Menswear Style Podcast

James Cowdale, Head of Brand at &SONS

July 08, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 72
Menswear Style Podcast
James Cowdale, Head of Brand at &SONS
Chapters
Menswear Style Podcast
James Cowdale, Head of Brand at &SONS
Jul 08, 2020 Episode 72
Menswear Style

&SONS clothing, founded by Phil James, is the brainchild of a group of like-minded craftspeople who make their living from taking and shaping superb visual imagery. That close attention to detail and style has now been applied to clothing. The brand is proud to support innovation while valuing the skills of artisans where hard-won expertise is passed on from one generation to the next. That’s why they take such care over the design and manufacture of their clothing, using only the finest natural materials combined with the greatest craftsmanship. These are garments built to stand the test of time. The &SONS project is the creation of a range of unique workwear clothing designed by and for craftspeople, artisan makers and creative pioneers in their chosen fields of endeavour.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview James Cowdale, Head of Brand at &SONS, and talk about how he came to be involved with launching a fashion label with award-winning photographer Philip James. Neither had worked with clothing before, but both had worked within the creative industries helping to launch other peoples’ brands. When James was asked to assist with the branding he quickly became obsessed with the brand and wanted to be more involved, which is where their partnership began. Our host Peter Brooker and James also chat about how the brand name was chosen, launching on Kickstarter, the target demographic, manufacturing in Britain, leveraging social media for growing brand identity, and their forthcoming workwear heritage range.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Show Notes Transcript

&SONS clothing, founded by Phil James, is the brainchild of a group of like-minded craftspeople who make their living from taking and shaping superb visual imagery. That close attention to detail and style has now been applied to clothing. The brand is proud to support innovation while valuing the skills of artisans where hard-won expertise is passed on from one generation to the next. That’s why they take such care over the design and manufacture of their clothing, using only the finest natural materials combined with the greatest craftsmanship. These are garments built to stand the test of time. The &SONS project is the creation of a range of unique workwear clothing designed by and for craftspeople, artisan makers and creative pioneers in their chosen fields of endeavour.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview James Cowdale, Head of Brand at &SONS, and talk about how he came to be involved with launching a fashion label with award-winning photographer Philip James. Neither had worked with clothing before, but both had worked within the creative industries helping to launch other peoples’ brands. When James was asked to assist with the branding he quickly became obsessed with the brand and wanted to be more involved, which is where their partnership began. Our host Peter Brooker and James also chat about how the brand name was chosen, launching on Kickstarter, the target demographic, manufacturing in Britain, leveraging social media for growing brand identity, and their forthcoming workwear heritage range.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Unknown:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the mentor style podcast. I'm your host Pete broker. And on this episode I'm going to be speaking to James Couto, he is the brand strategist head of brand for and sons and let me give you a little spiel on and sons. The sons project is the creation of a range of unique workwear clothing designed by and for crafts people, artisan makers and creative pioneers in their chosen fields of endeavour. And that's from their website adsense code at UK I implore you to go and check out the brand have a look at the wonderful imagery one thing that really spoke to me about this brand and we'll get into that in the interview is all the fantastic lifestyle imagery and videos that they have on their site. So that interview of James coming up shortly before that make sure you're checking out menswear style dot Koto, UK, we'll put all the show notes over there, stay up to date with the latest trends, fashion articles, and one of the best ways to do that is of course, follow us on the social just punch in men's wear style on your smartphone there and will turn up Instagram, Twitter, all the usual places and faces. Okay, so Oh, I forgot to mention if you want to get in touch with the show, maybe you want to tell us about your journey and your brand. Email us at info at menswear. style.co.uk Okay. Let's get into that interview of James. Now we're going to jump straight in at the start. He's going to talk about Philip James, who is the creative founder, unfortunately, he can be on the call with us. So if you hear Philips names mentioned, that's who he's referring to. But you'll get the drift. Here we go. I'll start with the backstory, I guess in that. And it's a rather strange with both another fellow I are from the industry. As such, we both run agencies, I run a branding agency, a creative agency, and Phil is runs a production studio. So CGI moving imagery in stills. So the two of us had a working relationship and a personal relationship for a number of years worked together on some some great projects. I loved what he did. And likewise, we sort of shared a similar creative approach and style to what we were doing. But it was very much Phil's field idea. This was Phil's kind of he called it his midlife crisis at one point, but it was an opportunity for him based purely out of frustration and need really, he you know, he enjoys fashion, he likes fashion, but he's, you know, he was a his job you required him to be, you know, working in Studios on location, and, you know, very physical work