Recently I’ve found myself investing more attention into everyday essentials, and nothing brings me more joy than quality loungewear. This can be a morning robe, a cozy sweater, or, perhaps most suitably, a good pair of boxers.
As someone who travels frequently, having quality essentials is more important than ever. For many men on the road, swapping out quality for convenience is often an easy argument. Buying quick and cheap is an attractive idea when you only have so much space in the carry-on. As I get older, however, quality and comfort become more of a necessity. This is why I love connecting with brands who narrow the scope on what they do very, very well. Hamilton & Hare is one of those brands.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking with Olivia Francis, the brand’s owner and founder, on Portugal, the importance of quality, and what their consumers are looking for. The first time I read about Hamilton & Hare was in 2019 on Permanent Style. More recently, I heard Olivia on one of my favourite podcasts, HandCut Radio, back in June of this year.
Since the inception of the brand, I’ve always admired the dedication Olivia has had on elevating men’s essentials. The products are simple and straight forward with one aim in mind: to promote quality, longevity and comfort. Here’s our conversation below.
KJ: The brand originated in 2014. What inspired you to focus on everyday men’s items?
OF: It was the fact that they were so overlooked, which seemed so odd to me because they were the things you wore everyday. The most important elements of your wardrobe and they seemed to get the least attention in terms of quality and design. I set out to try and change that. I had absolutely no experience of menswear or fashion or clothing, my background was advertising, so it was a very steep learning curve. But actually being an outsider and not approaching it like a traditional fashion brand was great: I didn’t design seasonal ranges, it was a product-led process, making one at a time, working on how to make the best it could be and then building from there.
KJ: When it comes to sourcing the right material for your products, what drew you to North Portugal specifically?
OF: I wanted to manufacture somewhere close to make visiting easy. I started with the UK but for jersey fabrics it’s very difficult and there’s not much of an infrastructure. The Portuguese government invested a lot of money into the textile industry a while back and it’s meant that Portugal is well ahead in terms of innovation and expertise, so you can get great quality without a ridiculous price. It’s also a beautiful area and the people are wonderful so that helped.
KJ: Can you tell us a little more about the factories you use there?
OF: They are all small-scale factories, experts at what they do. Some are still family run and some are almost artisanal with just 3 or 4 people working there. Others are a bit bigger with 50-100 employees, but I’ve chosen them all for their approach which is very much about quality, not quantity.
KJ: We love the recent collaboration you did with PW for AW22. How did that collaboration come to life?
OF: British menswear is actually a very friendly place, James and I had met at and event and talked about doing something together. I went up to Manchester to meet his team and see the factory and it all started from there. The idea was to build on our mutual appreciation of quality fabrics in a range of underwear and loungewear designed and made collaboratively in their factory in Manchester and ours in Portugal.
KJ: What was the process like working with James and his team?
OF: It was delightfully easy actually, we’re both small teams and that made it really simple and straightforward, we could make decisions and it really helped that they are almost vertical in their supply chain. Our production manager is now based out in Portugal too so we could visit our factories weekly and actually see the garments on the line for total transparency and we were all really pleased with the final outcome.
KJ: We’ve always tried to empower smaller, quality-focused brands around the world. How important is production integrity and how do you think that conveys to consumers?
OF: When I visit our factories, it still amazes me to see how much goes into making one single garment, the processes, the people and the skills. Also when two garments could look quite similar on first glance but to understand the huge difference in quality in the construction, the refinement of the pattern and the quality of the fabrics and fibers, that’s what really makes such huge difference to how that garment fits and feels, and lasts too. I think the concept of fashion and trends has eroded some of the craft of clothing in that it didn’t need to last. I do think that’s changing though, certainly we’ve seen in our store on Chiltern Street that more and more customers are asking where items are made, what the fabric is and considering clothing as investment in quality.
More customers are asking where items are made, what the fabric is, and considering clothing as investment in quality.
KJ: Your products are made with natural fabrics. Can you tell us more about them?
OF: Fabrics are the most important part of the design process for me. So much of the clothing industry is still made from synthetic, plastic-derived fibres such as polyester and acrylics. We all know these are not good for the planet, both in the manufacturing and in the washing process which causes micro leaching into our water systems, but they are cheaper than natural alternatives. We use 95% natural fibers and are always looking for innovative sustainable fabrics that feel great on the skin, but are also less harmful in their production whether that be the growing, extraction or dyeing process.
Lyocell (or Tencel) is a wonderful-fabric that we’ve used since the very early days, it’s made from eucalyptus wood pulp and has no waste processes, but it also feels fantastic, it’s kind of a sustainable silk. A lot of the quality of a garment is in the fabrics and this is where sourcing the best makes all the difference. We’ve just started working with an amazing wool mill in Italy and have developed an innovative lyocell-wool blend that we’re using for suiting this season.
KJ: H&H also offers an underwear subscription service, which we think is brilliant. Tell our readers how it works.
OF: A lot of men don’t think much about their underwear so we thought a subscription service would help with that. You can order any style or quantity and just choose how often you want to receive them, for example 5 pairs every 6 months or 3 pairs every 3 months. You can also skip, change or cancel anytime, (no aggressive retention tactics that make it impossible to cancel your direct debit!) and we email you a few days before they’re due to be sent out for you to confirm what you’d like. You also save some money doing it this way too, and in return we get a loyal customer who doesn’t forget to refresh his underwear drawer, so win win for everyone.
KJ: Can you share any exciting news about what’s next for H+H?
OF: Following the success of our collaboration with PWVC, we’ve got some more in the pipeline for 2023 as well as further expansion of the range of everyday excellent essentials which I’m really excited to get live.
To shop Hamilton & Hare’s latest collection, you can click here.