Thursday, 5 May 2011

INTERVIEW WITH FÄUSTCHEN & FREUNDE


Over the last few weeks we've had a bit of a natter with both a German blogger and an Italian fanzine. I don't know if it's a good thing or not, but once you start me off I can yap like my Grandma could.
First up, for anyone interested here is an English translation of a recent interview we did for Deutsch blogsters Fäutschen & Freunde YHN

1) First of all a little introduction to our German readership: Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Tom and I'm the director, co-designer, stitcher, main employee/jack of all trades for my own label The Casual Connoisseur Ltd. I do pretty much everything that is required. It's a small operation with a three man team. Web design and it's daily maintenance, looking after the stock and sales, photography, overlooking the design of our product, designing a lot of it, sourcing the rest and ensuring we find the right folk to produce it. It's not as easy as you may think, some times it can be rather frustrating, other times rewarding. It's hard work too - especially trying to stick to our 'ethos' of producing nice, limited edition, good quality fairly priced garments. But I do enjoy it of course, mostly!


2) Please give us a short summary about your way into fashion and your idea to establish The Casual Connoisseur. What role played
football and terrace-fashion to you?

I was always a huge football fan, I say always, as I don't really go now for a multitude of reasons, I'm not going to lie, I was into what you could call 'the scene' in a big way, I was known and did things I could look back at now and find a little silly. We are all young once, you make the most of supporting an average team like mine (Stockport County, the real hatters) I was always very proud to tell people who I supported, unfortunately I'm not so much now and it pains me to say that. What's happened to us is unforgivable, crooked businessmen, useless owners and in a very slight degree the supporters themselves have let us down in a big way, we've lost our backbone, when it comes down to the final straw the fans need to take evasive action, we haven't. I've practically had enough. I've supported them in more ways than one, from designing the 2006-7 home strip, successfully bringing back the towns old Latin motto to the club Animo et Fide (which stands for Courage and Faith) I designed and had it tattooed a quite a few of the fanbase followed suit. Also consultation with the club over club shop product, designing and producing several different t-shirts for the Supporters Trust and painting the old exterior of the Main Stand under fan ownership as a 'nice gesture' before an important fixture, designing and helping sticker our town up with a reminder to the local public who we are and what we mean to them, to the other end of the scale - getting arrested and put in hospital!
We currently sit at the very bottom of the Football League and barring a huge fucking miracle we are going to lose our long standing status in the league, which at 106 years is longer than anybody else who's dropped into the non league too. *update*, we were officially relegated last Saturday.
It's very depressing and it's not a case of us just being a rubbish football club! We have been shafted, but that's another rant for another day. I haven't given up, I'd never do that. but it's seriously not good for me going at the moment, trouble would be inevitable and I've said no more of that now. You can't go on doing that forever, as I said it's a laugh, but you play with fire you will eventually get burned! It's simply not worth the hassle these days, I've tried going and keeping my hands in my pockets, but it's easier said than done when you've had a drink - Or when you get thumped 5-0 every other week it does make you fed up.
Mainly I've recently been diagnosed epileptic after two random seizures so health wise it's a no-no for now.

So in a nutshell it's where we came from, I'm proud of that. I've made several great friendships too, but I think it's time to move on. I got a love of clothing and an interest in looking sharp from going to the football, but I personally think it's all a bit stale now. Not many are forward thinking when it comes to what they wear, it's all still boring designer wear and retro sportswear with tired looking footwear. A good look from time to time when done well, but not on everybody! There's not enough individuality anymore, people moving things on a bit etc.
I still buy clothes all the time as if I'm going to wear them at the match every other Saturday though, though not nearly as much as I used to.


3) Can you explain the philosophy or the idea behind The Casual Connoisseur and for which people do you create your clothes? What is your target-group?

I'd argue there is no specific target group, that's not the best way to do it. We sell to all ages, shapes and sizes. Someone who's a big football fan can buy one thing, someone who likes films or music another.

