Classics with a twist. It's an oft-overused phrase in menswear but it describes Folk's approach to menswear perfectly. As longtime fans of Folk here at SL, we're sure you know their story by now. But for anyone who doesn't, here's a condensed version:
Folk was launched back in 2001 by Cathal McAteer. McAteer cut his fashion teeth at Glasgow boutique Ichi Ni San, eventually becoming involved in the merchandising side of the business. Folk was originally only sold in Japan before opening a store on Lamb's Conduit Street back in 2007. ‘The street suits our DNA,’ Cathal McAteer, said in an interview with the Telegraph magazine. In Cathal's words, the streets are very un-London - 'you say hello to everyone on it.’
They've won multitudes of awards, with Cathal winning Scottish designer of the year twice and the Lamb's Conduit store winning the 'best for fashion' Telegraph magazine awards. Despite the internet's ability to make companies appear far bigger than they are, Folk are still a relatively small team; there's only ten people in Folk's team and five in Folk's showroom, Macandi. Macandi is run with Folk's managing director Fraser Shand and they look after the UK sales for the likes of The Hill-Side and Feiyue amongst others.
The team-up with Edwin was Folk's first collaboration, a surprise when just about every brand you can think of has at least two or three in the works. “It wasn't one of those 'So two great brains come together and create the wonder idea' collaborations” says Cathal, “It was more a sharing of resources”.
Their most recent development was their new store in Shoreditch, East London. 'The Butcher, Matt (owner of Butcher of Distinction – the space where the new store is based) was a tad jaded with life as a retailer and his other projects were taking up his time. So we said if he ever wants to get shot [of the shop] we'd be happy to discuss it with him. That happened and it moved quite quickly after that. We got the shop and it's a big old space, we're really happy to be there'.
Whereas Folk had always been noted for their knitwear and shirting, the Spring/Summer 2010 collection appeared to have a real focus on outerwear, was this deliberate? 'yeah, [the expansion of outerwear] was intended. 'We've naturally expanded season on season. Sometimes we'd find a new factory, find a new wool. We're actually growing into whole categories of clothing too. We're also selling more garments so it's allowing us to make a bigger collection as well'.
Fraser says that 'We wanted to find the right factories and give them enough business to work with us. Our strength's always been in shirting and knitwear, so we'd always wanted to do more outerwear, but previously we'd always been restricted'. Cathal notes that 'we'd rather not make anything if it's gonna be made badly. You can make anything you want but there's certain standards. If someone is gonna make you fifty of a style, you're either gonna have to pay a lot of money to have it made brilliantly or it's gonna be substandard'.
Of all the coats in their SS10 collection, they're especially proud of the new rain mac. 'We've been doing this rain mac for a while and that's taken a nice turn. We've taken the seams and just made it a bit better . We taped the seams with their own tape, so we've had that done with our squares that we use sporadically throughout the collection'. Their other new addition is their archive check shirts, which are a million miles away from the check shirts that have ruled menswear for the last few years, ' We design our own plaids now. Which are a bit unusual - not just straight plaids, but a wee bit psychedelic.'
'We got it from this mill who had an archive section where you can buy just fabrics that they made previously. There was one they made in 1963 and 1967 – [and from those choices] you can say 'I want that one' and they'll replicate it. Well, supposedly replicate it - it hasn't quite fucking turned out that way!'
The reason – or one of the reasons – we like Folk is because we can be sure that we'll see something that we won't see elsewhere. While that sounds like a basic requirement, in this day of identikit chambray shirts it's far harder than it sounds. As Fraser noted, 'If you threw a lot of these brands into a pile and took the labels off the clothes, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart'. So, instead of poorly made remakes, there's a focus on designing that isn't seen in this sector of menswear. 'We try and do our own stuff. We love old garments, but we don't tend to buy a lot of old garments and replicate them. We take influence from them - just like most people - but all our influence comes from stuff we've done in the past and the things we like.
We're continually looking at [their own older collection]. Sometimes improving them, sometimes stripping them bare and starting again. We try and stay in our box because we know who we are and what we like'.
And it's this focus that has helped Folk gain so many fans and customers. For an independent brand, it's as close to the mainstream as it can get without reaching high street levels of ubiquity. But it's this near ubiquity that has led to Folk being misrepresented as a 'fashion house'. Do they cringe when they see themselves described like that? 'Yeah, definitely. We just like going to the pub to be honest' Cathal says. 'Whatever people wanna say. We work in a basement and it's a fucking mess; We're getting on with it, making nice garments, doing as much as we can. The customers that come into the shop aren't fashion fashion guys. They're just kinda looking for everyday nice bits of kit. Even that kind of fashion end, like, say a BBC Jacket with a pair of Visvims and whatever the coolest denims are - that doesn't tend to be our punter. But our shopper is a pretty normal guy, they just want things that are 'oh, that's really nicely cared for', just a bit different, something that has value'. And that's all anyone can ask for.
(Published in 2010)