The Menswear Style Podcast

Alex and Zofia Torun-Shaw, Co-Founders of Laird Hatters/Utility

December 16, 2021 Menswear Style Episode 154
The Menswear Style Podcast
Alex and Zofia Torun-Shaw, Co-Founders of Laird Hatters/Utility
Show Notes Transcript

Zofia founded Laird Hatters in 2009 and Alex joined the team shortly afterwards as principal milliner. They then opened the brand's first shop with ready-to-wear headwear in London that same year, and today they have four stores in London and one in Cambridge. They also make bespoke headwear projects for clients, as well as for TV shows and film. Laird hand make hats and caps of distinction for both men and women, and are passionate about sourcing the best British cloths, and supporting British textile manufacturing. A Laird hat evokes a rich English and Scottish heritage, with a modern nuance. The great craftsmanship, fabric finishes and rich colour palettes make their headwear stand out from the competition. They've recently launched workwear brand Laird Utility which was created to make comfortable, hard wearing clothes for bold individuals with style and character. Made in England and using the best of British cloths for urban and country living.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Alex and Zofia Torun-Shaw, Co-Founders of Laird Hatters and Laird Utility about the founding stories of both brands, one of which was built during lockdown. Our host Peter Brooker and the co-founders talk about how launching a clothing range was a natural progression, the growing workwear clothing trend, the importance of eCommerce, British manufacturing, providing hats for film and celebrities, and styling hats with clothing.

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Hello, welcome to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. Today I am talking to severe and Alex torn short they are the directors and creative team behind lead hatters and now lead utility a new work wear brand that is kind of sitting alongside lead hatters and we'll get into all that how that all came about. I should say there's a bit of life getting in the way here the audio has some baby noises in the background. This was a quite an impromptu interview, and I can hopefully you can appreciate that. Not everything is studio based and no environment is always conducive for interviews. But there are short bursts of babies having their say, which is perfectly fine. And most of the interview is absolutely crystal clear as you're about to hear. And in fact, let me bring them in now Sophia and Alex to talk about lead Hatter's and lead utility in their own words. Well, we now have two brands that started with lead Hatter's it's a traditional handmade caps and hats we do but with a contemporary edge. It's not yes, there's not millenary so we call ourselves Hatter's. It's the slightly more masculine cleaner look. Bit slicker, bold. We always Millionairess people who stick feathers Asian hats is that occasion where it's yes. Every day, and more more fairly, they do do some occasion hats but we don't really do ladies occasion has the big kind of Marang or the top hat in them. humbugs Yeah. And, and so I mean, we've we've got a new clothing line to talk about, which I'm very excited to get into. But if we can maybe talk about where it began and what brought you guys in into lead hackers originally. We get we started in 2009. I was looking to change career in something more creative, severe and I married and we are three children at the time. Our youngest was I think 11 months or something so and severe was coming back to work after quite a long sanity leap because we'd had three children very, very quickly one after the other. And we wanted to start something together, we both had different skills that we're bringing to the business to work with, in kind of a more kind of logistic end of things. Languages. And yes, we also wanted to do retail so we started layer tattoos as it was on Columbia Road and then I kind of opened the retail store selling other brands and very quickly, a wanted to open a seven day week operation, which initially wasn't and also bring out on our own our own life as a collection really. I imagined it really grew from there. So we opened a series of shops quite quickly, one after the other. So Columbia wrote in Bethnal Green and then early 2010, POC and garden. Then Soho we opened a city store which tended to pop up and then took over our neighbour and expanded in Covent Garden as well. Cambridge we opened actually Oxford strand and strand and we also opened Oxford last year kind of mid mid lockdowns. Yes that was really bad actually. Because when we when we did reopen last summer our Cambridge store did exceptionally well whereas the London ones London took a long time for people to come back and then we we went into another second lockdown and then third lockdown. So really is London's only seen recovery. Retail why September onwards, but no chemistry really well. So we started to open Oxford, which we'd actually long thought about doing amazing. And and how do you guys spend your time between the stores? How do we Yes, we do. I mean, but it was, as we said nowadays, once upon a time we were in there. My I was in there every day, almost seven days a week but now we've