In Conversation: Kestin Hare

As we hit mid-season in the fashion industry, our focus is on balance. With the changeable weather (and political landscape) there is no one brand we would rather rely on than menswear frontrunner, Kestin Hare. Consistently termed as premium menswear, Kestin Hare has forged a no compromise approach to both design and production with his resolute transparency when it comes to sourcing and producing his contemporary yet functional menswear collections.

 With the latest collection from the brand putting equal emphasis on the product and the surrounding terrain, Kestin has created technically strong, resilient designs that appeal to both the countryman and the commuter. We spoke to Kestin on the launch of his new Leith flagship store in his homeland of Scotland, covering his impressive journey as a designer, the importance of UK manufacturing, and how escaping to the rugged beauty of the countryside keeps him inspired.

Above: Designer Kestin Hare at his Leith flagship store 

To start at the beginning, could you talk us through your journey as a designer so far?

Originally I wanted to be an architect and follow in my father’s footsteps, but I soon realised I wasn’t cut out for the reality of the job. Instead I ended up doing a BA (hons) in Fashion Design and Marketing at Northumbria university. I was taught at university by the wife of the Head of Design at Nigel Cabourn who was based in Newcastle and I was encouraged to go and meet them. After graduating, a role came up at Nigel Cabourn and after my first job in London I came back to Newcastle to work my way up to head of design there over a period of three years. 

I left Cabourn and launched my own label after meeting a shoe designer who had a brand called Common People and wanted to start making made in the UK clothing. We became partners and built the brand for four years selling to some of the best independents in the country before selling the brand almost three years ago now.

I then partnered up with my now partner and investor Masataka Fujino who was distributing Common People in Japan and started Kestin Hare the label. Masa and I have now been in business together since December 2014 and have opened our two flagship stores in Shoreditch and in Edinburgh, where the label is based. We try to focus on made in the UK production where ever possible and now sell to the best stores domestically and internationally.   

Do you feel that the craftsmanship focus of a brand like Nigel Cabourn has directed how you design menswear now?

Definitely. It has helped mould and influence my handwriting, it was great training as a young designer. He taught me a lot about looking back at vintage garments for inspiration and everything he knows about fabric sourcing and UK production and that has stuck with me ever since. I like to put my own slant on it all now with a more contemporary, cleaner aesthetic but still with quality at the forefront. 

Above: A select from the Kestin Hare SS17 lookbook featuring the Kenmore Blazer and  Inverness Trouser.

How important is this focus on fabrication to Kestin Hare as a brand?

This is everything, this makes the brand. What we design is not ‘over designed’ and the fabric drives every design. This is why I spend so much time sourcing fabrics and it really has been one of the most important lessons learnt from Nigel. 

Your passion for UK manufacturing is well known. How important is it for you to be transparent about your sourcing of fabric and production?

I think the customer is becoming more educated about fabric and garment construction than ever and they are more considered with what they spend their money on. On the other side of this I also think there is a percentage of customers that still don’t care as much and it is about the right product at the right price for them. The balance is important. For me its all about the quality and craftsmanship and wherever possible we try to produce in the UK at the right price. As much as I would like to produce everything across the brand in the UK it is ultimately only worth what someone is going to pay for a product. Further to this, the UK has very little in the way of locally produced fabric, we are good at producing tweed, leather and knitwear but sourcing here does not always not give the range of fabric options to produce a full collection.

Above: Details from SS17 including the Inverness Trouser.

With this in mind we also source the best fabrics from Italy, Portugal and Japan and bring them into the UK to construct in our factories here.  We make make our technical jackets near Glasgow, our jacket styles in North London, trousers in Manchester, knitwear in Alloa and more in Leicester. We have some shirt production in Wolverhampton, but we also make shirts and jerseys in the north of Portugal as there are not that many good jersey and shirt factories left in the UK that can deliver production at the price level that allows us to wholesale them.

It is down to the company or brand to decide how transparent they are about where they produce, but I think the customer is more discerning and educated than ever, they almost expect to brands to be ethically and locally sourced.   

Can we talk about the influence that your heritage and home in Scotland has played on your designs? 

I think being brought up Scotland where the climate is very unpredictable and where most of the time it is cold and wet, fabric technology and function are always top of the priorities when designing products. I want garments to be both durable and functional. The history of Scotland’s fishing and weaving industry and Scottish travel escaping to the rugged countryside also really inspires me.   

Above: The Armadale shirt in sky.

Outside of the parameters of menswear, what inspires you when creating each new collection?

Everything around me! I am always inspired by seeing new things, so travel is really important. Newness and a change of scenery is the best start for me, even if it’s researching from home on a sub culture or history I wasn’t previously aware of. 

With this in mind can you talk us through the inspiration and development behind this season’s collection ‘Northern Shore’?

I think there is a real trend for people to escape their day to day lives and cut themselves free into the great outdoors. I am feeling this now, maybe its an age thing, but I just want to get back to basics, get in my Defender and drive up to the coast to escape things and get inspired. This is what the new collection is about, it’s about a journey around ‘The Northern Shores’ of Scotland. 

The campaign takes inspiration from a trip on ‘Scotland’s route 66’ – the North Coast 500, covering over 500 miles of coastal scenery. The two guys called Richard Gaston and David Cooper who shot the spring campaign are like modern day explorers. They have just written a book launched this week called Wild Guide Scotland. 

Above: A shot from the SS17 collection lookbook captured on Scotlands North Coast featuring the Durness Sweat.

You’ve recently opened a new base camp store in Edinburgh. Can you talk us through the concept for the store?

Our new flagship store opened a few months back in Leith, a destination location situated down by the Shore in Edinburgh’s historic docks. The store occupies a Grade A listed Town House built in 1812 and is spread over two floors, directly facing onto the water. The interior of the store has been designed to reflect the local nautical culture with a 1960s speedboat for the downstairs changing room, and yachting rope used to suspend paddles for hanging fixtures. The in house collection sits alongside an edit of Made in Scotland brands including sunglasses, stationary, home-ware and grooming. 

Above: The exterior of Kestin's Leith flagship store.

It was at the front of my mind to create something that gives customers a real reason to come to my physical store. We wanted to involve the community, to tell a story and inspire. I wanted to build an experience where someone feels like they want to come, relax, feel at home and live the Kestin Hare lifestyle. There is an an onsite barber and a florist with a focus on selling seasonal Scottish plants and flowers. The store backs on to Leith coffee roasters Williams & Johnson café and fronts Custom Lane, a collaborative centre for design and making. 

Above: The Leith flagship interior

To finish up, what do you envision for the future of Kestin Hare? How do you foresee you will have to adapt to the effects of the changing political landscape on the fashion industry?

We want to grow our business, slowly and steadily, and to stay true to our values concentrating on locally produced, top quality, well-priced menswear. The only certainty at the moment is uncertainty, so you have to run a lean business and be agile and willing to change. And there is so much change and Brexit is definitely making things problematic, but we are adapting and looking towards our key pillars of growth, focusing on wholesale, online and fingers crossed a store in Japan soon.

Words by Rebecca Field. Shop selected pieces from Kestin Hare online and in store.