The most interesting clothing brands don’t draw from one discipline; rather, they pick and choose from multiple sources, combining them to create new takes on classic styles. Take LEJ, founded in London just two years ago by designer Luke Walker. With a focus on shirting, LEJ has clear workwear and military influences, but it breaks the mold with its construction and fabrication. Expect officer’s shirts cut from silk, high-waisted, double-knee jeans and jackets made in shirt factories, which give them a lightweight, broken-in feel straight off the bat.
LEJ does things its own way. It’s a refreshing and perhaps necessary approach in a market that’s undoubtedly saturated, yet is crying out for authentic brands that have something to say. LEJ started as an online only business but for the month of March 2022 it opened its first pop up store in London’s Piccadilly Arcade. We met up with its founder, Luke, to discuss the importance of meeting customers in person, his impatience as a designer and where he wants to go next.
How has it been having a physical shop?
One of the interesting observations is that having a physical presence has driven more sales online. I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing that if there’s a physical shop, you’re more convinced about a brand because it isn’t just online and must be a bit more serious. It’s been such a fun experience. It completely changes how I interact with people and how people interact with the clothes.
Where do you want your first permanent space to be?
It’s a funny one with clothes of a certain price point because a more natural hub for us might be east London. But I don’t think people have got the cash over there. So I think you’ve got to be Mayfair. I don’t know if I’m edgy enough for Soho. You’ve got to balance the cost, because it is costly. If you want to be where you want to be, you’ve got to pay for it.
How did the brand get to this point?
I launched almost exactly two years ago, in April 2020. The plan was to do a big launch with an event, but then the rug got pulled out from under us [because of Covid]. The deliveries really slowed up and the stock wasn’t there for the launch, so we couldn’t shoot it and couldn’t publicize it. But it’s been good since and because people have been shopping so much online that’s helped us to grow.
It was around 2017 that I started the idea, and the original concept was to only do shirts. I was wearing a lot of formalwear at the time. I’d just left Dunhill where I was head of design and was wearing a suit every day, with shirts and ties and beautiful bench-made loafers. I wanted that quality, the fabrication and luxury, but couldn’t find it in a casual market.
How did you develop the idea?
I had this idea which was kind of linked to the way I shop. I’d get a few bits from a fashion brand, but if I was going to get a beautiful pair of shoes, I’m not going to Prada because they’re not a shoemaker. I’d go to Edward Green, or Crockett & Jones. It’s the same with shirts. It’s an old fashioned way of shopping. You know where you’re going and you trust your provider for each category. So I wanted to do that, but then I soon learned that I’m just too impatient. My background is too ‘fashion’. I always want to change and add and develop, so I couldn’t just do white shirts for four seasons. But shirts – and the sensibility of the shirt – remains at the core. The majority of the jackets are made at shirt factories. I specify that they have shirt style stitching and the fabric weights are shirt-like. It’s me trying to stay true to the original concept.
What makes your shirts different?
I like to use a lot of quite ‘feminine’ fabrics. It lends a slightly different mood. Take a chambray shirt with two pockets, chain stitching and tobacco thread – you can get that anywhere. But if you do that same shirt with the same thread, the same construction and detailing in silk, then it’s all of a sudden slightly more interesting.
Why is having a physical shop important?
It’s down to each person and what their plan and passion is. For me, you can communicate something online, but you’re never going to get all the sensitivities that you can get across in a shop. It’s visual but then it’s also tactile and sensory and so many different things. You create a completely different experience. The idea with a shop was always to make it quite homely. Of course it’s got to be functional, but having a fluffy rug and having some furniture from home and cut flowers, you create an environment that is very personal. And in doing that you don’t have to try to make the space work.
I also think a brand has to be a personality. I’m very reluctant to use my face with a brand, or was reluctant. The difference it has when I communicate something personally is just huge. The interaction is much deeper and the engagement is much greater. You can’t deny it.
Where do you want to take the brand next?
The size of the range is now where it needs to be. What I’m interested in is getting it out there to more customers and more cities and towns. And physical shops. Even though the little shops may not place the biggest orders, I think they have the most loyal customers. And they’re the ones that are most engaged with buying and appreciating certain details and fabrications. I want to find more of those shops with really passionate owners and buyers, who also appreciate our stuff and have the ability to communicate it to their customer base.