Do you remember reading Casuals as a teen and wondering what the “dressing down phase” was all about? Why would you dress down when you wanted everyone to know that your jumper was Stone Island? Ah, kids, eh?
I don’t know if we’ve all actually grown up or whether it’s a return of “dressing down” being popular, but brand-less basics and simple looks seem to be king. Alongside workwear, anyway.
To be honest, this isn’t the place for a socio-cultural essay about the effects of the longest recession ever known and prolonged Tory government on working class fashion sense. It can all be said, in my own opinion, as simply as this: well made basics make getting dressed, whilst feeling like you look alright, dead easy. And they’re comfortable.
Step up, Form&Thread’s founder, Richard Jeal.
Proper: How are you?
Richard: Good. Tired, but good . We’ve just finished up on our first physical retail space. A three week pop-up on Earlham Street, Covent Garden. I’m not used to working on my feet all day everyday, so three weeks straight of it and running the day-to-day on top has wiped me out. I’ve certainly now got a new found respect for people that are on a shop floor every day!
Ha! Lazy get. Enjoyable though? Meet any good folk?
Yeah, it was great meeting some of the people who have shopped with us over the past few months and people who weren’t familiar with us. The most encouraging thing was the reaction from people to what we’re doing.
Good stuff. Where are you from and where are you at?
Geographically, I’m from London. Born here and grew up in and around London. I started F&T last year working part-time out of my flat in Islington, and have been focusing on it full time for almost a year now. My background’s in retail so this felt like a natural progression for me. I spent a number of years as a Buyer for COS
And then more recently I worked with Albam.
Who’s with you at Form&Thread?
Form&Thread is mainly myself and Chris, a friend of mine who’s based in New York. He’s a web developer and looks after that part of what we do.
How do you know each other?
We’ve been friends for a while from working on some projects before. When I came up with the idea of doing this Chris was based in London, but then got moved across to NY before we launched. It works OK though – we manage to catch up a few times a week.
That’s a cool link – can we come to the pop-up in New York?
We’d actually love to do that at some point so there might be an invite in the post!
Beyond that another friend works with me on pattern cutting and creating specs, and then it’s pretty much friends and family who help me out with different elements of what we’re doing. We’re still very new and still very much in the working for favours zone.
Sounds like a good group to work with though. What lead you to starting up?
It was an idea that was kicking around for a few years before I did anything about it. It came from how me and my friends tended to shop for clothes; we like nice quality and the same sorts of brands, but more often than not we were waiting for sales to purchase.
I thought it could be interesting to try and offer the same excellent quality of product, but at a more accessible price point. I mean really nice quality, but keeping prices down by being online and not getting too involved in wholesale.
I was working at COS at the time and we were seeing a huge increase in sales of mens socks, it was massive. Socks are pretty low cost to make too, so this seemed like a good starting point – they were popular and we didn’t have to spend too much money to get the idea up and running. We started with one sock style in 6 colours and that’s all we offered for the first 6 months.
I hadn’t mapped it out beyond socks really but wanted to maintain a tight concept that felt like an alternative, so settled on mens essentials. It felt like it competed less with what already existed – you can go and buy a Saturday night shirt from your favourite label, but if you want an excellent quality tee, sweat, twill or Oxford shirt for example, then we can offer those everyday bits, at a more inclusive price point, and all year.
Nice. Well played. Tell us about life at Albam. What was your role? What did you learn? Were you there when everyone went mad for the Fisherman’s jacket?
No, I wasn’t there for the Fisherman’s Jacket, I certainly remember it though! Iconic!
I was Buying Manager – I worked with the design team in developing and building the collection and overseeing the production of it. I learnt so much there that has really helped me since going alone. You get a completely different perspective from working with the bigger brands where it’s much more strategic and less hands on. What I took away from my time at Albam has been hugely relevant in the early stages of F&T.
So did you get any formal training in the industry?
A bit: I studied Business Management at University and did a short fashion course at Central St Martins but my training has really come through the job. I’ve done over 10 years in retail now.
So how long have you been going at F&T then?
We’ve been going since April last year but the first 6 months were really just testing the idea and developing a wider product offering
Certainly more than just socks now.
Ha – exactly, mate.
Has it been hard establishing yourself? What are the key challenges?
We were lucky enough to get some early pick up from press like Monocle, GQ, some of the papers and a few key bloggers which has really helped us, but it’s still pretty tough establishing yourself. That’s the flip side of not having a store or doing much wholesale; it takes longer to reach people. We know we’ve got a great product and a really compelling price point, but it’s communicating that quickly enough. That’s the key challenge for us now.
That’s definitely true; it’s often too hard to find reliable, long-lasting everyday items beyond the obvious outlets – or without compromising your morals and buying things made on the back of poor pay and the like. How do you see this, and Form’ panning out in the future?
Growing our offering to have a full assortment of menswear essentials. The staples that every guy should have as a basis for his wardrobe. We’re also going to focus on more pop-up spaces, so more people can have that tactile experience with the brand and understand the quality. That’s really important as we’re growing. We’ve got our next one planned in for early autumn in Leeds in the Victoria Quarter.
That’ll be good. Okay, last couple of questions. Do you have any internal rules when it comes to product design/development/choice?
We focus on using the best fabrics possible but keep design minimal and uncomplicated. We like cleanlines and minimalism as an aesthetic but this also works in our favour when it comes to prices. Keeping things unfussy helps us keep costs down and our retail prices incredible value.
What’s coming up for AW?
We don’t offer seasonal collections as such. We were keen to avoid getting sucked into that. We want our products to be season-less in the sense they’re relevant and wearable throughout the year. Using seasonal colour will be more of what we do.
But, saying that, we’ve got 6 fabrications of shirts launching in August, and we’re also working on trousers and outerwear for later this year so that could all be termed as this AW.
Last one I’ve got written down… Who do you look up to, in the fashion sense I mean, not like people who are taller than you or whatever?
has always been a hero brand of ours. They don’t seem to pander to seasonal trends. It’s great fabrics and classic, simple shapes and it works so well [Ed. Neil likes this.].
The way they transition between clothing and homeware/lifestyle products so seamlessly in store is a real inspiration too. There’s definitely been a blurring of the lines between clothing and lifestyle recently, with lots of brands and independents starting to take this approach but Margaret Howell were at the forefront of that a long time ago.
What other brands are you enjoying at the moment?
I’ve always been a big fan of Our Legacy
. They’re really smart in keeping just a few different fits and design pretty minimal and combining that with really interesting, new fabrics that make it feel like a brand re-invention each season. They do that so well.
Right, sweet. I’ll let you get back to it so you can get your feet up! What’s on the cards for the rest of the day then?
Myself and our pattern cutter are fitting the first jackets and trousers samples so we’re on that for the rest of the day. It’s great to see the products come to life so this part is always enjoyable – as long as the samples are nice that is!
Nice one. Enjoy it and let’s see you in Leeds soon, then? Cheers, Rich.
If you want to be a part of Talking Threads, get in touch with Neil or Mark.