We have done well with outdoorsy folk too - they get what we are trying to do with regards to our head wear and outerwear. We have a wide range across a wide spectrum. Nobody was really doing what we did with our graphic t-shirts until we came around i.e. a real good mixed bag of sorts including casual culture, film, music, classic style and more. Certainly not just tied to one genre.
We are film and music geeks and make no apologies for that! We love cinema and a wide range of what we do is inspired by things we have seen and heard. It's a genuine love and passion and that's why sometimes it ends up on a tee. Because we love it, not because it might sell well because of it's popularity.
The philosophy behind the brand is simple, 'we do what we like and we like what we do', sounds a little corny but it's true. We would not put our names to anything we don't like ourselves! We are often asked about doing women's and children's wear, but if I'm honest I don't know - I'd entertain one or two
'Dads and lads wear', but we are primarily a menswear label, we aim to stand out in that respect as just that. I'm not saying women and kids couldn't wear what we do, not at all. But I'm in no rush to release stuff in shades of baby pink just yet!

Plus, the main factor is we know what we're doing when we like something, for ourselves. It's what drives us. To try and do stuff for women/children could be looked at as a bit of a cash in. Granted it's unfair to be sexist or ageist in any way and it's not intended. Just at present we haven't got the time to really focus in that area, though we do get asked a little bit.

4) How do you get the inspirations for the themes of your shirts? What role play film for you?

Film and music or popular culture plays a big part and as I probably keep saying it always has. From the off. Folk in and around us seem to have shifted in that direction of late, but we've always done that! There's as many icons in cinema or popular culture as there are in sport, sometimes you want to see them on a tee, it helps if you actually have a genuine love and understanding of film, music, the culture. We are film buffs for sure, between us we see a lot of stuff, from the mainstream to the more arty farty and independent, world cinema etc. We enjoy it, it's a passion. I subscribe to a great magazine called Little White Lies and have a silly collection of film, hundreds from all over the world. I get a few of the Criterion films too, that's my library, some people collect vinyl and books, I have dvds.
I guess I'm a nerd in that respect but I don't care! The things I see, the things I hear, it's all inspiration and helps shape me and the brand too. It also helps to be artistic and creative. Something my brother and I have been since we were little lads, we were drawing as soon as we could crawl. You have to have the vision and awareness to make things work too, that's pretty crucial.


5) What is the item you’ve done, you’ve been most happy with?
I'd say the 'Beat a Storm' cagoule - arguably the most successful thing we have done so far, it literally sold out in a few hours, which was overwhelming, but in a good way. You just cannot create or buy that kind of hype and success! It's a great garment for what it is, it's a basic rain jacket - but we went about it the proper way, keeping it simple but updating it to the modern times. What with taped seams and zipped pockets, basing it on something we've always worn from childhood right through to adulthood and of course it had a revival over here for some years, it's an essential timeless item. We did it with the blessing of the people who actually created the original cagoule themselves which was a lovely touch, the sales spoke for themselves.
Everyone who got one said they loved them and were quite impressed, which makes it all worth while. We certainly plan to release them again, in new colours keeping it limited edition as always.
The 'Weir' hats have become a cult too, I've since seen some going for a song on eBay! Every year we release them they sell out stupidly quickly, it's great. We've created a nice cult product which people crave, it's a wonderful feeling. It drives us on. We decided to do something a little different and 'out there' and it worked very well, plus we've got people interested in the name and where it came from too, which is cool.
I was pleased with how the
Woodbank polo shirts came out too, it's always hard to approach an item like that, as you're basically trying to compete with some of the biggest hitters in Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and Fred Perry. Everyone loves and wears their polos so you're trying to get people to wear a similar take on that, any designers I've spoken to - people behind some of my favourite labels will tell you it's a tough one to pull off. They have done very well, but in hindsight we got a few too many, they'd have sold out if the company who made them for us didn't have such a stern minimum order, that's all part of the learning curve for us really.


