It feels like it’s been a while since Talking Threads has made an appearance, but that’s because it kind of has. To be exact, it hasn’t been on here since April 2014. So when I pitched a new feature to Neil and Mark, called Brand In Focus, Mark said, “You mean like Talking Threads?” Even the gaffers and I had sort of forgotten about it. Anyway, to get to the point, in case you hadn’t worked it out (the title is a bit of a giveaway), Talking Threads is back. And we’re starting with Mamnick.
It seems I’ve been writing about this brand from Sheffield quite a bit, recently. If you aren’t familiar or weren’t paying attention, here is a quick recap. Based in Sheffield, Mamnick produce high quality, limited edition clothing and accessories, which are mostly produced here in England; they have released over 100 products, ranging from shirts made in Japan to steel chippy forks made in Sheffield; there is a flagship store in Tokyo; and all of that has been achieved within the last three years.
I think, what makes this even more impressive is that Thom, founder-director-designer and beating heart of the company, has no background in business management, or even fashion, having previously been a full-time musician following completion of a Fine Arts degree. He makes no bones that the business has grown quickly, if perhaps a little more so than he could have dared hope.
“It’s grown really quickly,” he says. “I looked online and the first sale I made, when I set up the website, was 1st December 2012, so, yeah, I see that as Mamnick’s birthday. I just think that’s, I dunno, quite an accomplishment and I guess it’s all going to plan.” Though he concedes, “not that we have much of a plan.”
This low-key attitude, in the light of such rapid growth, is clearly typical of Thom and what his brand stands for. The company ethos is ‘one thing at a time – as beautiful as possible’, with the idea being that the end product will be as good as it can possibly be.
With all of this in mind, I arranged to get him on the phone to complete what has got to go down as one of the most relaxed interviews in history. Squeezing us in between delivering products (which he dyed himself) to a local manufacturer and an appointment with a specialist to look at his recently broken collarbone – suffered during a cycling accident involving a stray chicken – we had an in depth chat about his brand and his process.
Paul– How fast were you going?
Thom– Probably about 30mph. My mate broke 10 ribs, punctured his lung and broke his collarbone, and I just came away with a broken collarbone. It’s not that bad to be honest, shock kind of takes hold when it happens, and I’ve fallen off my bike that many times, you just kind of get used to getting back on and limping home.
P- He won’t have done, you know, with a punctured lung and that?
T– No, I knew something wasn’t right and he wasn’t even really moving, so we ended up having to get an ambulance, but it’s not the end of the world. They ended up having to put me on gas and air and that was quite funny. I haven’t had to have an operation, I’ve just had to rest it, but it’s been a bugger for doing the postage; I’ve had to get our lass in to help. I’m back typing and can write on the compliment slips and stuff… I’m still waiting for her to wash some pots though!
P– What else is on this week apart from visiting the specialist?
T- There are a few bits of post because I’m putting some stuff in the Baracuta store in London. Just some chip forks, hip flasks and cardholders for Christmas, but got a bit of a wholesale order going there. Kevin Stone, the bloke who’s running that shop, kind of picked up on my brand when it was just a logo and a money clip. I guess he must have always had an eye on it and then 2-3 years later he said, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind putting some stuff in the Baracuta shop.” So, I’ve got all that to package up and some womenswear stuff is complete today, but I’ll probably pick that up tomorrow.
It’s all just working towards Christmas. I’ve done a few more sales recently; I think people are starting to wake up to the idea that Christmas is just around the corner. So, yeah, bits of postage and erranding really… I dyed a load of zips last night to go inside these women’s capes. So, I need to take them over to the factory and make sure everything works out.
(This ‘womenswear stuff’ referred to is something that the label is branching into. Partly because there is a probable niche in the market for high quality, limited, made in England clothing for women, but mainly because Thom finds it “interesting”.)
P- Is that a riding cape?
T- Err, no, not specifically. It’s got that kind of aesthetic to it but I just wanted to try and do something for women that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Like, I dunno, just looking at pieces that were a bit more peculiar. I came up with this idea to design this kimono [an earlier Mamnick women’s piece], which is now complete. Then, I had this fabric woven that is very Mamnick; it’s got these peaks all over it but it doesn’t actually involve the logo as such. So this cape is a bit more like a 1950s style, but, again, there’s not really anybody doing that kind of thing and the more I’ve looked into it, there isn’t really that many – or I’ve not come across any – women’s brands that are pushing that premium quality, made in England product. Every time I try and do something, I don’t want repeat what is already going out into the market anyway, so, I just try and respond to that.
P– That’s good ‘cause (excluding high fashion et cetera) you tend to get either real, real mass produced stuff for women or just like vintage-y/second hand type things, so I bet you could tap into a real market there…
T- Yeah, I guess so but the thing is I don’t want to just move where the money is. It’s… I’ve got to try and keep it interesting for myself. It could be quite easy to do a vintage style woman’s blouse or something but I thought, ‘if I’m gonna do it, I wanna do it in an interesting way’. I do feel like there are probably a lot of my existing customers – male customers – who might think, ‘that’d be nice to buy for me girlfriend’. We’ll just see how it goes. I’m only doing really small runs, just to see what happens.
