7L IS A COMMITTED TRAVEL PARTNER FOR EVEN THE MOST INTREPID CONSUMER OUT THERE
Over two years in development and field-tested in some of the most extreme climates on the planet - with dog mushers in Alaska to anti-rhino poaching rangers in South Africa - 7L is a showcase of what’s possible when it comes to garment making, material selection and functional layering.
According to Hypebeast, 7L is at the forefront of educating and dressing people correctly, whatever the weather throws at them. “Inspired by the U.S. army’s Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) from the 1980s, the collection features looks constructed from up to seven layers of insulation. The label transitions the layering aesthetic into contemporary designs.” Not bad!
Developed in partnership with KTC, the ultimate goal of the 7 Layer systems function is to create the optimum core body temperature and to move perspiration away from the body to give complete comfort in any climatic conditions. From the coldest, wettest days in the urban environment to wind-swept high mountain ranges to the searing heat of vast desert expanses, 7L is a committed travel partner for even the most intrepid consumer out there.
Manufaktur catches up with its founder, Dominic Stansfield to talk rhinos, clothing systems and the genesis of one of the most innovative collections around.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE PROTECTION FROM THE COLD IS TO WEAR MULTIPLE LAYERS
TELL US ABOUT HOW THE PARTNERSHIP CAME ABOUT?
Some time ago I was one of the designers working on the development of UVU, one of KTC’s brands. Whereas the brand now has an association with ultra running, when I was brought in, it was to work on lifestyle elements of the collection. On one particular visit to see KTC, I was shown a document from the Swiss fabric supplier Schoeller based on the American military clothing system called the Extreme Cold Weather Clothing system. We started to discuss how we could use these principles and apply them to a standalone clothing collection.
SO, YOU WERE INSPIRED TO CREATE A COLLECTION OF JUST SEVEN PIECES?
It was more about the principles than anything else. When a soldier travels around the world, they need to ensure that they have an incredibly tight wardrobe. They need as few pieces as possible, but each layer they have needs to work really hard and be incredibly effective. The Seven Layer System puts a scientific framework around everything those soldiers might be wearing.
TELL US ABOUT THE SYSTEM ITSELF
The most effective protection from the cold is to wear multiple layers which can be added or removed depending on the weather conditions. Our layering system is essentially a way of layering clothes together to ensure the wearer is comfortable whatever the conditions. Basically multiple thin layers will keep you warmer than a single thicker layer is because warm air is trapped between the layers, which will act as an insulator. The benefit of using a layering system is that you can prepare for many eventualities that may arise, whether you are in the Arctic or in the jungle. For example - Layer one is always a knitted base layer. It has to have stretch, be absorbent with great wicking properties and dry quickly. All the layers have their own particular qualities and functions, all the way up to a down layer.
IF IT WORKS UNDER HARSH CONDITIONS, IT WILL WORK IN THE REAL WORLD
WAS IT A CASE OF TAKING SOMETHING DESIGNED FOR THE MILITARY AND MAKING IT MORE ACCESSIBLE TO THE MAINSTREAM?
Everything military does, not just clothing, eventually seems to filter into the mainstream. It’s often a case of, if this clothing can survive in a war, it can survive anywhere. The genesis of the 7L brand and its core foundations were built around around these principles. However we wanted to release something that was not about celebrating what the military does, but trying to find a new spin on it, to tell a new story.
SO WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
I went to KTC with a proposal about how we could flip this into a collection. Rather than going down the military path, we looked elsewhere to test out our initial prototypes to create a story. In fact, we sent them to anti poaching park rangers in South Africa who are like soldiers, but they are protecting the rhinos. We went through six or seven rounds of development to get the product right. It was a case of, if it works for these guys under such harsh conditions, it will work in the real world. With KTC everything is about field-testing to prove that something works. This felt like an interesting new way of telling that story.
WHY DO YOU LIKE WORKING WITH KTC?
I work incredibly closely with them in partnership and that for me is key. We are based in Hong Kong, so I can go to see them most weeks if I need to, rather than sending them an email with development ideas and waiting for feedback. If you have an idea in the morning, their incredibly skilled team can come back with solutions in the afternoon. KTC loves to be pushed and love to explore technical possibilities together.
Most brands will visit a factory once every six months and try and cram everything in. That doesn’t work for us. I am fortunate enough to be able to work with them more collaboratively, more often on an ongoing basis. The results speak for themselves.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CRAFTSMANSHIP THAT KTC OFFERS?
Everything about 7L is about being the best and getting the best. Best materials. Best finishing. Best manufacturing. So I went to all the best companies in the world – the ones in Sweden, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland – for fabrics (plus we also source fabric from Japan). Luckily I know just how good KTC was for everything else. They are always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that each product works, giving the end user huge confidence in what you are delivering to them. Their checking procedures are incredible too, which is why you never get any returns. Their process is labour intensive, but the quality is second to none.
IT’S FOR PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND HOW THINGS ARE MADE
TELL US ABOUT THE NEW COLLECTION THAT’S JUST LAUNCHED
It’s called the Archetype system. Essentially, it’s lots of classic pieces of menswear reinvented. We have three versions of a parka – a mountain parka, arctic parka and a fishtail parka; there’s hoodies, suit jackets, bomber jackets, cagoules – classic styles but with loads of added technology.
WHO DO YOU SEE BUYING YOUR SYSTEMS?
When we started I thought we would sell into high-end streetwear places, but we ended up selling to high-end fashion department stores. The fashion consumer can see the quality and understand the technical make up and understand how much work goes into each piece. It’s for people who understand how things are made. You are not selling a vague lifestyle product, you are selling ’a highly functional product routed in a scientific theory’ and an incredible story.
FOR MANY YEARS ‘MADE IN CHINA’ HAS HAD A NEGATIVE PERCEPTION IN THE WEST? WE BELIEVE THAT PERFORMANCE SPORTSWEAR MADE IN CHINA IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD! WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS IN RELATION TO KTC?
If you want to make this sort of technical product then China’s - and KTC - is the only place to go. All the knowledge base is in China now – it has been for decades - and nowhere else on the planet can they reach the same levels as over there. If you want to make a classic suit get it made in Europe. On the other hand, if you want to make a ski suit head to China. KTC’s sample room has been making ski jackets for 40 years. You just can’t get that level of quality anywhere else.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF KTC’S APPROACH TO CSR?
How many other factories have an Instagram account that shows exactly what’s going on in the day to day? Not many. KTC is completely transparent and it really matters. KTC is all about the people and their skillset. They retain their staff for a very good reason. They care and it shows.