31 August 2014

I love British-made, but I also don't mind French or Italian or...

British manufacturing is having a revival, at least when it comes to the production of gentleman's clothes and shoes, and it also seems like fabric manufacturers will have a bright future in Great Britain. I think this has largely to do with a growing awareness among the public of how and where these products are made, and I also think there is an increased interest in quality, rather than price always being the overriding parameter. The increased interest in quality and craftsmanship may be wishful thinking on my behalf, but I sincerely hope there's some truth to it. Anyway, the majority of people are still mostly concerned with price, and as long as it's cheap enough, the blind eye is turned towards concerns about manufacturing. It seems, however, that the public opinion is moving in the right direction and one day, one can hope, the conscious public will be in majority and all production of clothes will be ethically sound.
There are probably many reasons for this positive turn of public opinion but I think two factors are very important. Firstly, all the stories of despicable working conditions in the so called sweatshops producing the cheap garments sold on the high street, will have awakened a consciousness in many shoppers. The recent exposure of the appalling behaviour by many Australian and American sheep shearers will have had a similar effect. Secondly, the ongoing campaigns for buying British products have surely had an effect as well. It is, however, these campaigns I want to discuss here. Although, I think they have a positive effect, I also think there is something slightly misguided about such campaigns and they also carry an unpleasant undertone of nationalism with them. This is nothing particular for Britain as similar campaigns are found in just about any country. The French want to buy products produced in France, Italians want Italian products, in Norway there are campaigns suggesting what's produced in Norway is of superior quality and so it goes. Everybody thinks they're best, but this is, of course, rubbish; everyone can't possibly be best at everything. That's why I think there's a great deal of nationalism and protectionism behind such campaigns and I must honestly say that I don't like either. Rather than the sole focus being on the country of production, the emphasis should be on quality. In a world where everything should be as cheap as possible, there is very little room for real quality and craftsmanship, although I believe the market is increasing. It doesn't matter if it's produced in England, Italy, or anywhere else if the quality isn't there. Poor quality products are produced in any country, in the same way as all countries have production of some quality items. If everybody started to embrace quality products and stopped buying sub-standard items it would be good for the manufacturing industry in most countries, and it would be good for skilled craftspeople everywhere, who will once again be appreciated. Not the least, it would be ultimately better for the customer. Let's appreciate each other's craftsmanship across the borders and let different countries produce what they're best at, without claiming to be best at everything. Thus, if you want an Italian looking suit or an American style of suit you don't go to a tailor in London to ask if they can make it, you find a suit that's actually produced in Italy or in America. If you should happen to be in the market for a kimono you would want a Japanese made one, even though you could probably get a cheaper one  made in Europe. And I definitely want my Panamas to be made in Ecuador.
Let's continue spreading the message of buying locally produced products but not unless the quality is there. There are wonderful, high quality things produced in any country and one should embrace that. One should enjoy quality where it is, regardless of where it comes from, rather than being destructive to craftsmanship for the sake of protectionism.

14 August 2014

Blacksocks has turned funky!

I've written about subscription services before on this blog, most recently about a newly started company running a subscription service for shaving products. This post will also be about a subscription service, but one that has been around for fifteen years and has proven that this can be a very successful business model. The company I'm talking about is Blacksocks and, as the name suggests, they started out as a subscription service for black socks. Starting a subscription service for black socks is a somewhat ingenious idea. Black is definitely the most worn sock colour and, at the same time, there is nothing exciting about buying black socks. Socks also get worn out and need to be replaced on a regular basis. So, why wouldn't you want socks to be delivered to your mailbox at regular intervals. The number of socks and frequency of delivery is decided by the customer.
Now, fifteen years later, Blacksocks has expanded their product range to include different coloured socks as well as underwear and shirts, and with 60 thousand subscribers it's fair to say that Blacksocks are doing quite well. After having tried their socks for a while there is little doubt in my mind that the prolonged success of the Blacksocks service is due to the quality of their products. The socks are very comfortable and when you touch them to get a feel for the quality, it is clear that these are socks which are made to last. Another thing provided by Blacksocks, which I've been missing from just about all other brands, is the ability to get socks that actually fit. The Blacksocks socks come in a wide range of sizes which means you can get socks that fit you perfectly.
I'm not going to go into details about the production, materials and specifics about the quality of the socks here, but I would like to refer you to a section of the the Blacksocks website. They have a section on their website entitled "About socks" which is not a huge surprise considering socks are their business. The reason I'm mentioning it, however, is that this section is exceptionally good. A lot of work seems to have been invested in discussing all different aspects of the Blacksocks socks. This is very useful and detailed information about everything from the materials used in the different socks, how the quality of the socks is tested and maintained, where the socks are produced, to a lesson on the history of socks and sock survival tips. I found this quite interesting to read and I think many companies could have a lot to gain from providing their customers with this much information about their products.
The latest addition to the Blacksocks assortment are the Funky socks and these are the ones I've managed to get my hands on, or should I say feet. These are what I would call statement socks, socks with bright colours and bold patterns. There are six different Funky socks, divided into three different patterns with two colour schemes each. I have a particular liking for dotted socks, so that's the ones I've got, both the blue and the black. I definitely like both socks but I must say that I've been particularly taken with the blue ones. I love these socks and I really think they can do a world of good to an outfit. These are also the ones you can see me wearing in the photos below. However, if I were to put my finger on one thing, it must be the length of the socks. I've come to understand that I'm in no kind of majority when wanting longer socks, but I do prefer socks which stretches above the calf. Blacksocks offer calf length socks but not in the Funky range. Anyway, these are brilliant socks and I doubt my slight issue with the length is going to bother too many.