very demanding of the clothes that he was wearing. So we adopted that workwear kind of heritage style anyway, but find himself looking around 10 or so different websites to get this look. And just thought to himself, there must be must be a better way of doing this, there must be a brand out there, that's that's almost curating this look that he could he could buy from and there wasn't. So this is where the entire thing began. The name itself was inspired by an old mechanic sign that he saw one day where the name of the family name had dropped off. And there was just the Amazons remaining. Yeah, and that's what sparked it. But it sparked the name, the name that it's almost an anchor, and from with my branding hat on, this really was quite an exciting proposition because you could collaborate with others, you could add another name into the mix, and it would be something and son. So the very nature of the brand, early on was was this idea of collaboration and working with others. So the answer his name was great for that. And it you know, it kind of led to so many different things that we've done, but it was four years ago now that we that we launched, we launched through Kickstarter, initially. So we managed to raise 50,000 through the crowdfunding channel. And you created a relatively small database of potential customers who was in target. So it was well, we well, we actually reached over but we hit the our target was 50,000. And we were raised just over that in the end. So we you know, it was a it was a tough, it was a tough campaign. Very nerve racking. I'm not sure if you've ever done anything like you. I've spoken about it on the podcast before I've done some notorious fails, but I'd be interested to know what ingredients you had or you you implemented that made this campaign a success? Well, I think it's largely down to the fact we've been very fortunate in that both of our studios have always created the the assets, the the the the content, you know, the the media that we've used throughout all of our marketing channels. And it's very beautiful. You know, we've got Phil's an award winning photographer, like I said, the production studio do all the editing of the videos, and obviously with the my agency then handle all the creative. So I think we had a very lucky or very good starting point, really, and that the brand was able to look and feel more polished and more more engaging than than I think a startup typically would. So the content that we put forward on Kickstarter was was Phil talking about his passion for the, for the brand and what he wanted it to achieve. And I think that that struck a chord, and I think it was very timely, I think there was, there's been an element of, you know, within the certainly within the fashion world where I think guys have a certain have a certain look, in a certain even age, are kind of underrepresented, really, in many ways. who, you know, who've gone through, I've always been followers of fashion, but come to a point in their life where, you know, they don't want to follow trends, they find a look that they like, and they want to stick with it. So I think it was it was timely, I think we aimed it and you know, marketed towards the right, the right people. And typically, people within the creative sector make a huge part of our, you know, of our demographic and our audiences. Because for obvious reasons, you know, it's, it's, it's kind of if you've looked through the website, it's clothing that, you know, does look good, but it's incredibly comfortable to wear, you could wear it through the day and even go out for the evening. And, and not have to change, you know, it's a very versatile range of clothing. So I think, yeah, the timeliness of it. But also there was it felt to me as though there was a gap. Certainly, when Phil came to me with the project, initially, just to do the branding, just to say, look, can you help me out, I'm launching this menswear brand. And I was so into it, I said, Look, I'd love to be I'd love to be more involved. So that's how the partnership began. But I felt for me even that I was at that age where our time poor, and you know, the thing some success from the agency, so I had a disposable income I could I enjoy fashion, I enjoy spending money on fashion. And, and it just it just immediately resonated with me. So I you know, it gave me my look. And a lot of guys speak to us that say, I finally found my look, once they once they bought from and some Yeah, that's great. And it's only with a certain maturity, do you like perhaps I mean, I'm in my 40s now that you develop your own real sense of style. I think a lot of people have it when they're younger as well, like people that may be ahead of the game, or Yeah, they're trying to really distinguish themselves. So they'll perhaps go a little bit too crazy with their were just to get that identity. But you almost settled down into a nice smooth gear when you hit your 40s I certainly have where I don't really dress to stand out or get, you know, people to have a spotlight on me, I dress for utility. I dress for comfort, but I also dress to have a certain uniqueness as well. So it's not logo driven is not like something that you typically see everybody else wear. I don't know if a lot of other guys find that gear as well in life, the people that I speak to my friends do, but it certainly seems like something that you can find with an sons. Yes, certainly, I think you've hit the nail on the head that that's exactly what I think there is, I'm sure that there could be almost a curve drawn for the men's or a guy's lifestyle of fashion outfits from their 20s. But the midlife crisis is interesting. So I don't I think I had that sometime early in my late 20s. Now I think the the midlife crisis thing is what Phil would call it, but it he'd spent, he'd spent many, many years in the industry working for clients working for some huge clients on on photoshoots. And likewise for me, you know, running in the agency building helping clients to build brands. And it came to a point driven