got very good managers in each store. We're taken up very much with the manufacturing for, for the stores and we do a lot of wholesale as well. There aren't many houses around. So lots of people approached us to kind of make for them as an under their label. And this this summer been very busy getting the lead utility clothing range out. So, which was kind of a lockdown design project, I guess. And then as soon as we reopened, we went to patterning and sampling and Production Production where we're now in full production. Yeah, yeah, no, and the range looks great. And I was really pleasantly surprised. I don't know if it was kind of like totally surprised that you guys had moved into closing but of course, it feels like a lateral move now looking at the, the ethos of the hat. So it sort of seemed like the natural progression. It's kind of what we always know anyway, I guess and also doing shoots for lead hunters. It was always difficult, I guess doing press calls, trying to get the right look for everything. And for the photoshoot somehow we wanted to present the caps and yeah, it was sort of out of that as well. I really do love your time you'll enjoy. So really, so. Yeah, I've kind of if it even if legibility bombs. I'm just gonna wear it for myself. Nice. Listen, I've got a real affinity for work wear clothing and I I just need to convince my girlfriend that this is the look for me. I mean, she she can't really get on board with with work with but you know, that's a everybody is kind of creeping into everything. At the minute I was watching Top Gear, and they were kind of wearing various bits I was watching you know, match of the day the other day Gary Lineker was, yeah, like a lumberjack kind of shirt. Right? So it's very, very much Well, I do feel after lockdown, the mood has very much changed that the the stage has changed. And with working from home people really relaxed. So the suit, you know, it's a bold thing to say is the suit dead. But that's what I think work was definitely going to have a massive renascence is the practical, what's comfortable as well. And you know, you know, I know lots of people who live you know, live work or live the 50s. And actually, you know, you can now specify we're saying it's quite relaxed so you can kind of take you can pick and choose really what you want to wear and you can creep it in with a pair of trousers or you know, kind of weekend and weekday is such an all round. Yeah, I mean, the the for example, the PICO which I mean we've done a version of the BK it's been around for you know, 1520 years it's been really really popular and from the whole vintage movement of the last 1015 years I guess, you know, work wear and that kind of 50s 40s 50s military as well. Yeah, I really want to hear your input on this as well. So yeah, I think it's it's been kind of a natural progression and where we've gone I mean you've got you know, after leisure and then you got the kind of more maybe it's a slightly older look you know 30s Plus I might be shocked saying that but you know, it's quite an easy is well people turn around in leggings might be comfortable, but it's not dressed up. I mean, I think it's a good it's an improvement isn't it? Slightly dress down. I mean, I really like it you can work I mean it's quite unisex, which is really good. You know, you can you can do we've done a work jacket, which is for men and women and you know, women wear it slightly oversize may be that that kind of 50s feminine look is really nice and also equally quite masculine. So it's quite dangerous as well. Yeah, we have we've done a dungaree dress, which is maybe slightly date. We've got lots of pieces still to release that aren't online yet. So it's going to be drops of new new items. Yeah. Can people find the clothes in stores as well? We're going to probably put capsule in low taxes, I guess. Basically, not yet. It's currently it's online only pondering the next move whether we move into You know bricks and mortar or want to do it talking practically at the moment everything is made in England and in, you know, meaning and stuff is, is quite expensive. So for us at the moment we can retail it and we can, you know, still eke out a margin of the wholesaler probably have to bring production costs down, which would probably mean, you know, moving abroad perhaps which we don't want to do at the moment. So, no, I mean, we've always been retailers, I guess we, you know, when we started layer tatters, primarily, we do retail, we've only really done wholesale and wholesale has grown out of people asking us to do various projects. So it's never really been on natural impetus, we've always wanted to just get out, get our collection out and retail it ourselves. Great, you know, review the Sharpsburg, we've, we've always had a, an online offering as well, which has been, you know, from when we first opened in 2009. We had our we had our E commerce offering. And that's grown and grown and grown and thank thankfully last year that that you know, that they kind of prop this up a little bit because all sorts of shots obviously during the lockdown. So ecommerce became increasingly important. Right, you know, yeah, it kind of doubled. Its kind of W on year since 2009, from quite a low base, but really last year, it