Interview with Richard Illingworth of Hawkwood Mercantile

Tell us which part of Britain are you from and how did you end up creating a clothing brand in India.

I’m from Peterlee in North East England originally. I actually left over 25 years ago to go to college down south and have lived mostly in London, with a bit of time in New York also, but most of my original customers still came from within 20 miles of where I come from oddly enough.

I’d been working in recruitment in London for almost 15 years and doing a little freelance and when we had the kids we just felt it was a good time for a change. My wife’s mother was living here, so we packed up everything and came over.

My wife has got a textiles studio and a production company and she was already doing business here, but it took me 2 years of trial and error to get the current set up, but I’m finally getting to a point where I’m happy with it now and I couldn’t go back to working for somebody else now.

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Can you explain how is a day in Richard’s life? From dawn to dusk!

Nothing exciting really. I’ve got 5 year old twins, so they wake me up about 6.30am and we hang out for a bit until they have breakfast and I go and feed the dogs (I’ve got 4 of my own, plus I feed about 15 street dogs who live on our block).

Then I get ready and it’s off to the studio, or to the cloth house to source fabrics. Because we do made to order I quite often get requests for specific fabrics or colours & I have to try to hunt them down and sometimes get them dyed specially. I spend my time in the studio doing quality control, photographing pieces before shipping for Instagram and I do all the bagging and tagging myself. I actually spend very little time designing, but I’m trying to address this as I move forward & expand the line.

Once I get back I usually eat with the kids and maybe take them to the park and get ice cream. Then it’s bath time, books and bed. I usually fall asleep with them, then get up around midnight to walk the dogs and I’ll try to catch up on emails at some point too.

I usually work on Saturdays too, but at weekends we’ll take the kids somewhere and maybe go for a meal with friends or family. I partied enough until the age of 30 to last a lifetime and I can’t say I miss it. Maybe I’ll start going clubbing again once I’m 60 the kids go to college.

Hawkwood Mercantile is clearly influenced by factory and military clothing. In which other brands do you keep your eyes on when designing?

Daiki Suzuki & Nigel Cabourn are probably the 2 designers I admire most, but I also like Post Overalls, Ten C, 1st PAT-RN and lots of other brands. I wouldn’t say I look at them while designing, but I think you’ll see similarities as we all tend to end up drawing from the same vintage pieces for inspiration.

Which has been the evolution of the brand since 2014? How many people work with you?

At first I tried to get work done by factories, but they want big orders in the thousands and the focus is on quantity not quality.

It was taking so long to get anywhere that I decided to put the stuff on Instagram and see what the reaction would be like and I started getting orders almost straight away.

I’ve gone from being a one man band to having four full-time tailors in the space of 6 months and we’re moving to a bigger workshop soon.

It seems like Tryfan Anorak is being very successful in Europe. What would you outline regarding this garment?

Yeah, we’ve sold the Tryfan all over Europe and also as far away as Australia and the US too. It’s really the centre piece of the collection and will be updated every season, constantly evolving with different fabrics and details. I’m already working on a winter version which I’m really excited about.

It’s also been great that it linked up really well with the whole Action Man (or Geyper Man) thing that got us a lot of attention on Instagram.

Can you share with us what projects do you have in mind in the short, mid and long term?

At the moment I’m still working on becoming an established brand, but I’d love to do some collaborations with big names in the future and maybe work as creative director for a heritage brand in the way that Daiki Suzuki did at Woolwich Woollen Mills for instance.

Being a Brit established in New Delhi, do you think you can make clothes in India while maintaining the quality standards demanded by the European market?

At the moment we make everything in house with our own tailors who are all very experienced and used to making our garments, some of will are quite difficult technically, which makes it hard to get tailors who are good enough. The problem is how to keep the quality when making in bigger numbers, which is something I’m working on at the moment. With regard to the quality demanded by the European market, no one is more demanding of the quality of our product than I am.

Which materials would you outline out of Indian’s production? Which is the material you prefer working with?

It’s easy to get great cottons here, like poplins, herringbone twills and my favourite ‘paper’ canvas which I use for the anorak. I work in natural fabrics that are easily available locally, but I’d love to do some more technical pieces in the future using say Ventile or Gore-Tex.

How’s the status of textile industry in India? We’ve all heard the accusations regarding child labour, low wages and disproportionate working schedules…Do you think that these exist? To which extent?

It’s a huge industry here, and I’m sure that there are abuses, but that’s by no means unique to India. I can say that I’ve never seen anything like that at any of our suppliers and if I did I certainly wouldn’t use them again.

Please share with us which is your favourite jacket, which are your favorite trainers, which are your favourite trousers and also name one accessory.

Jacket: Woolrich Woollen Mills Labrador Parka. A great piece and a prefer the stuff Daiki Suzuki did for WWM as it was a little more simple than Engineered Garments.

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Trainers: Adidas Stan Smith. Simple, stylish, go with anything and never date.

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Trousers: 1960 pattern, British Army Combat Trousers. Great design in heavyweight fabrics that are built to last. Great asymmetrical pocket layout.

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Accessory: Watches. I couldn’t pick just one, but these are my favourites from collection.

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I am assuming that you, as a Brit, are also a football supporter. Which team do you follow?

I support Sunderland as they’re my local team and I’m hoping next season is going to be a bit better for us and that we don’t end up in another season long relegation battle. I’d be happy with mid-table next season.

Have you had any contact with the so-called “casual culture”? What do you know about this topic giving the fact that it started in Great Britain?

I’m obviously aware of it, but I’ve never been a casual myself, although I’ve worn pieces closely associated with them over the years, like Stone Island, Henri Lloyd and the like and obviously I’d been wearing Adidas, which for me is brand royalty since I was a kid. I was a punk, a skinhead and a mod in my youth and I think that’s where I got my obsession with clothes from. I’ve had a really good response from casuals all over Europe though which has been great, especially to the Tryfan anorak.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Well when I used to have free time I used to play squash, football, do rock climbing, mountaineering, hiking and camping. I also used to have a great bike, a Moulton TSR, but I got rid of it when I came to India as the traffic and pollution here are so bad.

What stands out of life in New Delhi? Anything in particular?

New Delhi is a place of big contradictions where you get ten million Euro apartments 100m from a slum with wild pigs, stray dogs and goats walking around. I’ve seen an elephant walking the wrong way down a highway and all sorts of crazy things you wouldn’t see anywhere else. It’s very busy and can be a bit overwhelming at first. There’s not much in the way of stylish menswear, but I think it’s actually helped me develop my own style in isolation and not care as much about what other people are doing.

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