The Menswear Style Podcast

Mychael Owen, Founder of Always Wear Red

December 14, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 104
The Menswear Style Podcast
Mychael Owen, Founder of Always Wear Red
Chapters
The Menswear Style Podcast
Mychael Owen, Founder of Always Wear Red
Dec 14, 2020 Episode 104
Menswear Style

Always Wear Red hand knitted jumpers and scarves was founded by a founder with 20 years’ experience as an international award-winning furniture and brand designer. Mychael Owen added to his design-and-make credentials by spending 4 years working with the UK’s best clothing makers, using the world’s best materials. He explored many clothing categories before finally focussing on hand knits which are classic, seasonless British designs that last a lifetime. Labels are woven from commissioned artwork by Finnish artist Erica Akerlund, and each piece is hand numbered and signed in the order it is made. 

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Mychael Owen, Founder of Always Wear Red about his background in furniture design and brand consultancy. He gave all this up for a new challenge within the clothing industry, working alongside some of the best British makers around. He quickly fell in love with hand knits, which is the key focus of his knitwear brand which champions downtime. Our host Peter Brooker and Mychael also chat about the meaning behind the colour red, the limited edition business model, slow fashion, and how the global pandemic has affected the business.

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

Always Wear Red hand knitted jumpers and scarves was founded by a founder with 20 years’ experience as an international award-winning furniture and brand designer. Mychael Owen added to his design-and-make credentials by spending 4 years working with the UK’s best clothing makers, using the world’s best materials. He explored many clothing categories before finally focussing on hand knits which are classic, seasonless British designs that last a lifetime. Labels are woven from commissioned artwork by Finnish artist Erica Akerlund, and each piece is hand numbered and signed in the order it is made. 

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Mychael Owen, Founder of Always Wear Red about his background in furniture design and brand consultancy. He gave all this up for a new challenge within the clothing industry, working alongside some of the best British makers around. He quickly fell in love with hand knits, which is the key focus of his knitwear brand which champions downtime. Our host Peter Brooker and Mychael also chat about the meaning behind the colour red, the limited edition business model, slow fashion, and how the global pandemic has affected the business.

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 menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. On this episode I'm going to talk to Michael Owen, founder of always wear red. And I'm going to pull a short clip here from the website which you can find By the way, at www. Always wear red.com. The story of always wear red hand knitted jumpers and scarves is amazingly detailed. With 20 years experience as an international award winning furniture and brand designer, Michael added to his design and make credentials by spending four years working with the UK best clothing makers using the world's best materials. he explored many clothing categories before finally focusing on doing one thing really well the thing that started the journey hand knits always wear red hand it to classic seasonless British designs that last simple iconic designs that stand out, no wash to save time, money and the planet. One World Class anti microbial ingredient up to free kg of 100% Italian Merino in every jumper genderless so made for sharing. So that interview with Michael dickham and really enjoy talking to Michael and he's got a great attitude and ethos to the brand and how he approaches customer service and what it takes to make a really good net and, and what goes on and the processes involved. So that is all to come all that good jazz. But before we get to Michael, don't forget to check out the show notes at www. menswear style.co.uk and on the social app menswear style. And if you want to tell us about your brand and your journey, you can email the show here at info at menswear. style.co.uk Okay. Let's get to it. This is a good one and I hope you enjoy it. Here is that interview with Michael Owen, founder of always wear red. But it's my great pleasure to welcome Michael Owen to the show. Michael is the founder of always wear red how it is today, Michael? Very well. Thank you. Thanks, Peter. Great. Listen, thanks for taking time out to be on before we get into. Always wear red. Please tell me a little bit about yourself Miko and your background. Okay, so I'm a furniture designer by trade, but not by trade by training. So that was my my qualification. I suppose my highest qualification is making flipping furniture. I was at the University of Northumbria at the same time as that bloke Jonathan Hyde, who ended up put that there apple. So he did. He's making more money than me. But yeah, he was like this couple years ahead of me. So anyway, that's the short story of what I learned in my youth. Then I spent about 10 years Peter helping people to start businesses as a business adviser. Strangely, I had a flair for marketing and communications, apparently, and it won me a few awards in the early days. So I ended up helping people to start businesses. Then when I was 30. I started agencies. So I when I was 30, I spent 15 years running creative agencies, digital agencies, and a brand consultancy all at the