came into its own for the first first time really, right, and how, how hard was it to get the clothing line off the ground during these crazy times? And, and why why was it important for Alex for you to and Sophia, to have the clothes made in England when we know, production can be a little bit cheaper, offshore? Um, I mean, well, for us. I mean, I have some gaps in my in England. And so again, it's, I guess it was on natural. It's on natural ground. And I mean, everybody talks about, you know, sustainability, and you have to start, you know, shredding your jumpers to re weave it into stuff. But really, I mean that the best and most sustainable way to make things I think is to, you know, like, like, we don't we buy British cloth, it trundles to our workshop, we make the stuff, we take it 20 miles down the road to either came up the road to Cambridge or down the road to London. And we try and make it so that it's not, you know, it's not fast fashion, it's slow fashion. And hopefully, it everything we make will last you a lifetime. And maybe you want to buy another colour, but you shouldn't really need to buy another cap off of us play to replace the same jacket. And it's much easier to control, you know, quality control, and you can it kind of keeps, I mean, it keeps the money at home, I'm not a big Brexit. But, you know, it doesn't make sense that you buy all of your cloth in England or buy buttons in England and watching local manufacturing crafts, it's very important to have those skills to support manufacturing. And it's by British, you know, by locals really important. Yeah, I mean, it's increasingly difficult as well to get things in from Europe. So, you know, we bring out one of our cloud suppliers, if it stock supported, you know, they send it down, we get it the next day. So it's, that's important and for us, you know, where we've got the infrastructure so we can, you know, make the things ourselves and retell it, and that's, that's good for us. Mostly, a lot of E commerce stuff so that we don't have to hold lots of stock or it might be in the shops or something. You know, we make a lot, you know, orders that come in on ecommerce we make to order anyway. So our weekend orders, you know, we kind of made three Monday, Tuesday and it's just, it's really sustainable because you have minimal wastage. The same book were similar to the caps, we don't have necessarily seasons and that's really important that it's quite spread over. You know, it's perennial, shall we say, you can wear it year in year out, you can say oh, that's Oh, that's 2019 Oh, you can't wear that colour. And it's classic as Yeah, I guess. Yeah. And guys on the site, on the left hand side, there's a wonderful piece about the the Peaky Blinders or caps and as I was wondering, did you did you supply any for production and I guess does do a lot of TV, film and media. I have to say Peaky Blinders is very closely guarded. On non disclosure things anything Sure no problem. But outside of that being said, but having said that, I should say that Peaky Blinders has done to the cap one madman probably did for the hat in the kind of the madman was on 1112 12 Anyway, it's been absolutely brilliant for headwear across Europe as well, it's been absolutely fantastic. Really ties in it ties into what we're talking about in terms of work, wear and vintage. It's Peaky Blinders is probably the pinnacle of everything's been happening. I've been waiting for quite a long time and we are waiting. But in the realms of like the the films and production companies Peaky Blinders aside, you have, like, a lot of people come to you and ask, could you supply us X, Y, and Zed for our next series of X? Y? Yeah, yeah, I mean, we've just done Panama's for the new Indiana Jones movie, The Last Movie staff, we have actors who come in, Tom Hardy comes in whenever you're doing a new thing. Like he's got a method actor and gets his gets a hat or something? And kind of, I don't know, think it helps him get into character? Um, yeah, we have we've worked with lots of local designers come to us to either buy for shoots or productions or you know, what have you. Yeah, we did do quite a bit with strictly they're not allowed credit you. Yeah. I mean, so for example, the Indiana Jones things they came in and bought them because I think they're they're very, you know, they're they got their kind of credits. quite closely. But that's fine. For seven, and they'll be good for resale. And we can mention it, they didn't ask it's so easy. Yeah, I know, there's a huge thing with credits used to be quite easy to get back in the day that you'd have, like suit supplied by Surrey or X, Y, Zed, but you have speaking to a couple of brands, you have to either pay through the nose, or just ask incessantly and hopefully something might slide, I think, because I think bonds you have to pay to get into things like that. But I placements and whatnot. So yeah, I mean, for us, it's, you know, we don't really go after it. And it's not that it's very nice bit of the business and we work. So but you know, Stein is coming to pay us for production has his braids, on the kind of the, the press loan side of things, we do lots of things with Vogon cues and whatnot. Which is nice. We've always done that, from the very