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IAN PALEY FreshBritain | Glenn Kitson | Neil Bedford | Mark Smith
With varied and extensive experience in the clothing industry Ian Paley is a man in the know. Having worked for some of the most
prestigious and influential brands in the world, from Paul Smith to Burberry and Levi’s, his insight is fascinating. Glenn Kitson bent his
ear, and found the definitive independent retailers perspective on the sports performance market and what the future holds.
PART [1/3]

GLENN KITSON: Tell us how you got started please?

IAN PALEY: Graphic design was a family trade; I had an uncle
and aunty that did a lot of graphic work so it was always
assumed that I would go into designing myself. I was always
into clothes though. I worked in clothes shops and grew up in a
northeast town where things pretty much revolved around
football and the pub. With that background you tended to know
about two things – wearing the right clothes to chase the girls
and what happened at the match that day. So I ended up doing
fashion, going to university and learning the basics of menswear.

I was learning the properties of cloth, the textile game and then
learning to cut patterns – which was the most important skill
to learn. You look at 90% of the menswear designers today and
hardly any of them can cut a pattern, they were not taught it.
They just look at other people’s designs and try and change a
pocket here or a seam there. They call it 'product design' but
they’ve never learned to cut and see how things fit. Only when
you’ve done that can you come up with something new.

GK: What about working life, where did you begin?

IP: After university the first job I got was at Paul Smith, which
involved pretty much running his whole casual-wear thing. Then
after a year I helped to set up some of the 'shop in shops' in
Japan with a very good team of people. It was a marvelous
company and I had quite a lot of freedom with no one to answer
to. It was a fairly small group of us with a handful of people
doing everything with a very little support team, so you have got
to put in a massive amount of work and see the development.
Right the way through from doing the pattern, buying the fabric,
going to factories, then I would go to the selling shows, and then
merchandising it in the shops and seeing the whole process
through from start to finish. I would also get involved in the ad
campaigns and develop how the product was presented in the
magazines etc. It was good work and I enjoyed it.

GK: What early lessons did you learn?

IP: I learned to make decisions based on costs and
effectiveness and I learned to make them in a heartbeat. So when
the time came to do my own stuff and it was my own money I was
putting in it made me question these decisions even more. It was
good; it meant you could cut through the crap very quickly and
attempt to get it right from the offset.

Because I cut my teeth into the trade when it was 'Britpop' and
everyone was looking at Britain in the 90’s, it was absolutely
booming and it felt like you could do anything. Whether, you were
good or bad it didn’t really matter as long as you were British
you had a great chance of succeeding.

GK: You eventually moved on though?

IP: Yeah, eventually I got bored and did other things. I spent
some time in San Francisco consulting for Levi’s and I also spent
some time in Barcelona doing some stuff for Burberry. I spent
a good few years on a plane and spent a lot of time doing some
interesting projects and more importantly meeting some very
talented and genuinely brilliant people. I saw how much bigger
operations operate and what it takes to achieve stuff in a
management structure, which is probably the biggest lesson I’ve
learned – how to manage properly. You can have the best idea
in the world and the perfect market but if you have the wrong
management in place then things will stall and get

Luckily many of the contacts I developed when working for
Paul (Smith), especially in Japan have gone on to bigger and
better things, many of them heading up their own brands or
corporations. These were just drinking buddies of mine but
developing those contacts and maintaining those friendships
have really helped me and it’s nice to think that we have all
contributed to the scene.
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PART [2/3]

GK: How did you get into retail then?

IP: My wife and I had a shop in Kings Road for years where we
sold kidswear, homeware and a lot of vintage products. We sold
bed linen from India that was dyed on this rooftops in Deli, it
was a very interesting store. It was all pre-9/11 so it was full
of Americans. Post 9/11 you can see the results, that part of
London is a very different kettle of fish. So I had a taste of
retail although, not through menswear but some of the other
things we were selling. So I learned about the staff needed,
about retail systems and the general mechanics of how to work
and run a shop properly.

GK: You also set up One True Saxon.

IP: Yes, I started One True Saxon with two business partners
and we had a lot of laughs with the brand. It was great while it
lasted. We sold it when it had run its course and the offers
were good. It needed to be absorbed into a much bigger
machine because there are certain plateau’s you reach in any
business. You can go for years doing well but then find yourself
flat lining and then you have to reinvest 20 or 30 times
whatever you made out of it to get to the next plateau. At this
point you need investors and you either do that by risking
the house you have just bought or you just sell it.

GK: So you decided to draw a line under it and move onto the
next one?

IP: Selling it was the right thing to do. They turned it into a
machine and we were never that serious about it in the first
place. So I walked away and did something else, and that’s
where Garbstore came in.

GK: It seems the perfect graduation from OTS?

IP: The idea had been bubbling away in the back of my head for
a good couple of years before we started it. What I wanted to
do was represent the very best of menswear and focus on the
product that wasn’t getting the limelight or the brands that
weren’t spending a lot on advertising. I really wanted to focus
on people who were excelling at making clothing and it didn’t
matter if they were selling to a couple of stores or a thousand.
It was a genuinely satisfying experience.

I was able to go to my friends in Japan and tell them I was
opening a shop and that I would like to see their stuff.