same time. And then, when I was 45, I packed them all in to do this clothing thing called Oh, as well. That's the short story of me. Oh, fantastic. Oh, tell us a little bit about always wear it. How long has it been going? What was your reds been around for four ish years, between four and five years. It's actually I think it's the fifth year on February the 14 next year. But for the first three and a half, four years, I wasn't doing what we do now. I basically I'm a designer, I suppose. And I'm a creative guy. But going into the clothing category for the very first time was tricky. So basically, I decided if I was going to learn, I better learn from the best. So for the first three and a half years, I worked across a broad range of men's accessories working with the best makers in the United Kingdom, using the best materials in the world basically. So the makers I was working with made for the British royal family, Mick Jagger, Kate Moss, and some of the biggest brands of course, you know, Chanel, the Louis Vuitton suite of brands, etc. And I just piggybacked on their due diligence and said, Look, if your work for them work for little old me. Now, I told them the story of the brand, which was quite a quirky little story, which we'll come to in a moment and then yeah, let's give this guy a go. He's either bonkers or brave, or somewhere between the two and I still don't know which it is. So in the in the early days, it was raking a broad range of men's accessories. And then about two years ago, there was an overlap. I fell in love with one product. And it was basically hand knits. Because I'm quoted as saying, I kind of scoured the world to found to find the very, very best hand knits it, I could possibly find the most luxurious and beautifully made hand knit. And I couldn't find one. So I've been quoted as say, Well fuck it, if I can't find it out. I'll make it then. So basically, that's what I'm doing. I create a hand knitted jumpers in very small quantities were set up to make 300 a year no more. And they're done in a very specific way. And we'll come on to this, of course, but that again, is the short story of what's happened over the evolution of always wear red over five years, we now do one thing really, really well. I do I do talk about them being the best Hamlet's in the world, because I'm, I don't know, I say somewhere between bonkers and brave. And I just think they're great. It's really hard to do, but the way we do it is pretty unique. Michael, perhaps you can tell us what inspired you to start always were read? And if you can remember the story in the Genesis behind it? Yeah, I mean, it's the most important thing to mention of all really, Peter, and I reached my mid 40s. And I was running three or four companies and doing well and, and making money. I knew what I was doing. But I didn't really know why I was doing it. I didn't understand what I was for. I didn't really understand the ongoing effect of my work on the businesses I was working for. To my shame, perhaps, you know, it worked in the short term, but I don't know how I was helping people in the longer term. I had a kind of a dissatisfaction with my life overall, because it felt upside down the short answer to the question of what was the genesis to start and I've always where I read was, I felt my life was upside down in that I spent a prototype with my work and tried to fit my downtime into my work. And in fact, I should have prioritised my downtime. And, you know, try to make my work fit around that. And that's why I changed everything I closed for agencies within a year and started always were read, you know, they had a seven figure turnover and 20 people 20 to 30 people at the time worked with me, I tried to help them get other roles. But it was all to concentrate on always were read, the mantra of always were read is downtime is life. It's just those three words, it's downtime is life. And basically for a wonder if I could create NetWare that was so cuddly and relaxing. And it just reminded you to switch off and pause, you know, your permission to pause. We use the term self care you were all these neat little rhyming things. And it all stemmed from when I was a little boy You know, when I was 14 or not a little boy I was in my teens and my mom had actually knitted me this cardigan, massive. people of a certain age will probably know what I mean by a Starsky cardigan, because I'm Paul Michael Glaser out of staff in hotel, this big card again, as I want one of them. And this card again, I always remember it made me feel safe, and nurtured that for 14 or 15 year old boy, I read, I remembered that when I was on more specifically, I remember the feeling it gave me Peter, in my late 40s. And that is what the whole of always were read is based on. So based upon the idea that downtime is life. And it's not something you try and you know, squared into life, your life sucks, I doubt if you do that. And we talk about it being your permission to pause. So to answer your question, that is what always were read is about, yes, we work hard to be the best Hamlet's in the world. That's what we do. What we are for, is to remind you that downtime is life. Interesting. And life is what happens when you're busy making other plans as Lenin would say, yeah, I mean, it's really weird. I mean, joining the dots of that story. The most significant thing is it's true. You know, it is an authentic story. And it is it is what it's all about. So that's why it's so personal. To me. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning because it's ridiculously hard. Hamnet, it's so hard to scale. Getting the margins to make sense is really tricky as well, but it's just what I feel compelled to do. And there's there's also quite a lot of that on the website as well. There's like downtime archives that you have these almost feel like Time Capsules in a way that will blogs and entries and diary entries that you've made over time. What was that all part of the ethos as well when you were when you were starting the website to have like something that would mark the journey of the brand. Yeah, it's to do with translate. vibrancy and probably vulnerability as well. Because when you're doing something for the first time, it's really scary. People use this word pioneering, and you know, should I be sat here puffing my chest out and raising my eyebrows talking about being pioneering? Well, maybe I should. But what I really feel is vulnerable, because there's no book for taking pioneering approaches. You know, the greatest quality, flippin con next and the most sustainable hanis trying to beat anybody I've ever found. It's hard. So to answer your question, we chronicle the journey to show the things we got right and the things we got wrong. Because there's a saying isn't that you have to go through good to get to great, you probably have to go through ordinary to get to good. And then through good to get to Great. So so many things we haven't got right first time. And in fact, I mean, hot off the press. I'll just mention it because it happened today. I've just revealed today that the orders that we had to go out for Christmas, I've contacted every one of them by phone, and I was really worried. And I said to them, Look, I'm not going to release any of this before Christmas. Nope, nobody cancelled. And most of them thanked me, which is really weird. But that's what we're doing. We've heard the term slow fashion, haven't we, but people are going to gift people the promise of a jumper or a scarf that's been hand knitted for them in early January or February. And it makes absolutely no difference to the client base. And these are the things that keep me going. So you going into this from the world of accessories into clothing, do you then have to start learning how to pattern make or you're just taking your design skills and your design background? And in putting that into the clothes? Tell me about how that works? That's correct. And and I'm not in, you know, I know I'm not being facetious. I'm not knitting them myself, I work with Britain's best knitters who actually, and this is really strange, because up until about three or four months ago, all I did all I thought was we just have to find the very best knitters pay them really well look after them, and then they'll stay. However, there's another force at play. And the other force that play fear is they have to be strong. And the reason they have to be strong is because our job is way up to three kilogrammes. So if you or me were to hold our hands out in front of those holding, you know, something that's moving from zero to three kilogrammes over about between 60 and 100 hours, it hurts. So the way we've created the design and the gender neutral, so there are very specific shape. And they're a classic design so that they they they last, you know, nine, I don't use the word fashion basically, I'm not into things that come and go is a classic, timeless design that, you know, that wears in it doesn't wear out. But it's tricky. But to answer your question, focusing down on the NetWare is just a natural step for me, because everything I did you know, when I was doing what I thought were amazing flat caps. Of course, they were made in Yorkshire handmade in Yorkshire. And of course the material was was was was woven in Yorkshire. And when I was working with the densest, most detailed silk it was there's only one factory in the world that does it as densely as I want it. And they're in London. So basically and they're called called vanners. So basically, I was used to find the very best in the category, building a relationship with them and working with them. So I've just taken exactly the same approach with with the hamlets, right, okay, I know the ready skills that kind of dovetail from your design background into the design world of fashion. Well, garments and knitwear. Now, I don't know, probably that amount of speaking to guttural response? I don't know. I mean, yeah, I mean, I guess so if design is you set a vision and then make a series of decisions towards achieving that vision then? Yes. So when I was making tables and chairs or building brands, for other people, there was always a vision, and then we work backwards from that vision. And the vision I set myself here, of course was I know it sounds slightly weird, the best handknits in the world, you know, and there's a very specific and personal reason why I wanted to do that, by the way, which we'll come to, but now it was the same process really. So it's not I don't know, the answer is yes, anything I've ever designed. I start with the end in mind get as clear and as crisp a vision as I possibly can and work backwards from there. So a question that I imagine you get asked every other day. Why red rat is there's three reasons really red is the colour the human eye sees first. So it actually appears closer to humans than any other And I kinda like that I like I like absolutes. You know, it just, it just does. The second reason is it's a very British colour. And this is a very British brand so and the reason is a very British colour by the way is because in virtually any poll or questionnaire thing give me Bobby, three of the top five things that people cite as being British. I read one of them the route master boss, one of them's a pillbox and one of them's a telephone box. You know, I