A discussion in front of an audience cannot be long. Particularly when most of them are standing. An hour – max – minus 10 minutes or so for questions.
So we had 50 minutes for the talk at our Accessories Symposium, shared out among the six speakers and myself.
With only 7 or 8 minutes each to talk, I cut down the questions to four:
- We would all agree that there is an increasing appreciation of craft and quality in our industries. But how mainstream is it, and how long might it last?
- Social media has allowed that quality to be communicated more widely and cheaply than ever before. A boon to a small craft-based brand. But it also relies on a constant supply of shallow imagery – is it a help or hindrance?
- How has the breakdown of traditional relationships, between manufacturing, wholesale, retail and marketing, affected you?
- China has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, with more sophisticated consumers and manufacturing. How has your relationship with it developed?
Most speakers had time to answer most questions. But the themes of each merged very quickly – the way social media allows shops to do so much marketing of the brands they stock, effectively breaking new markets for them; or how craft relates to the range of nationalities that work in different people’s workshops.
There was little consistency in the make-up of those workshops. Ann Ryley described the Begg & Co factory in Ayr, Scotland, for example, which is 90% Scottish workers, many of whom have been there for decades.
Tommaso Melani of Stefano Bemer, on the other hand, said that he was the oldest person in the whole team, which was made up of Italians, Japanese and other nationalities. (“The Japanese arguably made Stefano Bemer what it is today”).
The makers did agree that owning your own factory helped control the product. Michael Hill of Drake’s admitted that their factory in east London may not exist today if the company hadn’t decided to launch its own brand, rather than just make for other people. (“With competition increasing from Europe and Asia, we realised we had to add more to the value chain,” he said.)
Everyone on the panel owned their own production, with the exception of Bram Frankel at William Abraham socks. While it was recognised that this was an advantage in terms of stability and control, it was also one of the few remaining barriers to entry: a start-up like Bram is unlikely to be able to afford to set up a workshop (particularly if it involves a lot of capital-intensive machinery).
The sales approaches between the brands varied more widely: Bram just online; Maison Bourgeat through the shop; Stefano Bemer and Simonnot-Godard largely wholesale; Begg and Drake’s a mixture.
Overall, people acknowledged that the routes to market were much more varied and complicated than in the past – but that this could create flexibility, allowing brands to pick the one that was right for them.
Everyone said they embraced social media, while recognising its faults. How mainstream and permanent the craft trend is was difficult to guess at, but all speakers were resolutely optimistic (as they have to be – another breakdown in roles is that all were salesmen/women as much as managers or creatives).
The same positivity came across about China – despite its current economic woes. It will take time for Chinese consumers to change (shops like Brio, who were in the audience, are at the coalface) as it will for attitudes to Chinese production.
Bram initially said he could make anywhere that had the right level of quality, but admitted that if his socks had ‘Made in China’ on them it would make a big difference to how they are perceived. This despite the fact that Chinese factories are at the leading edge in many areas of clothing, most obviously sportswear.
After a few questions from the audience, it was time for more wine and some street food outside. A few more pictures were taken, Monocle interviewed the makers, and everyone drifted away for dinner.
From all the comments afterwards and since, everyone seemed to find it both entertaining and thought-provoking. Thank you, all, for coming. Here are just some of you:
Social media and the web can benefit even home based makers. I have bought some pocket squares through Etsy, a kind of eBay for home based businesses. They are cotton, quite nice and a great value.
Followng is a link that has a snap of you at Pitti, a few more visits and you’ll have the same presence as Wooster, Gandy et al! http://treviorum.tumblr.com/post/127173277231/takablotaro-pitti-uomo-street-style-ss-2016
Thanks, nice to see. Actually used to be far more pics of me back in /2013/2014, before it got crazy busy
It’s Tommaso not Tomasso.