largely by this, this want to create a fashion line but, but also to do something for ourselves to use all the things that we've learned over the years and experience that we had to apply it to a company of our own as opposed to maybe doing it for somebody else. And that turning point. You know, it wasn't it wasn't early on, you know, the Kickstarter success was great. And it allowed us to, you know, to to launch the collection. But it was been a hard slog, you know, it's been four years of blood, sweat and tears learning an entirely new trade, fulfil, you know, designing, he designs, every item that we have, has an idea and a vision and a sketch. And that's how it begins. But, you know, working with factories, working with producers, both in the UK and abroad, you know that that in itself is a huge, it's a it's a huge job. And he's and he's done it very well and learn a lot. So it's been a it's been a learning curve for four years. But I think now we're at that stage where we certainly know our own identity. And it is a case of going back to those roots. Why do we In the first place and understanding that every garment has to have a purpose, it has to do more than just look good. And you've raised the point there that you've hit a certain stage in your life where I think you are more discerning you are you at your expectations of a garment, you know, you have much more of it, you you know, look at fast fashion and look at some of the other brands that are producing relatively low quality gear, charging extortionate prices for it. And for us, you know, we feel our, our customers there, they've got more about the, you know, they want to invest in clothing. And that's kind of what our collection is, it's a, it's just, it's a range of very, almost, you know, kind of wardrobe essentials, you know, the layering, which is a huge part of it, is being able to layer up, you know, for colder climates, but also if you're dressing up, but it's a almost a, what we call it the manual for life. But the collection is effectively a modular system of clothing that you compare with other items and create this look is it's almost like a Haynes manual of fashion men don't have to call it that. But and I think you do reach a point in your life, it was something that I wanted to get back to that you said that, at that age where, yeah, well, you just want to settle down a little bit with your clothing, but still have a very defined look. And and I think, you know, ansons is understated. We don't we don't put a huge amount of designing and graphic elements into our clothing. I think it's it's not about pushing the brand back there. It's about having something that people people feel good and feel comfortable wearing. And that's always been the ethos. Yeah. And while the, the products look great, and I was gonna mention that, it seems like a very British brand as well. So yeah, that's upon the garments are made in the UK, which ones are and which ones are made elsewhere. I know the denim and you source from like the northern Mills, Blackburn denim and stuff like that. And those let's drill down a little bit on the salvaged denim that you've got on the site. Yeah, so this is this is not my, this is not my forte. Obviously, the products designed and commissioned by Phil. But yes, the denim has been a huge thing for us. We originally made denim through one of our Turkish manufacturers, and Turkish denim is great. But we've always wanted to, within reason, and obviously something that's commercially viable, is create an entirely British range. And that's not that common, is it? I mean, so typically, a lot of people, or a lot of brands, outsource production, just to keep the cost down on a lot of their guns. Yeah, how important was it for you guys to make sure that this was a British product? massively. I mean, like I said, Phil's Phil's vision has always been to have an entirely British range, you know, an entire collection purely, purely made here in the UK, commercially, if you looked at it, the bare bones of it, it's not, but it's not about that it was for us, working with small independent producers, and creating so the sort of collections that we're all certain runs that we're doing, are really small, you know, we're not we're making hundreds of garments and some of these some of these pieces, because it's that for us, they, they support the brand, as opposed to being more of a commercial, you know, commercial venture, if that makes sense. Yeah. And, you know, the, the process of going through them and making that alone has been, it's been intense. But we you know, even even down to Phil insisting that they were made on union special machines, you know, they were to be made in the most traditional way possible. And, yeah, it was a huge is a huge part. So that that was our, our first the cutters, and the Rockers, which are our black salvage, both in a 14 as they saw 12 nights, and they you know, both both made here in the UK. And we will continue to do that. But we do them in very small runs. So we're not, you know, they aren't part of our big collection, they are, they are very much done. And they will always go through some design changes, or new additions. So we have, you know, new styles coming out and new and new stuff coming along. And we'd like to do more than them. Something that we're talking about for hopefully for autumn winter, which is a bit of a, I guess a look behind the scenes, is a hardware range we've called it for now is a work in a work in progress, but it's going to be going back to, you know, vintage bottoms, very heavyweight fabrics, denims and canvases and even maybe a tin cloth and going and going to do a fully fledged, you know, work wear range or heritage range that you know we've not done before. That's something that we're doing hope we're hoping to do for autumn winter this year. A lot of the garments are I'm checking out on the site, you mentioned that they have a limited run, they almost feel like you can buy them and have them as collector's pieces later down the road. But yeah, they