beginning, actually sphere. From somewhere got a list of the top 100 or so stylist and centre said that we existed and ever since really people have done press calls, and we've been in the magazines we get we get the the like, yeah, it's been a very useful bit of free marketing. And if we remember to ask for the photos, yeah, we use them. I mean, often it's so far in advance, you know, six months in advance for the following season or something. Yeah, often it's difficult to wait to see if they can we have the photos? or what have you. But yeah, that's always been quite nice. I mean, yeah, it's great outreach. Sophia, great idea to get that I mean, the credits in everyone would look at who's wearing what and then you kind of see the little tiny linear notes that will say hats by blardy blar. Yeah. Great Ones recently with Vogue. And yeah, it's wonderful to see. Obviously, that's a massive, you know, title, how it ends up around the world in Canada and Japan. So yeah, we did one loan I think it was for the Japanese one. And then I think it was the Japanese one and but then it got syndicated out to Australia and the US faux British Vogue. So that's which was quite nice, actually. I mean, I'd kind of love it if you kind of got the line edge and immediately you know, you see an impact 50 hats or something but I guess I guess it's a slow burn. You never know. It's like all marketing. You really don't really know where the sales come from to quantify. Yeah. As long as it's good, then it's fine. Don't complain, or brand awareness. I suppose if you just kind of write it off. It's like amazing photographers and set up so We'd never come up with or we'd love that aspect. I mean, just pushing. Just going back to your original question, I guess, which was, you know, why are we making an England? I mean, on that side, I guess that's what that's what we're known for. We're known for the quality that we produce. And we didn't really, I mean, we didn't want to jeopardise that by bringing out something that was then made in Portugal, as lots of things are something you know, we will really keep to keep to, you know, the lead Hatter's principles, which would lead you to us Yes, yeah. core ethos, and it makes it I mean, it makes does make life a lot easier. If you can produce in England, we can do size volumes, we can control exactly what Agile as a business does. And we are small. And you know, when when we first started, for example, we lived at the end of the central line, and I only really looked at shops for somewhere along the central line, because it made life a lot easier to get to. And, you know, keeping things small, and making sure that business and suppliers and everything else are a little bit more local helps relationships I can't really imagine. So with LEDs, utility, you know, we use a local pattern maker who was reasonably close to where we live, we would then make the samples then have to go back to the pattern maker. So it's quite labour intensive. And I can't imagine having done that, if we're using manufacturing kind of outside of the UK or even out, even anywhere, you know, a little bit more distance, we can keep them much closer on quality that we don't have goes out, it's just because I was travelling up and down the A 10. Continually. So I made that made it all a lot easy. I was very time consuming, but it was less time consuming than it might have been. I think also what I really like about the clothing range and the hats kind of being under the same umbrella so to speak, is that it does complete an outfit. And whenever I've been into one of your stores, guys, I've always looked at the salesman or saleswoman on hand. And I've always thought, well, their overall look looks really great. It's not just the hats they're wearing. They kind of like stylists in their own way. And I think people appreciate that following your Instagram accounts and stuff. So having like the the whole look tied together is and then kind of using that as a template. I mean, people can obviously tweet Yeah, I mean, we we've kind of really enjoyed actually, we've done three shoots, I think now since we've kind of launched or since we've had the samples for lead utility. And apart from making life so much easier. It does. You know, whether we're starting for the clothes, or whether it's signing for the hats, it just does make it much more complete. And you can style what you want and how you want wanted it styled in the first place. Because you've produced everything I'm going to Yeah, so a little bit like, you know, by the theme change in the theme chain kind of thing, but it's interesting, you mentioned how individual team are in the shops because that just illustrates how differently you can start things and wear it. Yeah, I mean when we first when we started or when we when we started their tattoos, I guess we are aware that there are there are hunters around you know who are much older than us but in terms of you know, when they started locking cosy I think it's the oldest men's store in the world or something. And they are fantastic but oh what's the oldest? It's an old butchers somewhere in Devon oddly. Alright, okay, but there's some somewhere near where we live there was a gentleman his outfit is called Testament which closed I think 2017 