I love the way the socks bring life and
vibrancy to this outfit.
Photo: AGL
Sitting in the office looking down at socks like these can bring
unexpected joy to the day.
Photo: AGL
Below are photos of the three Funky socks designs. All photos are taken from the Blacksocks website.

With regard to the other products offered by Blacksocks, I am keen to try out their undershirts. In my experience, it can be difficult to find good quality undershirts. A good undershirt needs to have a low neckline, so not to interfere with the shirt collar and Blacksocks have two models which would work nicely: the T-shirt Claudette and, the one I prefer, the tank top Colette.

The T-shirt Claudette.
Photo: Taken from the Blacksocks website
The tank top Colette.
Photo: Taken from the Blacksocks website.

7 August 2014

My new boating jacket, made by Cad & The Dandy

A while ago, Huddersfield Cloth had a discount offer on a fabric I thought could make a very nice jacket. It was an offer I couldn't resist and I bought three metres for the bargain price of £20 a metre. If you find a good quality fabric you actually like, for such a bargain price, there's only one thing to do, get you wallet out and buy a few metres. If you see the cloth as a coming suit, I would recommend getting about five metres, that will be sufficient for a three piece with an extra pair of trousers. For just a jacket, 2.5 metres should be enough. Don't worry if you don't have the money to pay for a tailor to turn the fabric into something useful, the cloth won't go off and hopefully you won't go off the cloth, so just keep it in the closet until you have found the right tailor and you think you can afford to pay for it.

The fabric I found this time was a broad striped, 300gr, Worsted wool cloth which I instantly thought would make a great jacket. I do have a weakness for bold patterned fabrics. Such fabrics may not be ideal for blending in, unless you're at the Henley regatta or at Glorious Goodwood, but bold patterned jackets are a great way of expressing yourself and have some fun while at the same time looking immensely stylish. I have a couple of jackets of this kind and they have provided me with more compliments than most suits I own. Most of the people complimenting/commenting on these jackets are men, however, but a compliment is definitely something to appreciate from whoever it may come.   

After having kept the fabric in the closet for a good few months, I finally decided I had the required funds and took the cloth to Cad & the Dandy. After about six weeks the jacket was finished and it looks even better than I thought it would do. Designwise I didn't do things much differently than I've done before. It's a two buttoned, single breasted jacket, with side vents, pockets with flaps and a ticket pocket. What I did this time, that I haven't done before, is that I decided to go for peaked lapels. I've been wanting a jacket with peaked lapels for a while and I thought this would be the perfect jacket for it. With regard to the lining, I didn't go over board this time. The lining of a jacket can often be one of the things that makes it special, what sets it apart from the crowd. With a jacket like this, however, I think the fabric makes enough of a statement itself and I opted for a more descreet navy lining which coresponded with the navy stripes in the cloth.

So, how would you wear a jacket like this? Boating jackets are both formal and casual in that it basically is a suit jacket (formal) made from an extravagant fabric (casual). I think this duality should be reflected in what you wear with the jacket. I like the trousers to represent the casual, chinos work very well or some light cotton trousers, preferably in a contrasting colour. The shoes, on the other hand, should be more formal. I think proper leather shoes, oxfords or derbys, work best with such an outfit. One should definitely stay away the far too casual canvas shoes or, do I have to say it, sneakers. With regards to the shirt, stick with a plain coloured one, white is generally my prefered choice. The jacket speaks loudly enough, so the shirt might as well stay in the background. What about neckwear and pocket squares? Is it necessary? I do believe you could get away with dropping the tie, but I also think it would look better with it. I also think cravats work well with boating jackets, or why not a stylish bow tie? At last, don't forget to perfect the look by putting on the ultimate summer accessory, a Panama hat.

Below are several photos of the jacket in combination with a tie and shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt, chinos from Savile Row Company, and shoes from Barker.
Photo: AGL
Photo: AGL
Photo: AGL
Photo: AGL 
Photo: AGL