Sep 20, 2017 | By Lizzy Bowring
Get more Denim insights as a WGSN subscriber
The UK denim scene is on the rise. Over the past few years a select number of British based designers including have been championing the “Made in England” stamp of approval on their proudly crafted jeans that are eagerly nipping on the heels of their US and Japanese counterparts. Independent labels like Tender Co., Huit and Dawson Denim are admirably kickstarting the UK denim with small scale domestic productions that use local resources and artisans to proudly craft their jeans. This year, another notable label looks to bring manufacturing back home. Here we speak to the founders of Story mfg in this exclusive interview.
Story mfg is the brainchild of Katy Katazome and Bobbin Threadbare, partners in both life and denim. They launched Story earlier this year but their focus being on slow manufacturing and season-less product drops, means that items have been released gradually and will continue to do so. So far we’ve seen a classic five pocket jean rendered in stunning 5 dip indigo from India and two veg-dyed utility jackets in green-cast indigo and faded red madder. In their own words:
“We will never create something which is boring and done. Unless we have something to bring to the conversation we don’t see the point of joining in.” We asked them a few questions about their new venture and what denim means to them.
Tell us all about yourselves and your past experiences that have led to this point.
Bobbin: I’m a technology researcher and writer, and I’m particularly interested in future design and manufacturing. I think both Katy and I can see a whole bunch of ways to make better stuff in smarter, kinder ways – and Story is a big sandbox for us to play in and prove our instincts right or wrong. We’ve already learned so much.
Katy: I have a background in denim design and spend my days looking for the next big trends, brands, fabrics and concepts at WGSN. Story is the perfect side project to unleash all the pent-up creative frustration from spending my days looking at other people’s designs. I think perhaps I’ve been chomping at the bit for years and it took meeting Bobbin to realize that and act on it.
How do you come to create your brand: tell us about your eureka moment.
Katy: I think the eureka moment happened during an excited discussion about the future that got a bit out of control. We started thinking about what our ideal brand would be, and then went off on one debating names and vintage grail pieces and production ideals, etc., etc., etc. I think that was it, but then again, we seem to have eurekas on a daily basis!
Bobbin: Around that time we were seeing all these amazing fabrics and techniques and it seemed like no one was actually doing anything with them. Either cost, time or availability was an issue and we thought “Well, we want them – so other people are sure to as well, right!” Once we were ready to show our work we found that Reddit’s denim thread (r/rawdenim), and online communities such as care-tags.org were encouraging and supportive of our passion.
On your website you mention that you don’t want to create anything that is currently out there: with your background in denim forecasting you must come across a lot of emerging denim brands. What convinced you to start something yourself and how does your day job feed the Story aesthetic?
Bobbin: We’re both agreed on this. From a brand and story perspective it very much comes out of all the noise we experience as consumers. You often see it in the news, where every single outlet is talking about the same story, at the same time, from the same angle. Great journalists, leaders and innovators don’t open their mouths unless they’re about to start a new discussion or movement – or even disrupt the status quo. That’s why we’re being deliberately adventurous – pulling together different fabrics, methods and mixing in tradition with a good helping of futurism.
The market is currently saturated with Japanese and US raw denim, but how about yarns dipped in a traditional indigo pit, hand woven into selvedge denim and then sewn up by a factory that has probably forgotten more about workwear than any upstart factory can ever hope to learn?! That’s pretty cool. And that’s saying nothing of the ways we’re trying to use technology that actually add human interaction, rather than taking the human work out of it.
You talk about “Slow Made” and “unseasonal” pieces. What new products and ideas do you have cooking at the moment?
Katy: The two products we’re honing now are the 0 Jean and the Time jacket. We have been sharing the journey of these items on our website for months now but the special bits that make them really exciting are yet to be announced! We have something really special planned for the 0 Jean pocket bags! I can’t share much as it isn’t 100% confirmed yet but it involves sound and light. The next step for the Time jacket is to offer “detail upgrades.” This idea evolved from the “wear and repair” trend that has emerged over the last few years; we want our pieces to provide the perfect base for customisation and personalisation. We want them to grow and evolve with the wearer, so the idea is that your well worn and loved jacket can be “upgraded” each season. We’ll be offering a couple of upgrades per season and though these are yet to be pinned down our current favourite options include internal pockets, removable buttons and personalised embroideries.
Also, Bobbin, (who is a massive tech buff!) is constantly looking for new ways of incorporating technology to elevate Story above the “one man artisan” connotations that have previously been suggested about us.
Bobbin: Katy has about eleventy-hundred sketches of outfits she’s designed. We’re talking everything from baby dungarees to adult overalls, and from shoes to dog bandannas. We also have 2 handmade spectacles in the pipeline which is something I’m personally really excited about as I’ve been wearing ‘face furniture’ for a long time. We’re also already looking towards our next collection and are open to all sorts of collaborations. At the heart of STORY mfg. is a desire to work with specialists with interesting ideas or materials, and bring them to an audience of people who are hungry for something incredible.