6) Some of your products are very limited. Do you try to keep your stuff exclusive or do you have any plans to expand with your brand?
We always try and maintain limited and exclusive runs, we've done that from the off. Sometimes it's harder than you think, our aim is to offer a quality product for a very reasonable price. We sometimes perhaps undersell our product. But, as I say we're finding things out for ourselves and it's all part of the fun, we aim to grow as and when. Progress might be slow, but sure, we don't want to jump from one thing to another! We've built up a brand so I don't see us say changing our name and direction, it's all under the 'Connoisseur' banner, as we expand as a brand we aim to retain the same ethos. Growing as a brand is certainly very important for us, we always look back on each year and hope to have made progress. That's important for us, but as I say there really is no point rushing into things.
We are still a small operation but are building up behind the scenes to try one or two new things, it's all self sufficient and pays for itself really. We know who and we we are, who likes and gets us and as always we're never trying to compete with the echelons of excellence.

7) Have you any plans for a new products? Can you tell what we have to expect?
Well at the moment my brother is doing a lot of sourcing and researching, he spends many an hour hunting for vintage garments and is up in the early hours trying to win things on overseas eBays, it's subconsciously all a bit of research and helps him feed his own habit so to speak too. He isn't a collector of sorts but he has got more jackets than he'll ever need!
We are looking at a more substantial jacket for the Autumn, he's always looking for the perfect thing, he'll probably never find it. It's all part of the chase though. Every brand begs steals and borrows from others, all the current stuff you see is based on something original, be it loosely or totally. If and when we get a coat produced, we again, want to do it the right way. Made only ten miles from here in one of the last great bastions of local clothing production - as opposed to 'off the peg' or produced in the Far East for less money.

We've got an idea what we want to do, we also have a few other plans to work closely with others, but I don't like to say too much in case it doesn't happen. It's certainly something we are going to be doing though.
We will have another release of our Beat a Storm cagoule in time for the festival season, late summer in three new colours. People have asked about these quite a bit, so it's something we intend to do, got the samples back recently and the colours are coolio, watch this space.
We are currently in the earlier stages of some premium shirt production, which will be produced in Europe for us off our own custom designs to spec. Hoping to see a few samples within a few weeks, looks very promising.
T-shirt wise, as it's approaching summer we have a good few releases soon, we have done several collaborations this year with well known and up and coming artists and illustrators. We have worked with a lad called
Peter O'Toole who illustrates for several brands and the likes of the NME, I-D, The Rig Out and Proper Magazine. The t-shirt has been recently released, looks great and has nearly sold out already!

We have also collaborated with Sweden's Our Culture, who have done a great Scandinavian design for us with several key figures from their history, it looks very cool, very out there! Which is out soon.
We have another due for print from our pal at Section 76 who has done a fantastic 'Airfix' style design. This will be previewed very soon, and lastly we have one more which we will be keeping under wraps until we get something back from him as we don't want to jinx it, but it's pretty exciting.
We are currently looking at a couple of more simple, subtle logo t-shirts to compliment the graphic ones, to be released for Summer. As well as a long sleeved polo shirt,, with more sweats in the same style to follow too hopefully. Most of this is at that sample stage so it sounds like we're being a little sketchy, but have to really, until we see the stuff for ourselves.
We had tried to produce a bucket hat, but sourcing the right place to manufacture to exact spec was quite tricky! It sounds ridiculous but we were trying to be really specific to something though - it's easy to just buy bulk from a catalogue and stick your logo on it, anyone can do that, we don't want to. To have one custom manufactured to our own spec with the right details and nice mix of fabric was hard to find, when we found a UK manufacturer which we were keen to go with, they wanted a very high minimum which was pushing it, with no room to negotiate. As I say it's all still a learning curve for us, which can be both enjoyable and frustrating at times. The highlight being when you take delivery of a big box full of finished product which has turned out bang on, and then it sells out in record time.
We will once again produce the Weir hat for the colder months, in new colours, we also plan to have a nice woolen hat to accompany that made in England, a more subtle titfer with a great handle, by a company who do that best.
Thanks also to the German folk out there who get what we are doing, we sell quite a considerable amount of product to Deutschland and we are eternally grateful!


Guten Tag!

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