don't know that millennials are know what a bloody telephone box is. I remember what one is. Now, the third reason is, is because it's the colour of power. And, and it's, oh, yeah, this is the term I suppose it's the most powerful perception form of all colours. So it's just the colour of sexuality. And anytime that, you know, when Theresa May was in power, or Merkel, as women go head to head with, you know, silly people like Trump, who, who, you know, well, let's not talk about him, but the reason I'm mentioning it is because invariably, people will wear red to be seen bigger, or more significant, and more powerful as individuals, all of those things, I suppose, I suppose. Yeah. Interesting. Well, Michael, I should say my girlfriend loves the brand, because I quickly showed it some of the garments before jumping on a call with you. And she was rifling through the products rifling through a couple of pages. So you've got her seal of approval, and obviously mine as well. But it's, it doesn't always come across on a podcast. If my girlfriend doesn't say anything, then it's probably not a good thing. But she's big fan. So there's a run of 300. And is that per year? Can you talk about the production run at all and how that works. He's basically we have a team of knitters around the United Kingdom. And the capacity, once we get to about 150 units, we have to grow the team a little bit. The business by the way, for what it's worth, it makes sense as a commercial enterprise when we get to around 150 units. And the margins aren't very big. They these products are expensive, because they take bloody ages, and the way we do them, and there's all sorts going on with how we label them, etc. And the way we package them. But to answer your question, when we get to between 150 to 300, we have to scale the business again, my intention is to go for 150 to 300 units in 2021. And then maximise out at 300 units for a couple of years. If indeed we get that far, Peter, because who knows when we're not there yet, you know, we're in the dozens, not hundreds, currently, you know, towards three fingers with it with the hand knits. But it's not about I mean, it's an off the shelf thing, but I'm dead comfortable saying it, we're after making the best hand knits we can not the most hand knits we can. So we're learning all the time. It certainly doesn't mean that everything's a prototype. But it does mean that we you know, we It is impossible to hand it to exactly the same. And but I like that, I like that I like the fact that Joe who leads our team of knitters, and by the way, Joe is someone who I picked up who has led teams of knitters all over the world you know, London and New York and beyond. She'll look at two jumpers on a table and she'll go up Elena knitted that one and I'm doing it with that one I'm doing the bloody same today. They're all you know, every stitch every stitch of those 60 to 100 hours we we look at it and the reason By the way, we've gone for the gender neutral shape which did our head in and cost literally 10s of 1000s of pounds to get right is because we've got this where it share it repair it neatly rhyming mantra and it's to do with the fact that if if ever you and or your girlfriend old one of our jumpers, I want it to last as long as you're around. And if you're you know, unique from each other, because the way we knit actually means there's an eight inch span expansion across the body shape anyway. So if you're a little person and she or he is a big person, etc. It just it's fine you know, and so I love the idea that we've thought as much as I can about every single detail but it's hard it's hard. Yeah. And are these made to order they are I mean that the stock levels that we're going to go to this there are six designs of jumpers and there are four designs of scarves and you can have a high neck or a low neck and under either zipped or unzipped I'm talking about the jumpers there of course will keep stock levels of certain sizes have never say never have rarely more than two or three right? If you want one that could be up to six weeks to wait right? strangely and I hope I don't seem rude we don't make any apologies for that because sometimes it Christmas you know, home talk about us. Maybe he or she might hand her or him a box and go, there you go, there's a box, open it, you've seen it, wear it with us. Sometimes someone will gift someone, it sounds a bit weird, doesn't it an empty box. And they'll say, basically, for you, Peter, there's a jumper being knitted. Now, you're going to get a phone call, within a week from the founder of the business, he's going to talk to you a little bit about how you, you know the sizing. And then every Monday of six weeks, between four to six weeks, actually, you're going to get a visual update, not just any old jumper being created with your jumper being created. And then the actual labels because there are three labels, it was a bloody nightmare to produce even more of a nightmare to attach, you've got this seamstress who hand attaches the labels, so you get to see that. And then they're all numbered and signed by me checked and signed, you know, physically numbered and signed by me as they're done and packed in a box. So it's more of a little experience. Really? Yeah, I mean, a lot of these, but I mean, the products range from 345 quid, which is nearly 1700 pounds, depending on what variants you want. And it's not endless barriers, as I say, six designs of jumper for designs of scarf. And the scars, by the way, are either scarves or half scarves as we call them. And then the jumpers have a colour variance. Interesting. Well, it, it sounds like you get taken on the journey