It was it was oh no it wasn't normal. It was pretty old. I think they were one of the oldest but yeah, it's um we wanted to do something a bit more contemporary you know, it was very much of an elk lots of kind of drab browns and greys and and we wanted to you know, not reinvent the hat because you know, research will be somewhat, you know, reserved for those and what have you but, yeah, just maybe restyle Restylane. So use slightly more vibrant colours, these different textures, different fabrics, and also just create a different look as you as you said, you know, you have the guys or and girls in our shop, all very individual very cool. Other models or musicians or artists or, or what have you, and they make it look cool. So if you're going in there to buy something you can wear it. It doesn't have to be bring up, bring down like 1950s you can work at an angle or, you know, they help style. You know, the people who enjoy the brand, I guess. Yeah. Now it's always a great experience. I've I haven't been into the Bethnal Green one in fact, I didn't know you had one over there in Oh, no. Well, we we kind of it because it was any Sunday is took as micromanagement as all the other shops. So when we reopened when we open SoHo in 2012, we sold the lease on the Columbia Road place, right, we had it, it was like it was the first thought but because in 2012, also Columbia Road itself, which is a very old flower market, and you know, very, very fashionable. Yeah, there's lots of celebs who go there to be seen and listen, I think 100,000 people something go there every Sunday morning. I know. We've got our two years and that was a dynamic round there was change or Shoreditch developing as well. So, right okay, yeah, I lived in Bethnal Green for a year and change and my girlfriend Louise take me down Columbia Road and I have a little bit of a love hate relationship with because I love being there. I think it's a great experience, but it's just got so saturated now that becomes a slightly less enjoyable experience when you can't take photos and that's not really Yeah. Yeah. You know, for independent stores. It's great. Yeah. Awesome, real, really individual voices and when we opened we sell hats but we also sold and if it wasn't Nagel nail down we sold actually kind of vintage furniture and Jubilee mugs and things and scarves which we now designed in a filling circle with Meland etc. We've got some lovely we've done the design and it's it's printed on yeah so Peak District water very cool. Well, I have to say I love the scarf it's got the lead logo kind of goes working through everything on the scarf which is which is great. And looks like well it looks great on the on the website especially with the accessories that you have over on the has section eight have you guys got any plans to go into footwear at all? Is that maybe on the horizon? Yes actually we just handle not we can't make shoes so we are looking for a British makeup I mean I've wanted to do I mean I think you know the kind of the Darby shoe you know grain leather would be amazing for for the brand maybe we do have so we are looking at we're looking for some the legendary brand but yeah, so there will be more coming yeah definitely yeah, and then it's then it's top to toe it's literally the entire list for some pants yet but yes Thomas but eventually work wear pyjamas I can see it now. How they used to wear hats in bed in the old days I remember the old Laurel Hardy films ultimate wise yes that can that can make a comeback when listen Alex and fear thanks so much for your time and and congratulations on releasing the new clothing line as well. I'm really excited for you guys and I can't wait to see it. And where can people find you on social media? Where's the place they like to where you like to hang out? Yeah, it's legit Tennessee's legit cincy.com If you want to look up a website or attach a stock and we lead us on Instagram and lead utility quite straightforward. And I think as well and maybe even Twitter, not my department Instagram is the most maybe not great visual. Yeah, lovely. And are you operating that if people DM you? Are you on the other end? Yes. Yeah, actually and actually we went back to our roots the most one of the sheets that we've done for LED utility and tattoos we did on Columbia Road we did it in Hackney Wick and then second one was Columbia. Yes, it was great. In this go back to the beginning. Oh, awesome. Well, guys, I will put all the links over in the show notes over at menswear style okay that UK so it will be under one roof there for people if they want to find out when you guys and I do encourage everyone to get down while you can I suppose. Hopefully before any kind of lockdowns only ever, ever sanctions I know it must be really hard for you guys, but the stores themselves are also well worth a visit I have to say so they are currently still all open. So yeah, fingers crossed that spring. Yes. You've been listening to their menswear style podcast be sure to head over to menswear style dot code at uk for more menswear content and email info at menswear style dot code at UK if you'd like to be a future guest on the show. Finally, please help support the show by leaving a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Until next time