The fashion business likes a ‘category’. The more categories the more product and the more money, hopefully. If only it was that easy.
Designers and brands like to enter a category, be it jeans, underwear or sunglasses, usually partnering with a manufacturing expert in that field, and expand their businesses one category at a time. Take Tom Ford for example, he is just about to go into underwear after mastering jeans, sunglasses, beauty and trainers, in no particular order.
Left - N/A Necessary Anywhere socks available at Oki-Ni & Harvey Nichols
Underwear is one of the biggest money spinners for brands. People will pay a premium for somebody else’s name on their waistband - not really sure why - and entire brands like Calvin Klein and Versace are built on their underwear categories. They can charge a premium for something that is cheap to make.
And while the underwear category has matured into a reliable cash cow for many, the sock business seems so much trickier. There aren’t many designers or brands who have owned the category. With the exception of Paul Smith, designers produce the odd sock for collections, but don’t fully enter or develop the category. It wasn't that long ago that Burberry pulled out of the category and they make everything.
It’s interesting how people are willing to spend on underwear, but not on socks. We do have quality sock brands such as the German Falke and the British Panterella and Corgi, but there seems to be a ceiling on the pricing. People think socks should be cheap and when brands like Vetements and Gucci do socks at high prices - think nearing three figures - they seem like one of the most frivolouss purchases you can make and are usually a one-off show piece rather than entering the category.
The branded sock market seems to fall into two categories: sports and colourful office-type socks. There’s definitely a gap for something in between. So, it was at the recent CIFF fashion trade show in Copenhagen that I found N/A from New York.
When I searched ’N/A New York’ I got plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it actually stands for ‘Necessary Anywhere’ and is influenced by the ‘everyday grind’. To the British that's walking (thought Americans didn't do that anyway!). They believe it’s vital to get up every day with the aspiration to move ourselves forward.
Founded in 2015 by Nick Lewis with six socks, these premium knit socks marry innovative textures with classic colours and patterns. When people pay for socks they usually go for something colourful and playful, N/A seems to have produced a cool sock which marries sports and fashion. They’re about £15, which, while more than your average three pack, aren’t extortionate. They fit somewhere between your smart socks and your sports socks and could, potentially, signal a new category within this difficult category.
Just as everybody seems to be turning veggie or vegan, so too are our accessorises. M.R.K.T. - Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger - is a Los Angeles-based accessories label established in 2010 by Harvard-trained architect, Tom Pen.
The designs are inspired by modern architecture and produced in materials which are carefully selected with structure, texture, and durability in mind. All of the materials are socially conscious and vegan friendly and feature vegan leather, felt and micro suede.
TheChicGeek featured one in this OOTD - here
Left - Are you a Mad Rabbit or a Kicking Tiger? Carter Backpack
Streetwear is all the rage and it seems as though everyone is trying to create their own clothing line these days. Even so, there are still plenty of streetwear designers that are making some of the most fashionable clothes this side of the catwalk and you'd be amiss not to take advantage of these exciting creators. Here are a few of the brands that you should be paying attention to if you're not already:
It felt as though this British skateboard label came out of nowhere in 2010 to quickly become one of the hottest streetwear brands on the market. Known as much for its irreverent sense of humour as it is for it incredible clothes, Palace has gone from a flash in the pan to a fashion mainstay. Palace will also be doing a new collaboration with Adidas this year, complete with fresh new shoes and a range of other apparel and accessories.
Supreme is one of the most iconic and respected skate brands out there and they continue to kill it today. The legendary box logo is a badge of honor and the company continues to put out incredibly fresh clothes year after year. It was recently revealed that the latest collaboration for Supreme would be with the legendary thrash-metal band Slayer in a collection that will include jackets, sweaters, shirts, and more based around some of the band's classic albums.
Stussy is another classic street brand that has managed to remain hip and relevant throughout the years. The brand was founded back in 1980 and it's hard to believe a 36-year-old label can stay as fashionable and with-the-times as Stussy is today. With a wide range of T-shirts, sweats, jackets, and more the name is one of the most recognised and beloved in street fashion and is a must-have for anyone trying to rock the style.
Mishka has been a hot name in the NYC underground fashion scene for some time now, but their irreverent riffs on pop culture combined with cutting edge street style has made them popular throughout the world as well. The streetwear company and record label was founded in 2003 and continues to be wildly popular in the hip-hop community with its eyeball logo keeping watch over New York's streets.
The 32-year-old Russian designer has taken the fashion world by storm, and if 2015 was when Gosha made a name for himself then 2016 is when he really took off. Rubchinskiy opened the Vetements SS16 show and shot this year's holiday campaign for Topman. His takes on classic American '90s street style is both ironic and original and the designer has established himself as one of the preeminent streewear stylists of today. Even better, Gosha's clothes are remarkably affordable for a label with such a high profile, thanks to his emphasis on being accessible to the youth trying to buy them.
‘Minimal’ men’s watches have continued their rise in popularity over the last few years with many brands offering different styles at price points to suit nearly all budgets. Simplicity and design are the key to the male modernists who fill their Instagram accounts with Brutalist concrete and tiled floors.