with the garment as well, which I personally love. I'm a little bit like you, I think Michael where I don't really indulge in. Everything has to be immediate, I don't need to have the ticket to go somewhere right now I do. I do hanker for a bit of delayed gratification as it were. And, and much like you'd have a suppose of a suit being made, you mean that doesn't just arrive on your doorstep, or you don't just pick it up, unless it's obviously off the peg or ready to wear when you walk in. This is something that has to be this has to be made for you. And this is going to be a part of you. And it's going to be part of you and your life for a long time. So, you know, six weeks is a very small timeframe to wait for something like that as well. Well, I can't really get away from it. But I am interested to know how the pandemic has affected your business. It's something I do ask for a lot of business. And that bids different business owners give different answers to the question and kind of fluctuate. So I'm just interested to know how you've managed to handle the different variables in the business at this time? Well, the relationships that we have with customers is very, very close. I know them and they know me. So there's very little difference, you know, I mean, I've run them. And I've said, I spoke to a handful of customers last week and said, Look, I'm not going to sign off your jumper for a while, maybe not until Valentine's Day, and they were expecting them before Christmas. And I'm wincing on the phone. And they went, Okay. And it's and it's because they're part of this process. You know, we get everything's 100% Italian Merino, because it's the best merino wool in the world, the way it's produced, coloured and twisted. And I said, Look, we had a batch that wasn't a perfect colour match. So basically, I'm not gonna partner in one and then continue with another. So it's delaying the order by a little while and they go are cool. That's no worries. And then how are you? And why are you? So? To answer your question, we kind of have this very friendly relationship. We've not got a big team. But even if we get to 300 people, I've got no excuse for not knowing the customers by name and taking the time to call them only got like 300 customers, so it's not really affected much at all. I think on the subject of sales, it's probably stagnated. The pace of sales a little bit, Peter, I would guess because people's unpredictable financial situation. counterbalance that I noticed on your site, you have things like klarna, and maybe monthly instalments. So there's other ways and easier ways that people can pay and get hold of these governments right. There is it's really weird at the same time as having planner plugged in. We also say to people look, I mean, without sounding patronising, we say don't buy stuff you don't need with money you haven't got. So we're not we're not trying to, you know, we're trying to make it easier for people to buy it. Because people generally, I'm very lucky, I suppose a small number of people fall in love with what we're trying to do. Because we're trying to change the way that people buy clothes, you know, and just, you know, as we perhaps know, 90% of the clothes that we own, we don't wear it with any regularity. So we're just saying buy it and wear it. And if people because because asked us, you know it lasts a lifetime. So we do try and help them to buy it more easily. Peter. Interesting. Yeah, that was part of the offer. And you've got a podcast as well. I noticed on the website. How's that? Oh, okay. I mean, we did 10 of them. And we were actually done nine of them. We were just doing a batch of 10 that sit inside the business. So if someone wants to understand our approach to design or sustainability, so for example, we we've promised to buy back any jumper or scarf, anything forever. You know, that's a strange thing, I think but I mean, we will buy them back, refurbish them, because we know how to refurbish them at quite expertly because of a connection with a company called clothes doctor based in London. Yeah, we've had, we've had him on the show. Actually, you'd have Lulu on, haven't you? Yeah. I work worked quite closely on that. So we just believe in the same things, just looking after customers. And we're very much why not people, you know, why not? You know, if I'm committed to sustainability and saying our stuff lasts a lifetime. And then I think buying it back if somebody wants to sell it back, should be part of the deal. So that's what we do. Excellent. Well, Michael, thanks so much for taking time out of day to talk about the brand. It's a fantastic product. Congratulations. And I implore people to go check out the website always wear red.com and also follow the journey on Instagram. Always wear red and M make a really great Christmas present if not a great Valentine's gift as well but not just a gift for holiday season a gift of life. They they say on the Hallmark cards. Michael thanks again mate and and take a selfie. Okay, thank you very much. Well, how about that, as you can appreciate, I could have talked to Michael for hours, that I failed to mention that they as a branch should see who collaboration with the mighty reds Liverpool, Juergen Klopp when looking at a place in one of Michael's notes on the touchline be on brand, but another time another place in the meantime, make sure you're supporting the good guys head over to always wear red.com and treat yourself or your loved one to some awesome high quality knitwear. And that's it for my end. Thanks for tuning in. If you like what you're hearing, do leave us a review. It helps our egos around here and until next time.