P- Yeah, sound, I get that and I think you’re right. So back to dying these zips; you’re physically doing the manufacturing as well then?
T- Well, it’s not my factory; I just work closely with one of the factories – so much so that the guy’s become a bit of a friend. Well, he was a friend before I was manufacturing clothes and the more we talked about stuff, I twisted his arm to make stuff for me. He rides [a] bike as well, so he’s become a bit of a friend and a mentor, I suppose. We’d been throwing ideas about and we came across all these dead-stock chuck brass zips, and it just so happens that it’s going to work with this cape I’ve designed.
P- Who’s there then, is it just yourself, doing everything?
T- Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m just sat in my house at the minute, I’ll go to my studio later today but it can be a bit cold in there, so I thought, ‘we may as well just have this chat in the comfort of me own house’.
(At this point, I can hear Thom’s spoon rattling in his cereal bowl.)
T- My girlfriend designs jewellery and we’ve started doing a bit of it for Christmas, but I’m not really sure if… because other stuff has kind of taken hold, I’m not sure if we are going to get it complete [in time for Christmas]. But, that’s another thing that is opening up to women; three-piece sets of jewellery, and I’ve just started working on a woman’s work jacket. So, I don’t know, if that kicks a bit, it might be nice to let her look after that and I can just stay involved more on the men’s side and I can focus on just designing clothing, accessories, and shoes and stuff.
P- Did she do – or help do – the watch with INSTRMNT?
T- No, no, that was just with INSTRMNT. Obviously, there’s dialogue as she’s into design but she hasn’t sat there on illustrator or whatever, if you know what I mean?
P- Sure, so you kinda do it all from design, to a bit of the physical manufacturing, to being hands on at the factory production bit?
T- Mmm-yeah. Well, the steel stuff; I work with a bloke who, again, I dream the ideas up and he kind of makes them a reality. Before I started doing Mamnick, I didn’t really know that much about properties of steel and that. Obviously, I knew about the history of it and ‘Sheffield Steel’, but I didn’t actually know that much about it, because he works with it every day and he owns a factory, obviously, he taught me loads. Sometimes, I’ll have ideas and he’ll go, ‘Oh, you could do it this way…’ and we go with that. Like I’m doing these – do you know an A-Head stem on a bike?
T- You know… a modern bike stem?
P- Oh, yeah, yeah course.
T- Well, I’ve started developing this stainless steel cap where you can have your own customised versions done. We’ve come up with this idea using magnets because I’ve wanted to use magnets for ages, but I didn’t know what product I could use them on without just doing a magnet pin or something like that. So, that’s something where I have thought up the idea and drawn up some plans, and he’s gone and fully engineered it, and then almost proposed it back to me. So it looks like Mamnick is a one-man band – and in a way, it is because it’s my brand and it’s all trademarked to me – but there are definitely a lot of other people that play quite a vital role, probably like most brands I suspect?
I don’t like just going to these factories and being like, ‘Oh, I’ll buy X amount of these off you’, I like to try and develop a relationship with them and you can start experimenting with them and, for instance, doing stuff like getting buttons dyed and getting them marked in the way the factory aren’t necessarily used to… kind of pushing them out of their comfort zone without irritating them, really. I don’t know, I think it’s quite exciting to see that, if you can communicate your idea well – which is something I struggle with! – then it’s interesting to see what some places can do, do you know what I mean? Like some place might be set up exclusively to sell and dye buttons but if I go in and I’m like, ‘Can we try using your dying vats for these zips?’ or, like, ‘Can we dip dye all this fabric in the dye you normally use for dying buttons?’ They can be quite excited by that.
P- I was gonna say, they’ll like that surely?
T- I’ve found that people I’ve met have been up for it and quite liked it. Though at the same time, I’m sure they are privately thinking they are set up for one particular product and ‘time is money’; they don’t want to waste time fucking about dying fabric for you when they’ve got an order to process over 20,000 buttons for John Smedley. That’s one of the reasons I try to do one product at a time; it’s too difficult to try and get a full collection together in the way I want to work.
P- Whilst still ensuring you keep the quality up, keep control…
T- That’s it. And I just think it keeps it interesting. I think I put it on my twitter the other day…that’s a funny one.
P- What is, twitter?
T- Yeah, I sometimes don’t know what to put on twitter without sounding like a dick.
P- Ha-ha, yeah…
T- Ha yeah, anyway, to me, limited edition is still quite an important thing. Like, for example, the tapestry Sheen jacket you featured, there’s only been x18 of those manufactured so, maybe, in five years time, or whatever, it might be something that is quite sought after. I’m just going back into how I think about certain jackets, where you wait for them to come up on eBay, or a forum, or whatever; I’ve got one eye on building the brand in that way. So it’s all purposely still quite limited and if people know that, it might hold its value a bit more than if it’s mass-produced, and that’s another reason to like it. It’s difficult though, innit, ‘cause, at the end of the day, its just clothes. I can sit here and because I’ve got this brand I can theorize it all and try and make it sound more worthy because I’m right close to it all, and personally involved, but then sometimes, you do have to remind yourself that it’s just a shirt, it’s just a jacket and not everybody wants to spend all their disposable income on clothing. You can try and keep it interesting – which is important – but you’ve got to remain grounded that you’re not like, I don’t know, saving lives or anything; you’re just making clothes for other people who like clothes.
