Photo: Tom Griffiths
Co-founders of L'Estrange London, Tom Horne and Will Green are putting collaboration and community at the core of their menswear fashion business. The guys sat down with The Retail Exchange podcast host Ben Bland to discuss a simplified wardrobe for men, the L'Estrange Apartment concept and the importance of collaboration.
BB. How did you come up with the idea?
TH. Me and Will met each other at university a long time ago. We were both quite interested in clothing, but it was a particular item that had interested us, which was the hoodie, quite a scruffy garment that you wear to the gym or you wear to lounge around the sofa, but you’d never wear it to a smart location. We loved wearing hoodies but we felt that it would be great if we can try and upgrade the hoodie from something that was really scruffy to something that was wearable in multiple locations. But it was sort of a bit of a pipe dream I suppose, a bit of a passion thing. And then it started to get more shape.
BB. When you’re launching a brand in a field that is creative, that you both clearly feel passionate about, it could put real strain on a friendship, was there any of that?
TH. I think there’s always going to be arguments here and there particularly when we’re good friends. But it started as friends, we still live together, we worked in our flat up until pretty recently to be honest. We had six or seven people working for us and I think we’re lucky in that we’re both quite good natured and we’re both really passionate about what we want to try and achieve. Any of the disagreements in some form, tend to be over quite simple matters.
WG. We lived in a flat with eight guys back in Edinburgh; it just meant that you kind of just know how to get on with stuff. I think that’s just part of our experience, so we’ve seen enough pairs not work and I don’t think we could chalk it up to anything except just having a bit of good nature and a bit of patience.
BB. Community and sustainability are key values of the L’Estrange brand. Was that something you agreed on at the outset or has that evolved over time?
WG. It’s become intrinsic, it was never a strategy so much as it was just always at the core. When we first started thinking about we wanted to make products it was about making it the best place, having a close relationship with the factories, the agent that we have in Portugal who does all of our products now. We work with a few different places, we’ve worked with right since the beginning. There's definitely been some ups and downs just because our products are really difficult to make, just because they’re quite technical, but having good relationships with those people is essential. Overall, the ideals of what we’re trying to do with the brand is have a wardrobe of fewer items and we feel like we’ve hit almost peak consumption. The way fast fashion is completely changed the way that we perceive products, the value of products, and there’s a real lack of awareness of the true costs of that item that you are finding sub-£10, £5 T-shirts, whoever it’s from. What’s the impact on that and how long is it supposed to last. Why can’t we have a culture where products that you make are supposed to last?
TH. The size of our space in Soho is pretty small, it's about 300 sq ft, and so we want to try and do as much as possible that we can with that space. Like our wardrobe, it's about doing more with what you have. We're doing 24 events in 24 weeks in one small space, and looking everyone from getting more out of your mind, an ultra-marathon runner doing talks to getting more out of your money and to a pop-up barber shop. Brands and people that align with the view that we're trying to talk about.
BB. Tell me about the L’Estrange Apartment concept.
TH. L’Estrange started in my apartment; we had a lot of people coming over there and it felt a bit like home. We’re constantly looking to try and blur the lines between what retail is and I think that’s where it started, we wanted to try and make it home from home. That means someone coming out, spending a lot longer in the store, having a great personal service, relaxing, grabbing a drink and maybe even staying for an event. We’re testing a lot of new ideas though. Our latest concept is more around pretty much a box in the middle of Soho that’s a much smaller floor space, smaller dwell time, but at the same time still harnessing the same community aspect by running these event series. I think our permanent space, as and when it comes, will be almost a fusion between the two; it’s something that you can lounge around in, grab coffee, go to a talk and also buy clothes and it almost wants to be your new home, and whether it’s called The Apartment I don’t know but watch this space.
To listen to the full interview, visit www.theretailexchange.co.uk