It’s difficult to find a perfectly balanced minimal watch, some are either too simple or not elegant enough. I think two young Glaswegian guys, Pete Sunderland and Ross Baynham, who met while studying at Glasgow Caledonian University, have found the perfect solution.
Their company, Instrmnt, make the best minimal watches I’ve seen. They have just the right amount of design, detail and movement. They also have the feel of a good quality watch, that gets better the more you use it, at a price that, while not cheap, is definitely something we can all afford.
You get to assemble the watch yourself - perfect for all those watch geeks - see below. The calf leather straps are crafted in the valleys of the Bavarian Forest, Germany and Instrmnt has their own store located on Glasgow’s Parnie street in the city's Trongate area selling other niche labels alongside their watches.
Left & Below - Instrmnt - 01-C - £180
Left - Instrmnt has their own store located on Glasgow’s Parnie street in the city's Trongate area
Anyone that gets fired up by that entrepreneurial spirit and decides to launch into the tricky world of menswear deserves a fair hearing. Daniel Gardner, 25, from Kent, has launched Brother & Gent. Moving from media publishing to brand owner, Dan wanted to combine the act of brotherly love with the manners of a gentleman. And, this new men’s accessories brand certainly has lofty aspirations.
Left - Where is all began, Dan's loft
“When I was younger I often wondered how many of these well established and respected menswear brands such as Hackett, Ted Baker, Paul Smith or Charles Tyrwhitt actually started out!? They must have started somewhere, right?.. And I’m sure all would agree there’s no way of creating such a renowned brand name, such a reputation simply overnight... “ says Dan.
Brother & Gent sells men’s accessorises, think ties, bow ties, braces, pins and tie-clips, and while the dandy look is disappearing in menswear, men always like nice things, especially when it comes to gifting. Some of the accessorises are made in England, others in Italy and even some Dan is making himself in his loft. The prices are keen, and, from what I can see, offer great value. Ambition and passion are the two things needed most when starting a business. Watch out Paul Smith!
Right - From Dan’s home county - ’Garden of England' Tie - £36
I don’t usually feature Kickstarter campaigns. I like to wait until something is concrete and there’s something to see. Otherwise, the website can become a graveyard of sartorial dreams that never quite materialised.
Left - MDN English trainers in ChicGeek 'ginger'
I met Jamie Harris from shoe brand, Modern English, at LCM, last summer, and the recent Jacket Required men’s trade show in February. He had finished product and from what I could see it looked really good.
Here's the Modern English story. Until the 70s, there were hundreds of shoe factories in England – capable of turning out almost 180 million shoes per year and the majority of shoes bought in the UK were made locally. Today, only a handful of shoemakers remain and imports account for 98% of UK shoe sales.
Founder and Creative Director, Jamie Harris, believed England's craft footwear industry could only survive if its products were relevant to today's consumers and, in 2013, Modern English was established with the intention of ‘evolving', rather than ‘preserving’ this 600 year old Northampton-based industry.
The name, Modern English, is their manifesto; everything they make will be made in England, and will be modern in its thinking. He likes to point out that “Modern English is NOT another 'Heritage Brand’".
Right - MDN English sandals in this clean, polished white
Keeping it simple, there are just 2 styles of shoes - trainers & sandals - in 6 bold colours, all made in Northampton, the home of English-made shoes.
He first produced a small run (100), because he wasn't sure how they’d be received, and they immediately sold out. He's now doing an exclusive collaboration with Natural Shoe Store which will be a limited-edition of 65 pairs and available at their stores in mid-July.
Now, he’s decided he wants to go straight to consumers and decided to start selling by Kickstarter. He’s got the factory, made the all the mistakes and, now, you can grab a pair at the remarkable price of £125. He can keep costs low because the construction of the shoe has been simplified which, I think, also adds to its physical appeal.
A pair of contemporary and stylish made in England shoes for £125? It’s definitely worth a punt.
Watch the video below
If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford bespoke shoes you may have heard of Carréducker before. Founded by James Ducker and Deborah Carré in 2004, Carréducker’s shoes are lovingly handmade in their small workshop near Holborn. These babies cost upwards of £3000 a pair and are usually found in the sartorial home of Gieves & Hawkes at No.1 Savile Row.
Left & Below - Carréducker London - Winkers - £199 in UK sizes 3 – 12
So, for us on a slightly more regular budget, Carréducker, has now launched a new accessible range called Carréducker London.
A Kickstarter success story, they’ve started with a formal slip-on slipper and plan on expanding the brand into many classic men’s styles with further Kickstarter funding.
Using existing pockets of British artisanal manufacturing to make each style, the aim is to build a steady flow of orders, breaking the peaks and troughs, and supporting the skilled local workforce throughout the year. They will make short runs of several different styles and colours, offering customers from around the world the very best of British footwear design and manufacture through their online ‘Shoe Shop’.
The first, Winker, style is made using Designers Guild upholstery fabric. Made in Sheffield in 9 colourways with different fabric finishes, they are leather-lined with a padded sock for comfort and with a leather heel and sole.
TheChicGeek says, "Perfect for adding a dose of laissez-faire attitude to any outfit, the Winker is ideal for Summer and I love the use of the Designers Guild fabrics. I'll be wearing mine with a checked jacket and slim evening trousers."
Left - Coming soon - The ‘Barkan' Desert Boots