Kestin Hare cut his design teeth at Reiss and Nigel Cabourn. He sold out his share of his first design project, Common People, to launch the first collection under his own name with his Japanese distributor as a partner in January 2015. In March this year he opened a flagship store in Edinburgh, to add to the shop he already has in Shoreditch, while there are plans to grow the wholesale side in the UK and overseas, as Tom Bottomley discovers.
Tom Bottomley: Prior to doing your own thing, how was your time at Nigel Cabourn?
Kestin Hare: It was a major learning curve. I worked my way up at Nigel Cabourn and ended up as head of design. That was through the real ascent of Cabourn, and in that period we were doing limited edition collections including the famed Everest parka and Cameraman jacket. At the time, I don’t think we really knew how good all of that was. It wasn’t until later that it was looked back on and seen to be something quite special. It was all made in the UK, and that’s where my love of UK manufacturing came from, travelling around the country visiting factories with Nigel.
TB: Did doing that have a big influence on you and your own design ethos?
KH: Definitely. Seeing all of that made me think that one day I really wanted to do my own thing. And I still wanted to have the same core values, with UK production at the forefront. Wherever possible, probably around 70 per cent of it, I make in the UK for Kestin Hare to this day. I use some of the old factories we used for Cabourn over the years. We’re making seam-sealed technical jackets in Cumbernauld, more semi-tailored pieces in Tottenham, shirts in Wolverhampton, knitwear in Alloa and Leicester, and trousers in Manchester. But we also have some shirt production in Portugal and Jersey.
TB: How hard is it to make in the UK these days?
KH: For things like jersey it’s very difficult. The problem is, we haven’t got the raw materials here. We’re sorted for things like Harris Tweed and leather, but a lot of it we have to bring in to make in the UK, so we’re not buying fully factored garments. We’ve got to bring in buttons, zips, labels and so on. But the benefits are the production quality is fantastic, and you can do low runs and have more control, as well as being able to carry the ‘Made in UK’ badge, which our Japanese partners really like. We’ve now got 40 accounts we export to in Japan.
TB: Who is your Japanese partner in the Kestin Hare brand?
KH: His name is Masataka Fujino, and he started by distributing my former brand, Common People, in Japan. We teamed up in December 2014 to launch under my own name. It’s a 50/50 partnership.
TB: When did you open your first Kestin Hare store?
KH: Well I already had the old small Common People store in Edinburgh, so that was converted to a Kestin Hare store pretty much straight away. Then we launched the Shoreditch shop in July 2015, at 42-44 Rivington Street. It was the old Start women’s store. That’s our London flagship, where we have 2,400 square feet, which we split into a Kestin Hare store, and a Japanese multi-brand store on the other side. Downstairs is our showroom where we do all our wholesale, because we also distribute brands from Japan in to the UK.
TB: How does the Shoreditch store perform?
KH: During some pretty difficult retailing times, that store has really performed very well. It’s such a prominent unit, and it’s been great from the get-go. It’s somewhere where people like to go and hang out. We also have a coffee shop and a barber in there. That’s the same kind of thing that we’ve done with the new store in Edinburgh as well. We moved out of the small store we had in Edinburgh, and into something much bigger to allow us to create something really special.
TB: How big is the new store and whereabouts in Edinburgh is it?
KH: It’s about 3,000 square feet, and it’s a big grade A listed townhouse right on the waterfront in Leith, Edinburgh, which is the old dock area. It’s a bit like Shoreditch was about 20 years ago. It’s an area where it’s historically been quite cheap to have office or studio space and, in those kind of circumstances, it means you get designers, architects, new magazines and tech business start-ups coming in, congregating, and often collaborating with each other. That’s what Leith has now become. Tom Kitchin’s Michelin starred restaurant, The Kitchin, is also here. There’s actually two Michelin-starred restaurants within a square mile, which is quite unique, but the area did not really have any high end retail, or menswear lifestyle retail, so we’ve put ourselves out there and done something a bit different. We’ve only been open about 10 weeks, but we’ve had a really positive reaction to the space.
TB: What’s the new store like?
KH: It says Kestin Hare above the door, but it’s actually referred to in Edinburgh as ‘The Old Cruiser Store’, because it’s an old building that used to bring in all the cruise ships for work to be done on them. It’s got a townhouse frontage to it, and a long, thin building at the back which allowed them to bring the boat parts in to work on the ships. Because of the area, we’ve got a bit of a nautical theme to the shop, with an amazing yellow staircase, and a retro speedboat, which has been cut in half to form the downstairs changing room. We also have an established in-store barber and, at the back, a coffee shop and gallery space. Upstairs on the top floor is our design studio and showroom. We have retail space on the ground floor, and first floor.We surround ourselves with other made in the UK products, like Freddy Grubb bikes, which are made in King’s Cross. We also buy in a new label, called Crowther/Plant, which is all made and indigo-dyed in Margate. And we’ve got a florist as you come in to the shop, selling seasonal Scottish flowers. So the shop is all-singing, all dancing.
TB: How is the wholesale side of Kestin Hare performing?
KH: That’s our main focus at the moment. The retail stores are great showcases for the brand, but our main concentration is on growing the wholesale business. The UK is quite strong, and growing, with about 35 accounts now, including some great independents such as Oi Polloi, Number Six, Ode, Psyche, Ruskin, 18 Montrose, W2 and Stuarts London, as well as the likes of Harvey Nichols. But there is always room for further growth. Our wholesale business in France is also now really taking off, with about 25 accounts at the moment, and we will be showing again at Resident Showroom following the success of the first show. We’re also going to be showing at Capsule in New York, and Revolver in Copenhagen.
TB: What direction are you taking the brand for s/s 18?
KH: There’s a bit of a change in direction from the previous a/w17 season, which we did have a really good response to. We’re building on that. It’s not a complete change of look, but it’s definitely different to what’s currently in store. The quality is so much better, and the price is slightly more expensive, due to price increases in euros and the cost of bringing in raw materials in order to make our products in the UK. We’ve been hit, as everyone has been, by the whole Brexit situation, and with currency being not what it was when we did our original pricing. So, there is an increase of about 10 per cent on where we were pre-Brexit. But we’re just trying to focus and quality and craftsmanship, and some great gear at what we think is affordable prices. Our look is generally understated, quite subtle, but the customers that buy it appreciate the quality. I think customers are becoming increasingly educated and better informed, and they want to know where things have been produced and more about the fabrics. So, we’re staying focused on those sorts of values.