GK: I know you are a champion of functional clothing and the
performance–led product within the menswear market. From a
retailer’s perspective, could you give us an insight into the
state of production currently in the market?
IP: Well, it’s not just a sewing machine. With anything performance
related you have to have the fabric mills making the cloth and in
Britain it is still that very traditional kind of cloth. It tends to be wax
cotton or Ventile, which is an amazing cloth but it’s 80-year-old
technology. It’s got a great story, wasn’t it the first guy who went to
the Pole wearing Ventile? But technology has moved on since

For us it’s a case of finding where the machines are to make this
stuff. There are outerwear factories in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria or
Poland, which a lot of people use. Some very good brands make
stuff out there but in Britain I am yet to find a high-spec, high-tech
factory capable of producing these garments. By and large it’s sent
abroad, it’s not done on our soil. This machinery is expensive.

Years ago I made some very good technical outerwear at a very good
factory in Portugal that could do all the heat welding and seam
sealing but it was the laser cutting and bonding that they couldn’t do.
It does seem like a huge investment for a factory to buy all this
machinery and the skill to use it as well because it’s not just a case
of sewing a straight line. You need a very skilled worker to operate
this level of machinery and advancements happen very quickly with
technical outerwear. Then there are the fabrics, you are essentially
melting and welding fabrics so each type will react differently.

GK: So in your experience, where are the best places to get this
stuff made?

IP: You find the far-east factories are bigger because the demand
is bigger. They have a huge domestic market, which is obviously
the Chinese buying for China, and this encourages modern product.
Then you have the western demand for Chinese made product.
These days it’s less about inexpensive manufacture. It can be very
expensive to make laser cut, bonded garments and also the fabrics
are very expensive. So I think it is more about the accountability
and the reliability of producing over there. When you fire off an
email you know to expect one back with an answer. You know the
product will turn up on time and the production quality will be as
good as it can be. That’s why I think they have cornered the market.

From my own experience, the good factories invest to encourage
business as opposed to react to business requests. It’s a very
horizontal landscape over there, you have the guy making the
buttons on the same road as the guys who make the zips, next to
the guys providing the taping. There are similarities to the car
industry or electronics industry where it’s about the availability of
the components and how quickly they can be delivered.

If you read the documents about the viability of an American made
iPod then it also translates into the sports performance market
in the Far East in terms of vertical business in which you can get
all the parts readily and not have to wait six weeks for them to
turn up.
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PART [3/3]

GK: Are there many myths created by the west regarding eastern

IP: Yes & No, it's an easy negative strap line that fits a lot of
peoples attitudes, but as ever the real issues are incredibly
complex and differ massively from place to place, it’s impossible
to define a country with just one 'catch phrase' no matter how
much it suits the current outlook. Look at the electronics market.
We only have to go back to the 1970s when the strap line in the
UK press was 'Made in Japan' was crap. It was supposed to be
cheap rubbish and it's since proved to be that it wasn't cheap
rubbish. Because it was such an advancement of new technology
the myth soon went out the window when it became clear that
the only good stuff you could find was made in Japan. Chinese-
made sports performance is the same.

There's a joke in one of the Back To The Future films when the
doc says something won't work because 'it's made in Japan'
and everybody laughed because by then everyone had realised
this wasn't the case.

GK: Bringing things back around to retail, how do you see the
sports performance market?

IP: Well, we are now at the back end of the 'heritage boom' in
menswear so the obvious knee jerk reaction will be for everything
to go very technical and neon (laughs) because people crave the
most different thing. The heritage scene is a very grown up and
considered thing now, but when everyone is making good product
things become boring. Anyone can spend a grand on a bench,
some cotton and some thread and knock a few items of clothes
out but the really interesting stuff is in the technical market, not
many people can laser cut fabric! If you have an inroad with a good
factory who can make this stuff then that’s what you should be
doing but then it becomes an overhead issue. These factories are
capable of turning out thousands of pieces of product hence why
it’s limited to better known outerwear and performance brands
because they have the facilities, they have invested in the
technologies for their own gear. It’s very hard to find a good
independent factory that will turn out small runs of product for you,
so I think it will be a slow burner until we get there. The heritage
trend was always going to be easy to blow up, it was all about
cotton thread and hardly any technical aspect at all, but it’s very
hard for a brand in the performance field to start up without huge

However, I truly believe the performance market is about to happen;
it’s almost there now, you only have to go to Japan (who are usually
a few years ahead of us) to see how many outdoor focused stores
there are now, how many specialist outdoors stores. We even
found women only hiking stores over there, which were unbelievable
with not just one or two products but hundreds of them! The market
is already in place in Japan for it so it’s only a matter of time
before that look sweeps over here but again. Japan has thousands
of independent stores that are susceptible to this and in Britain
you can count them on one hand who would be interested in this
sort of thing. I think it has to move out of the very old fashioned
climbing, hiking, walking stores that we still have.

I think with the decline in these traditional hiking stores and the
decline in the heritage menswear market we will see something
new and fresh and that will be the very high-spec performance
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When people like Ian Paley talk we all do well to listen and while the heritage boom was invariably sold as a timeless return to the roots
of classic menswear, the fact remains there was an element of trend about its popularity. And as Ian rightly says, when any scene becomes
stagnant, people crave something from the opposite end of the scale and that could be performance manufacture.