The words don’t just write themselves, you know. Next year will be pretty much 20 years since we started doing things under the name of Proper. Back at the beginning we just liked trainers and coats. We had no designs on making our fanzine and website into anything like a job. But here we are, running a brand, writing a magazine, working with brands we love. Everything always changes, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But Proper remains committed to the same progressive outlook we began with. Evidence of that can be seen in our latest printed magazine.
Progress hasn’t been easy to achieve in the last couple of years. Brands and retailers have been pushed over the edge and it’s fair to say the fashion industry has changed forever. As everyone fixes their focus forwards, progress is once again on the agenda. To the uninitiated, twice a year brands and retailers come together to see if they still like each other. It’s like speed dating but with clothes. Tradeshow season takes place in January and July, and it’s an opportunity for the industry to come together, do a bit of business and generally keep the cogs of menswear turning.
One such tradeshow is Welcome Edition. Headed up by Mark Batista, it takes place this coming week and represents the first time many of the UK’s best independent brands will get to return to some degree of normality.
Ahead of this, we fired Mark some questions about the challenging times we’ve experienced and how he’s kept himself busy. If you’re an industry type, you’ll know a bit about this. If you’re not, enjoy a little look behind the curtain.
First of all, we’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Has this been the most testing period in your working life?
Yes, definitely. Just as I thought we were getting through it, Omicron properly blindsided us. I remember the 911 terror attacks and the banking crisis being pretty worrying times but nothing has really ever come close to seeing every single store we work with have to close their doors.
Can you imagine how we’d have managed if this had happened even ten years ago? Technology saved us, didn’t it?
I mean I have tried to imagine how I might have dealt with it as a kid. We had 3 TV channels, a Donkey Kong game and a landline (that our mum never let us use) to communicate with the outside world. If you’d told me back in the 80’s that at some time in the future we would be ordered to stay at home but would have zoom calls, online shopping, Uber Eats/Deliveroo, Netflix, PS5 I would have been more than happy to spend 3 months confined to my bedroom.
You’ve got Brand Progression sales agency, plus a retail arm of that, plus Welcome Edition and Progress Running Club. How important had it been to have a number of different things going on?
The agency pretty much ground to a halt from early March to mid-May and we had to take Welcome Edition online only. It left me with a huge amount of time on my hands compared to how I usually spent my days working flat out prior to lockdown, and that is when I launched the Brand Progression online store and started coming up with designs for Progress Running Club.
Tell us how Progress Running Club came about?
I was running a lot, almost every day. those runs sorted me out mentally and I felt I could think much clearer detached from the white noise of lockdown. I began to imagine how I could keep a connection with friends around the world that were also experiencing difficulties and were in the same situation. ‘Progress’ as an abbreviation of ‘Brand Progression’ kept popping into my head along with the idea of a global virtual running club where we could support each other and share a bit of banter on a daily basis. The first t-shirt design was inspired by the feeling I had first time I took part in the London Marathon. I remembered thousands of us running over tower bridge to the sound of music, everyone smiling, happy and I began to see so many similarities between running and when we used to rave back in the early 90’s. From there it began to gather some momentum and we now find ourselves in a the weird but nice position exploring production on fully technical running gear.
To the uninitiated, can you explain what Brand Progression is? Not all our readers are in the industry so might not be aware of how stuff comes to fruition.
It is a wholesale, business to business agency I set up back in 1998 with the intention of introducing difficult-to-find international brands to the UK market. We would take a sample set of each brand and show it to the stores we wanted to work with. They would place their orders and then we arrange for the deliveries to arrive. 24 years later and the agency has quite likely the best brand lineup ever (Baracuta, Bhode, East Pacific Trade, Far Afield, Filson, Fracap, Good On, Hestra, Hikerdelic, Kestin, La Paz, Portuguese Flannel, Sanders, Sandqvist, Spiewak)….and we have had some decent ones.
Going back to technology, is there anything from the pre-internet era you miss when it comes to the fashion industry?
I miss when if you wanted to buy a particular brand you couldn’t just google it and the only option was to travel to just a handful of stores that would stock these hard-to-find items. It became a bit of a mission and getting your hands on something no one else had was always the challenge. I always had big love for Stuarts (still going strong), Woodhouse (Oxford Street), Bond International, Fly, Dr Jives, Hideout, The Duffer of St George, Passenger, American Classics (still going strong), Graduate to name a few.
Welcome Edition in Paris almost happened this month, only to be scuppered by restrictions coming back in. Surely it’s going to happen in the summer?
It was so close, and I honestly thought we would make it this time. We were exactly 1 month away before the French government imposed travel restrictions and that was that. 5 months and counting until June Paris men’s fashion week and I’m keeping fingers tightly crossed.
And finally, most importantly what are you wearing today?
Carhartt x Mr Porter Canadian sweater collab, Levis Vintage Jacket, Champion tee, Universal Works chinos and Converse 70’s
Find out more about Brand Progression, Welcome Edition, and Progress Running Club.