P- I think we said that before, on twitter actually, that’s all it boils down to and you can over complicate it. But then that’s a weird paradox because here we are, chatting about clothes for a clothing magazine…
T- Ha! Yeah, that’s it and I don’t want have too higher an ambition when it comes to it all but I’ve been reading a lot about Massimo Osti and how producing clothing can transform into something else. Reading about some of the stuff he did with his brands, I like how innovative they were, so, you never know; you talk about it like it’s just clothes but at the same time you can still influence yourself into a wider audience – into producing art or whatever – in due course, but you just won’t realise you’re doing it when its happening, I suppose. It’s just one of those things; it’s weird, innit? My background’s not fashion, not at all. I can’t cut a pattern; I just design using pen and paper. I could go to St. Martins and see them designing all this fantastic and amazing stuff – that’s actually great – but you need a certain level of pragmatism when it comes to producing stuff, and I feel like I’ve struck that balance between finding stuff that’s wearable and limited and made in England… but I don’t really know what I’m doing.
P- ‘One thing at a time’ is what you’re doing, isn’t it?
T- Yeah, yeah, that’s it.
P- So, three years of one thing at a time… and one store in Tokyo… will there be on in England?
T- Not anytime soon. I just see it as a ball and chain, to be honest, because I like riding [the] bike that much that having a shop somewhere feels a bit like it would just do my head in. I don’t want it to become too common anyway. We’re only 3 years in – we are still in our infancy. Maybe I’ve got it completely wrong though and I should be trying to make it grow really quickly, when I look at other brand’s stories, maybe I should be milking the cash cow, so to speak.
P- It wouldn’t be the same though, would it?
T- That’s it. There’s something about the brand and the way I’m doing it which makes it appealing, rather than if I had a shop here and a shop in Manchester, and if I were making, say, 300 pieces instead of 18, it’d all be different to the customer. It wouldn’t make me want to go and buy it… but I’m a right snob, so maybe I’m completely wrong.
P- ‘Chasing the cash cow’ doesn’t seem what you’re about as a person anyway…
T- No, I’d rather have time than money, to be honest. Normally, when my collarbone isn’t broken, I can be pretty flexible and keep on top of emails and orders whilst I’m on the move and work from anywhere – apart from when it comes to actually shipping products.
P- Can’t you ask your next door neighbour to do it?
T- …my next-door neighbour is a bit of a dick though.
P- Ha-ha, I won’t include that.
T- You can. It’s true… but, yeah, neighbours. Let’s not get into that.
P- I know exactly what you mean. Anyway, what’s next up, product wise?
T- Err, yeah…well, there’re some new knives coming. I sold out of the small Everyday knives that I did and then I couldn’t get them reproduced because the Mester, who made them, he died, sadly. So I’ve had to start again with the knives from scratch and they’re gonna be a lot more expensive, unfortunately. But they really are a proper knife, rather than just a little flick knife that sits in your pocket. This one is a bit more of something that you can take into a club and kill someone with (just kidding). So, there’s that, the womenswear and a little pocket square… I’ve done those with this really good artist who has been working with Nike and we’re doing that together. What else is there? Oh, yeah, I’m doing another smock. I’ve had all this linen, like, proofed and waxed and its gonna be kinda based on an old WWII smock; its not something you see so often – waxed linen – with some nice buttons and finishing, but that’ll be in the New Year. I think I’m going to be doing some new shoes with the company in Northampton, who did those others one.
P- That’s a lot. How long is it roughly from initial conception to something being for sale on your site?
T- Well, it depends. Some stuff will be quite quick like that Sheen jacket; that was a quick turnaround as, once I had sourced the fabric, it was the same patterns as another jacket so had a quick turnaround from the factory. But then again, I’ve got a couple of mediums left in the studio and all the others sold out via my Instagram before I’ve even been able to get them photographed properly. I’m also doing something with Kenneth (Mackenzie, 6876) and that’s been going on for around three months now.
P- What’s that then? Can you say yet?
T- Well, Kenneth is releasing his own product – this pack-away lite-jacket for bike rides and running that can be just thrown on in a light shower etc. – and then I’ve kind of played around with it and made it more appropriate for being on the bike; pockets on the back, two way zipper, stuff like that. We’ll re-do it as a collaboration. Because I work with all different factories and that, it feels like I’ve got loads going on. I’ve got 5 new pieces coming from Japan soon; a chesterfield jacket, a work jacket and another run of the Weston collarless over shirt in the Donegal tweed that’s appeared on the Monyash overshirt. There’s always something happening, so it’s sometimes hard to keep track without looking in my diary.
P- So, ‘one thing at a time’ then, apart from when there are loads of things to be done at once?
T- Ha-ha, yeah, exactly.