. They were cherished and handed down out of necessity and practicality as well as as treasured heirlooms. It is no coincidence that the rise of the vintage market exploded in the past 35 years as increasing numbers of people have sought out items and outfits from bygone years that possessed qualities of substance, beauty and longevity. It is no coincidence that these were the items that people were seeking out at the same time companies began distributing mass produced, flimsy items at prices that were ever cheaper and cheaper. During the late 80’s American Sportswear look took centre stage as a predominant look. Following the de-regulation of the financial markets 1986 it was also the era of ‘loads of money’ and the cultural icons of the time were clad in bright coloured easy-wear easy-care cottons. The alternative were the power-suits that symbolised the the verve, pep and ambition of the go-getting late ’80’s.
As post-industrial progress and success became equated with having more and more of everything Baby-Boomers and Generation X became convinced that we should have it all “because I’m worth it”. We raged as petulant toddlers in our desire to have our own way and have it all: cheap clothes and lots of them. Profit was King and so the race to off-shoring began. The 90’s however became the lean-years for clothing manufacturing firms that had been around for decades, if not hundred’s of years as quality gave way to quantity and the major high street brands looked for opportunities overseas to produce at a cheaper price. The surviving firms were those that specialised in getting the fundamentals right: a quality fabric, perfect cutting, subtle detailing and perfect execution of production. The clothing companies that survived the crash of the early 90’s and the more recent recession include the following wellknown behemouth companies:
Crockett & Jones - Makers of fine shoes since 1879
Locke & Co. - Founded in 1676
Pringle - founded in 1815
Paul Smith - opened his first shop in 1970
Liberty - much loved since 1875
Gieves & Hawkes - tracing its roots back to 1771 with Royal Warrants since 1809
Barbour - 5th generation family owned since 1894
Belstaff - founded in Longton in 1924
Thankfully the tide has changed. With the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the Recovery Years of 2010-2012 - millions of people across the globe have been forced to question the ideologies and systems of unrelenting growth that were previously bought into. We have had to learn the hard way, as Japan did between 1991 and 2001.
As growth stagnated, stopped and decreased we have had the opportunity to question what we truly need and desire. We have tightened our belts, buttoned down the hatches and prepared for a storm during which we have reflected and asked the deep questions about sustainability. This period of reflection has given birth to a new age where a vision of sustainable living is coming to the fore. It is reflected in the tens of thousands of new brands that have hit the global market as new technology facilities cottage industries. Just as pre the Industrial Revolution we bought locally we are again embracing the provenance of our goods.
And so New Heritage Brands are now establishing themselves, operating on the basis that timelessness and quality will afford them greater longevity. Taking the lessons from the established British heritage brands such as Aquascutum, Burburry and Barbour which were born out of responding to environmental factors such as the weather to produce quality British weather baring products, the New Heritage brands are responding to the changing social needs, the interest placed upon provenance and the importance now placed upon longevity and permanence in a very impermanent world. The high quality of British production skills combined with with fabrics and prints is now given greater prominence for labels such as Private White VC, Crest of a Wave, Common Sons, Huit Denim, Albam and Universal Works.
A similar trend has occurred in the USA. As the home of workwear, and brands such as Pendleton, Woolwich, LLBean, J Press and Red Wing Shoes, the Industrial Look has become as much a part of the American aesthetic as the Ivy League or Sportswear looks. In the east the renaissance of Japanese textile tradition has raised its own head, no doubt spurned on by its 2 decade long recession which gave it time to have a long hard look at itself and its rich culture and traditions. A little more research into the heritage brands of Germany, Holland, Sweden, France and other developed nations will, no doubt, unearth similar heritage brands that survived the recessions of the 70’s and 80’s.
The 1980’s and 1990’s have gone down in the annals as the period when manufacturing waned and almost died, but from observation and personal experience it very much feels as though a revival is underway. The British textile industry now comprises over 79,000 businesses, employing over 340,000 people with the Gross value added for the sector in the UK estimated at over £11.5 billion. The increasing popularity of UK manufactured goods has meant that factories' order books are increasing, however, there remains an issue that is potentially a time bomb ticking in the corner as the older generation of workers retire. The need to attract a new generation of skilled production worker is high on the agenda if we are to continue the upward trend. The manager of one of our factories recently recounted how hard it is for them to recruit and keep younger workers for the years that it takes to become a skilled cutter, sewer or finisher.