also look fantastic. Some of the like the the twists that you would do on the Pico, for example, with all the additional details that you might not get on a conventional Pico, the vinyl patches on the back of the elbows and the belts, etc. So there's Yeah, seems like there's just a lot of loves that go into each garment a huge amount, I mean, Phil will lock himself in a room for four weeks when he's doing this sketching and putting ideas around. And, and, and like I said, early on, every product has to have a purpose, it cannot just be for the sake of creating the Pico or, you know, a pair of jeans, I mean, the jeans alone, they've got the cinch straps around the the ankles, they've got secondary pockets that show that your pockets we lovingly called it is the it's an inner pocket that can come out from the from the front of the gene. And it was driven by the fact that Phil would spend all day shooting, he'd have lens caps in his in his gene pockets, his wife would also his wife forget may have to scrap that she's sorry, he would, he was mistresses. So he would wash his jeans, or whatever, you know, him or his wife would wash your teeth for sounded very sexist. And would would be so frustrated by the fact that they were they were full of lens caps. So the jaw pocket was there to you know, to him to use whilst on shoots to put put these, these lens caps in and be accessible. And since we find, you know, we've had barber shops by them, we've had even restaurants and bars and have used them for for, you know, putting pens and notepads in to use for the for the for the staff, it's been, again, is it they have to have a purpose, they have this sort of utilitarian but genuinely have, you know, additional things that that make them rather quite special. So you're right, there's a lot of love that go into the into these products. And I think people actually, it's these little things for me, that really stand out and make me fall in love with a garment. I remember being at a tailor this time last year, and he was a gentleman who made suits for David Bowie. And he would, and he would show me like certain details of the suit jacket, where you'd be able to just slide in an entire rolled newspaper and put like a little storm collar type belt around it. So it would just kind of fasten in and not fall out. And also little brass pockets that would be too small for a mobile phone on and I go What is that? And he goes, Well, that's what your cigar anyway, they made suits that were just, you'd have to look at it and get and then kind of figure it out, you know, like yes, it's gonna be yes of it and go I get it now. Yeah, and that would then yeah. And you would then be able to tell that story to other people whilst you were wearing it. And I think that kind of these little icebreakers are really fun. Like they are they really are and it does make them much more memorable. I think we talked about them being investment pieces, they really are they you know, people do, do fall in love with them and do invest in them naturally are denims you know, people are wearing and going through the the fade and break in process. I mean, there there are 1213 eight, they don't they don't need heavy braking. You know, the denim we use is is you know is is soft enough. So it does but it still has that element of having to wear in and that's certainly something that we want to I guess go through an explore with the hardware range it was making them much more much more investment pieces I you need to really invest in them you know, to make them comfortable but yes, so many ideas. I think this is where this is where for us the difference of our brand amongst many others is that we are from the industry we create clothing that we would want to wear that our customers want to wear. We we listen we learn a lot from from we call them our pioneers but they are you know our customers you know a great people they've you know, we have great conversations with them. It still feels as though we're creating a community of of like minded guys that that just enjoy clothing and enjoy talking about it. So it's been driven by Yeah, desire to create things that we would want as opposed to doing anything that necessarily on trend or fix a certain look, which and I do apologise I'm having some building work done in the house and they've started making rather a lot of noise and let me know if it's let me know if it does if it does cause any problems and to get the chainsaws out. Maybe we'll have to Yeah, quiet. Yeah, so for knocking toes off the wall. So, um, so yeah, the future we, you know, we, we had a relatively lean collection when we launched and I don't think you Now we've, we've really pushed all the ideas that we'd love to I mean, if we had endless time and endless pockets, we would be creating collection after collection. And we and we don't unfortunately. So everything we do has to be really considered. And like I said, we've been fortunate we've been able to utilise the studios that we own that can help produce amazing imagery and amazing content. Because everything we've done today has been yet been done by the two of us. It's it's, it's a very, very small, small outfit. More than a lot of people thinking. Right? I mean, yeah, so is it just you too? Well, I mean, because the team know what the team, the team is, myself and Phil. Yes. And Phil's wife, Kelly is kind of manages the operations side of things, as Phil and I are not particularly organised or process driven people as creative. So she keeps us in check and make sure everything runs smoothly. And then like I said, we utilise the studios for majority of the marketing work in the content. And we have some freelancers that we use for social and, and some of our online stuff. But it's That's it, and our suppliers, of course, who like it's about 50% of the range now, the waist coats, the denims boots are all in the UK. So, you know, we have a handful of a handful of manufacturers we've worked with since since we started, there have been great to us. Well, the website looks