You are big fans of vintage. What is your favourite vintage piece that has influenced or inspired Story?
Bobbin: It’s really difficult to pick! Everything we’ve designed for Story started out as a vintage piece. I think the one that has inspired our first jacket might be my favourite – it was a prison issue piece that was probably made by the prisoner who wore it. It’s crude in a unique way – the whole piece was cut on the selvedge so that nothing would need to be overlocked and there would be less work. It’s almost the opposite way around now, where it would be far faster and more cost effective to make it out of wider, non selvedge fabric. The best bit is the fit though – it’s totally anti fit so the way it sits on your shoulders gives it a really cool draped shape to what is otherwise a really masculine item.
Katy: I have tonnes! Can I give you two? My mum’s 1970s orange tab Levi’s have the most perfect fit and wear – I’m planning to develop these into a Story girls fit in the near future. The other is a 500Yen repaired old indigo kasuri kimono that I found in a flea market in Kyoto. I wore it for the entire trip and it seemed to draw so many Japanese old-timers to me; it was obviously nostalgic for them as it was something they would consider to be an old chore item for wearing around the house or in the fields. They probably thought I was potty for wearing it!
Fabric, shade and cast seem to be at the heart of your pieces so far; you have your ‘Time’ jackets in green (using natural yellow and indigo dyes) and red (using Indian madder) yarn dyes, your 2 and 8 dip green cast jean, etc. Where and how do you source fabrics/suppliers, etc.
Katy: Far and wide, with a lot of research and luck. We’re lucky enough to have friends in the denim industry who have helped us along the way. Each leg up has opened the door to more opportunities for us so in that sense finding our dream suppliers has been relatively easy. Making it work for us has been the harder part. We are a super small start-up trying to fund our brand without investment. We have such a specific and niche idea of what we want to do that we need the same flexibility and prices as bigger brands, with much smaller minimums to allow us to experiment.
Bobbin: It’s a long process of discovery. We set out with a list of things we would ‘quite like’ but prepare ourselves to be surprised. Along the way, every time we meet someone in the fabric business we ask “what are YOU excited about? Is there anything special that no one else can pick up?”
The “Made in England” concept was once dying, but in the recent couple of years it is very slowly becoming more common. Do you think we can resurrect UK manufacturing on a larger scale in the foreseeable future?
Bobbin: I do. But it comes down to price and expertise. At first we were really married to the idea of “MADE IN ENGLAND” and that’s why we are making our first run of jeans here. We’re working with Cookson and Clegg – a company that have been making workwear for decades. That excites us – when British businesses embrace designers and brands and bring some time-worn intelligence to the table. However the real problem is finding these guys – its impossible without a helping hand.
Katy: I think there is a misconception that ‘made in japan’ or ‘made in the USA’ is best and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to make in England. We tend to go against the grain on a lot of things. One of our Story “rules“ is to explore the denim and indigo heritage of other countries outside the established hubs of excellence. Those are the ideas that really excite me.
Talk us through some of the challenges and joys of manufacturing on a smaller scale.
Katy: The joys for me are the freedom we have in creativity, learning from the masters and being able to document the whole process. We have the opportunity to root out the small scale, un-hyped artisans and once we get to know them they let us into their homes and work places.
Bobbin: For me it’s also a matter of control. We want to know the same things our customer wants to know – so working in the small scale makes it more manageable because there are fewer questions. As we scale up, it’s going to demand us asking more and more – because while we are on an adventure, we have a set of ground rules we won’t break to ensure we’re never boring and never cruel. An added bonus of this is that everything we do is limited, special, and a singular opportunity to grab a piece of the story.
Are you looking for stockists and to grow the brand? Is there anywhere you would love to stock in?
Bobbin: Yes, very much so. More than that we want to collaborate with stores that have an identity of their own through the products they choose and curate. Being small and focused we have the ability to be quite nimble and offer special runs with people we think we could work well with. We already have a whole bunch of ideas brewing that no one else is offering. Equally we are already ‘collaborating’ with manufacturers in a sense – and we are always on the lookout for artists to team up with.
What other denim brands out there do you relate to/ love?
Bobbin: I really like Red Cloud, a Chinese brand making incredible stuff that challenges notions of Chinese quality. Tender Co. and S.E.H. Kelly are also very inspirational as British brands who package the production as part of the value of a garment. Fashion wise I think I’m quite eclectic – I have always liked Moschino and Versace for their bold design, Lacoste for colour and at the moment I’m really interested in a Menswear designer called Dana Lee.
Katy: I love women’s designers that aren’t restricted by commercial trends and that can look beyond the skinny jean. Designers that make boys clothes for girls basically. Rachel Comey, Ann Sofie Back, Acne, Chimala, APC and LVC. Japanese brands like Orslow, Needles, Visvim, Anachronorm, Pure Blue Japan and Kapital are also pretty lust-worthy.
Thank you guys, and all the luck in the world for your venture!
Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.