If you’re reading this because you’re a fan of Kestin Hare, you're going to like it. If you’re reading this because you like the entrepreneurial interviews that we regularly roll out on the OPUMO Magazine, you’re in the right place. And if you’re reading this because you're looking for a little break in your day and want a slice of inspiration to get you through the rest of it, then you’re spot on too.
Kestin Hare is a menswear designer from Scotland. A good one. He began his design journey working for the likes of Nigel Cabourn and Margaret Howell, before relocating back to Scotland and producing incredibly comfortable and extremely contemporary menswear under his own name. His collections are full of good-looking and easy-to-wear staples that work just as well through the week as they do at the weekend. It's basically got the lot.
Like we said, we think you’ll all learn a thing or two from the Scottish designer especially as when we questioned him on design secrets, superstitions and what it takes to start a brand from scratch.
Growing up, who was your hero?
Nobody was better than my grandad Bill. He was a spitfire pilot in WW2 and I looked up to him so much. He was always dressed amazingly and ran pubs in Leith, a proper gent.
What was your first job?
Working in the Strand store in Newcastle in the 90s when I was studying at Uni, one of the best independents of its day. We stocked Griffin, Neil Barrett, Maharishi, that really inspired me to think I could eventually do my own thing.
Do you remember when you first really got ‘into clothes’ and how did that initial passion manifest itself?
Growing up I was fascinated by what celebrities wore. Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Eddie Vedder, I would analyse their style and try and recreate it myself. Then, when I started clubbing, I realised the power of brands, everybody was buying into branded T-shirts in the early 90s. What you wore defined you, gave you confidence. I was hooked.
What sort of stuff were you first designing when you were starting out? Do you ever find yourself revisiting those designs or are some of them best left in the past?
I designed a lot of street-inspired looks at first and I’ve moved away from that as I’ve grown older and got more into vintage and found my own style. One thing I’ve always been really into is fabric. I spend a lot of time sourcing and working with mills to develop unique fabrics, this season it’s the nylon bonded Borg fleece that’s used for the Oban Parka and the Contour Jacket. It’s technical and practical, but also a little unconventional and that’s me to a tee.
From Japan, to Italy, to the UK, I work with mills to create different fabrics and that’s what makes my garments special. It’s hard on our website to show the true texture and feel of the material, but my customers are delighted when they see the product in person as the quality really shines through.
What initially inspired the start of Kestin Hare?
When my wife and I moved back to Scotland to have our first baby that was the catalyst I needed to want to have my own brand. Up here you have to do it yourself, there aren’t the big names to work for. But I come from an entrepreneurial family, so it was a natural progression to do my own thing. I knew I was capable of doing it, I just needed the push.
Did you ever consider not naming the brand after yourself – for years learning your craft under the tutelage of some great names, were you ever tempted to not put your face or name to the brand?
Our Japanese partners were keen to use my name, because of my association already in Japan with Nigel Cabourn. Also, it was more unique and personal.
What has been the biggest calamity along the way?
Trying to do too many things at once and not doing any one thing properly. I’m much better at trying to focus now, most of time.
What has been the biggest breakthrough in that time?
Being named recently as one of the best independent menswear stores in London by the Evening Standard was a real moment as we are relatively new compared to the big names but definitely getting noticed now. Also, being interviewed for the Monocle Entrepreneurs show was a great experience and I have since been approached by lots of people saying how my story has inspired them. That means a lot to me.
What are the three most important things you’ve learned on the journey?
- It’s only clothes, no-one is going to die
- Believe it’s going to happen
- Work with people you like
Kestin Hare is big in both the UK and Japan. Why do you believe you have proved so popular in those two specific regions, is there a synergy between both markets?
Definitely. The Japanese understand brand, appreciate quality and love provenance. There is a natural fit there with our aesthetic values. Also, I made a name for myself in Japan through my work for Nigel Cabourn and my partner and investor is Japanese.
You have a wonderfully fresh yet authentic British look and feel that is complemented by a wonderful selection of fabrics and fits – but what would you say is the primary aim for Kestin Hare?
We’re inspired by what men want for everyday modern life and we’re proud to seek out only the best fabrics and championing the finest UK manufacturing methods, too.
I constantly travel round the world sourcing fabrics and rare vintage pieces. I listen to my customers and see what they want or need. It’s important to have a blend of easy and special pieces in every collection to work for all of our accounts and customers. After over 17 years of working with the best factories, I also push their capabilities to develop products that truly standout and last. Small production runs ensuring brand integrity and quality output is maintained.
There is a high emphasis on vintage research and using the most unique and technologically advanced fabrics. I want to create collections which are more than just product, to make sure our brand makes an emotional connection with its customers. Every collection tells a story, weaving in Scottish references of the past and making them relevant for today. I’ve just come back from a trip to Mountain Heritage Collection up in the Highlands where there were hundreds of boxes of rare garments. I was like a kid on Christmas day.
How was it opening a bricks and mortar store in London back in 2014? Was it a big move to make?
We’d planned on opening a London store for a while but finding the right unit in the right location takes time. When the old Start Boutique came up it was perfect; we jumped at it. Shoreditch is an ideal area for our brand and also the size of the unit means that we have our showroom downstairs allowing for greater efficiencies.
What or who has been the single biggest influence on your work?
I worked for Nigel Cabourn for 4 years and was eventually promoted to Head of Design. It was an intense period of training by Nigel where he taught me my core values: vintage research, learning about the history of garments, where they were manufactured, the function of the materials and the details, and the ultimate importance of championing UK production. Nigel wanted to recreate things exactly as they were originally produced. I’ve now developed my own approach where I take the details but then turn it into my own design.
Do you have any superstitions, beliefs or self-imposed rules that you live by?
I’ve always been told that you earn something, you don’t deserve anything. So, I work hard to create a career and brand that I’m proud of.
What do you hope to do next year that you haven’t done before?
I’d like to go to America and Canada myself and meet the stores we sell to and explore new wholesale options. It’s a huge market for us that we haven’t properly explored yet.
What is it that drives you?
To provide for my family. I have two daughters and I want to show them what can be achieved. Being a fashion designer was never really encouraged by my school, so I want to show them that creative careers are viable. Both of them are already really into designing mini-collections with price points so who knows if they will want to have their own label one day.
What do you know now that you wish you did when you were 21?
As a general rule, things that are good are never easy, you have to fight hard but it’s worth it.
Shop and explore the latest Kestin Hare clothing collection at OPUMO.