On the other side of the equation appreciation for the quality of goods made in the UK and the bigger story around the importance of keeping a manufactoring base on these shores needs to be appreciated by the consumer who has become used to fast throw-away fashions. We made our committment to making 100% of our collection in the UK because we wanted to be part of an equation that recognises the need to have a balanced economy with both services and manufactoring. While the sourcing of our fabrics has meant that we have sourced off shore for over 1/2 of our collection for 2016 we will be committing to increasing our sourcing of UK produced (and sustainably made) textiles to 75%. It is going to be a tall order, but a challenge that we are looking forward to taking on. Long live UK clothing manufactoring.
"All dress is fancy dress, is it not, except our natural skins?" ~George Bernard Shaw
12 Oct 2015
The ubiquitous waistcoat (previously known as a vest) is one of the rare items of clothing whose origins we can date accurately, thanks to the annals of English history. As is the custom today, where travel reveals a fresh aesthetic perspective, the vests of the 16th century were first seen and then adopted by travellers returning from Persia. The most famous of these travellers was Sir Robert Shirley, Persia’s ambassador of the court of St James.
During the Restoration of the British monarchy, on October 7, 1666 to be exact, King Charles II introduced the vest as part of the dress code for his newly reformed kingdom. Emphasis was to be placed on the fabric and the cut, rather than the ruffles and highly embroidered silks that were fashionable at the time. These practically outlawed the flamboyant and rich styles of the French King Charles, who was known to dress more neutrally, and dictated a long waistcoat made of English wool which would be worn with a knee-length coat. The significance of this is emphasised by the diarist Samuel Pepys who noted "The King hath yesterday in Council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes, which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift, and will do good. There are many references in Samuel Pepys’s diary to vests, my favourite reference, made on May 9, 1669, addresses the fact that Samuel sometimes wore two waistcoats (a style which you can see referenced in our Pinterest Board: How to Wear a Waistcoat):
Thence towards the Park, but too soon to go in, so went on to Knightsbridge, and there eat and drank at “The World’s End,” where we had good things, and then back to the Park, and there till night, being fine weather, and much company, and so home, and after supper to bed. This day I first left off both my waistcoats by day, and my waistcoat by night, it being very hot weather, so hot as to make me break out, here and there, in my hands, which vexes me to see, but is good for me.'
The Dandy Movement of the 1760’s was established in London by a group of aristocratic English gentlemen who, following a trip to Italy, were greatly influenced by the elaborate and flamboyant fashions favoured by the Italians which included layer upon layer of elaborate silks, gold embroidery, buckles, stockings and red shoes! As with all fashionable groups they had to name themselves, thus the Macaroni Club, and the look that they championed, was formed. As with the young, influential ‘IT’ girls of today, this clique had a very profound influence upon fashionable London. In fact, they were so influential that the American patriotic song "Yankee Doodle” even refers to them: "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”
Fastforward a century, where English men were almost never seen without their waistcoat. It was a sign of poor taste or even considered "undressed” to be seen without one. Waistcoats were made in all textiles (according to your budget) and museum pieces include waistcoats of silk, wool, linen and cotton. When adorned, they were painted, embroidered, quilted, brocaded and even finished with silver or gold lacing and buttons. They became the centre piece of a man’s wardrobe. However, it was during the middle and later years of the 18th Century that the old world and its ideas began to pass away through a series of revolutions. The new ideas of freedom, liberty, equality and self determination were at the forefront of the minds of millions of people around the globe and spurned history shifting unrest including the American Revolution (1760−1791), The French Revolution of 1789 and The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804).
During the Restoration, it is clear that clothing is influenced by societal changes. However, as a result the 18th Century Revolutions, the new ideas of equality and also the fear of the upper classes of flauniting their wealth, the waistcoat became less elaborate and more utilitarian. Again, a societal shift signified a change of fashion and the place of the waistcoat. Now less flamboyant, the waistcoat moved into the background with the outer coat taking centre stage. It became much more of a foundation garment and a practical one: i.e., a place to keep one’s essential timepiece.
Having gone through many revolutions of change, the waistcoat has arrived at is modern day incarnation through the influence of the most famous Dandy of all, George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell. As a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, Brummell occupied an influential place in society. Somewhat of a minimalist, Brummell shunned the elaborate and ornate fashions of the London and Oxford set for a more toned down, crisp look based on dark coat jackets and full length trousers (rather than stockings and breeches). His look was sharper, subtler, more sober and more conservative than any looks that had been seen in the fashionable cities of the world. Thus, the modern two-piece suit and three-piece suits (with the addition of the waistcoat making frequent appearances) were born, and that is how it has remained for over 250 years.