fantastic, mate. So congratulations on that website. But I mean, you touched upon the imagery, I think this is really the you mentioned the ethos and the philosophy of the brand, kind of harnessing all that creativity that you and Phil imbibe really, with the brand it really does, screen through when you go on to the page, and you look at the products and the videos as well. So I was gonna get onto I mean video in the last? Well, it's been around forever, YouTube's been around forever. I'm not gonna say anything new or revolutionary here. But in terms of platforms, really. Firstly, for video, like you hear about the likes of LinkedIn now kind of promoting just organic video, like you wouldn't believe like face obviously did it a lot, but now you have to kind of pay for it to get noticed and get it above the parapet, etc. But I guess for you guys early on video was a very important part of the puzzle in terms of getting this getting the project and the brand off the ground. Massively, yeah, massively again, because we have those expertise effectively in house. But largely because we had such great content, and we wanted an outlet for it. So for us up until very recently, Instagram has been pretty much leading the way for us because very visual very visual platform, you know, they've moved on, even in the four years that we've been going offering stories and video videos much easier for video content to be to be put out there. But actually, everything we do recreate goes on to the video channels. And recently Pinterest for whatever reason we've been doing a bit through Pinterest, just by simply, you know uploading our our garments and stuff. And we've seen huge traction there with with an entirely new Yeah, with an entirely new a new audience in many ways. I think with Instagram now it's very, very difficult to stay in that feed very difficult to stay in people's in that in that front of mind with so much content going out particularly in the last in the last quarter really with lot bang, the amount of brands that were putting out content, I mean, we did it we we went through a phase where I mean that's all we were doing, we were just generating and with with quite strict limitations around you know, we couldn't shoot any models. We had to you know, at beef start to be really even more creative I guess, with how we promoted our clothing and how we started going to more more traditional means of flat lay photography styling through very simple very simple flat layers that we're showing people how to wear the garment. But it was great for us in many ways because it did it almost felt as though we'd gone back to basics a little bit and we'd really you know, we just creating really solid content driven by the product itself was before you know, we were doing lots of lifestyle photography, lots of on location stuff and again always on a shoestring so fortunately for Phil, he would travel the world with his job and any opportunity he got he would you know he would also commission a shoot with some models. So a lot of what you see here has been shot in New York and yes in the UK but but all over Paris, which is sounds very glamorous, but it was just simply because he was there anyway and it gives it a very international world. Yes field isn't it to the brain. Yeah. So we're, it's British inspired. You know, we we've just launched our sort of trading post in our boxer, a boxer collection of tees and they're inspired by go signs of that you'd see in around London and Birmingham and yeah In that kind of faded, beautiful old advertising that, for me personally has always been a huge piece of inspiration. So we're still we're still taking a lot of influence from from British design and British, you know, industry and things. But yeah, it is an international brand. I like to think of it as an international brand, because we do have customers all over the world. And, you know, that, in itself causes causes challenges because with with translation through the site, or live chats where we've got guys all over the world, talking to us in their native language, and we're either having to translate or at least be, you know, trying to see whether we can get through in English. So, yeah, it's it. Yeah, that expansion, which certainly through lockdown has been. It has been big, you know, we have seen huge growth in the last three or four months, I think, because, you know, people have been at home and they've been looking for inspiration. They've been looking for new brands that they'd like to be part of. And fortunately, we've been one of them. Yeah. Awesome. Well, it's an sons.co.uk is the place to go and take a take a look at these great products. And then you'll find all the links through that the YouTube, Instagram, and sons UK on Instagram, and Pinterest, of course IB, check out the Pinterest now. The secret is how can you How can you leveraging Instagram? Yeah, more More, more more platforms just to just to try and find your way through nowadays, isn't it? So? But yeah, and then well, thank you very much for for the call. It's been it's been really enjoyable. James, it's been great talking to you. I'm sorry. We didn't get hold of Phil today. Hopefully we can get him on the show in the future and, and get to hear more about his story as well. But absolutely. In the meantime, the regulations may on the brand on the product and very best of luck. Thank you very much. It was great to speak to you. Cheers, James. Take care. Bye bye. James cow Dale there. Thanks so much, James. And thank you guys for listening. Make sure you're checking out and sons.co. uk. If you like what you hear and you want to support the podcast, you can simply leave a review on iTunes. Apparently it helps. I don't know how the tech thing works, but engagement reviews and we read them all by the way. So it's great. You guys are leaving some reviews already. We do get around to reading them. Okay, that's it for me. Again, thanks for tuning in. And until next time, remember it's only fashion people and you're never fully dressed without a smile.