Great Symposium and great people attending. Actually the matter is quite complicate. Market is changing everyday and it’s changing extremly fast. The key words for producers today are “quality” “flexibility” “service” and “communicate”. The web is helping a lot in promoting the brand at reasonable cost, but anyway you have to compete with the “Big ones”. To stay competitive you should be bigger enough, but I would say that during last years I’m changing my mind. If you can’t be big enough, “small is better”
i just bough one of Drake’s shawl cardigans in camel hair. i quite liked it on first sight, but now looking into the mirror at home i am a bit conflicted: I have a rather light skintone with blonde hair and a full blonde/reddish beard and I am not sure anymore if the natural camelhair color is doing me any favors. I loved the fabric and style in the store, but something changed.
i would be interested in your opinion regarding this color for somebody with a ligher complexion. How would you advise to wear it? Maybe if I don’t wear it simply over a t-shirt but with a proper shirt and tie it would completely change the look?
Or should I bring it back and get a (three times as expensive) cashmere version in works-for-absolutely-everybody-navy?
Many thanks and best regards,
Very hard to answer, but I would say try it at home with lots of other combinations. And try it with some contrast – so a white shirt and dark tie, for instance. That will stop the whole thing from washing you out
Great look and combination by Tomasso
It would have been good to see the issue of functionality discussed.
The ‘Permanent Style’ Tote bag is a great example of a fusion of design, quality and style. It functions because thought has gone into it. It’s simple, Globetrotter have done a great job manufacturing it and it looks good. What’s more, it is going to look even better with age.
Vastly superior to the Zegna back it replaces which falls apart every time I look at it.
Frankly, so many accessory manufacturers present a triumph of style over substance and it often because they ignore consumer needs. What good is a brief case if you are constantly struggling to open it? What good is a wash bag unless it has an airport friendly compartment?
You did raise very interesting questions on that occasion. Thanks!
Now as to your first question, I wonder whether the kind of ability or the required knowledge that should inform consumers’s choice isn’t itself a real issue that needs to be dealt within such a conversation. If indeed mainstream appears as such in the industry’s horizon. How does a potential buyer recognize the quality inherent to an item displayed in a shop or online shop?
As you know, the most descriptions provided by the makers are usually very poor to serve as a sure guide to begin with. And unfortunately, social media as we know them today do not provide the needed knowledge either. One just needs to read or watch social media dedicated to shoes to understand what I’m getting at! Fore sure, few traditional newspapers still do.
But frankly, I do not think that this industry could keep thriving in the long term – regaining its true shape and place in menswear well beyond its lost ground – , if a great deal of potential consumers belonging to mainstream is still unable to spot what makes up the real value of – and thus the craftsmanship behind it – an item such as a tie.
I really don’t know if to turn the current tide, introducing, for instance, rating systems would be necessary. Yet what I do know though is that relying solely on the kind of knowledge pervasive in today most social media with the hope that things will keep looking better for genuine crafsmanship in our world will be a mistake of strategic scale.
True. Good blogs help I suppose?
Sure! But there aren’t that many! Surprisingly enough, too much bloggers are arguably fascinated and thus happy with being merely able to upload and post pics! Honestly, under our current circumstances they could do a far better job than that! Couldn’t they?
i have a problem with my corduroy pants and hope you can help: In some of my favorite pairs (all darker colors such as navy, olive etc) the fabric around the crotchal area shows visible signs of wear and is somewhat lighter than the rest of the pants. I have no real clue why other than I am getting self-conscious about maybe subconsciously readjusting myself a bit too often? In any case the color difference is visible and the location unflattering.
Now it seems that the wear cannot be repaired so I am thinking about stone-washing or otherwise roughing up the entire pants so save them. How is that best achieved?
I don’t have much experience of stone washing or otherwise ‘roughing up’ corduroy I’m afraid, but go softly…
Re. the cords; they could be re-dyed, professionally or at home. Given that it they are cotton they should take the colour well. Re. Roughing them up; commercially jeans are given a stone wash by washing with pumice or chemicals (or at home by finishing with light grade sand-paper). However this is only advisable with denim – I think cord would be ruined by such treatment, I suggest the home dyeing for best results.
I really love the website.
Any recommendations for purchasing linen knitwear?
I know I’ll sound boring, but Anderson & Sheppard…