The young fashion brand founder and creative director on his love of travelling, acting and chocolate.
Ash Kumar started his fashion career at the family-run Manchester fashion house Influence, producing collections for high-street retailers in the UK, Europe and the US. Alongside this he launched young menswear brand Native Youth for autumn 12, and added a womenswear range in spring 15. The brand is now stocked in 350 accounts worldwide, with key stockists including Ron Herman (Los Angeles), Your (Antwerp), Beams (Japan) and Robinsons (Singapore). Wholesale prices range from £7.25 for T-shirts to £40 for outerwear for autumn 16.
How would you describe Native Youth?
Native Youth offers our retailers and their customers a compelling mix of trend-focused men’s and women’s collections using premium fabrics at fantastic prices.
When and why did you set up the brand?
Our first collection launched in autumn 12. Getting my own brand started was a dream. I’d noticed that buying patterns were changing and there was a growing demand for a fresh brand that offered on-trend product at a very healthy mark-up.
What is the hardest thing about running your own brand?
Time. I need an extra day in the week and another in between Saturday and Sunday!
You are the creative director of the label. How do you stay inspired?
Travel is key – I spend at least three months a year abroad. I am inspired by people I meet in the countries I visit around the world and the cultures I am lucky to come across.
Following the recent launch of your womenswear range, what’s next for the brand?
Our womenswear is only a year old, and as a brand we are only three and a half years old, so we are still a baby. My main focus is consistency. We’re all proud of how far the collections have developed and the stores they are stocked in around the world. We recently relaunched our website, and it’s an important focus for the brand in 2016. We also launched the Native Youth take on formal coats for autumn 16; they have been received very well and got us great orders confirmed for the coming season.
Tell us about Influence – what do you do there?
Influence is a fashion house that designs, manufactures and delivers women’s and men’s fashion to the major retailers in the UK and Europe. I manage a team producing ranges for the UK high street for both male and female customers.
You’ve worked in the industry for many years. How have people’s shopping habits changed?
Online shopping has definitely been the biggest change in the industry, especially in the UK. The menswear industry has seen a massive change too, from when I started to now. Men are definitely more fashion-conscious and shopping much more frequently than they used to.
You attend trade shows. Do you think they are still relevant for brands and buyers?
Trade shows make brands’ lives easier, because over a few days you can showcase your collection to a number of retailers from around the world or a particular country and get orders written.
What does the future of trade shows look like?
Now is the time of the smaller, more curated shows as buyers and brands alike have become bored with the larger mainstream shows.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
I still can’t beat the feeling of passing people in the street wearing our clothes, whether it be in the UK, Europe or the rest of the world. That buzz is amazing.
What’s been a career highlight so far?
We have a new highlight each season. Most recently, it was seeing Native Youth in Bloomingdale’s in the US.
You are surrounded by clothes all day. Do you still enjoy shopping?
Did you always want to work in fashion?
My grandmother started selling clothes more than 50 years ago in Liverpool, so fashion is in the blood.
Do you prefer online or in-store shopping?
I’m old-school, so I like going into a store, feeling the fabrics and textures, and trying things on. That being said, the ease of online shopping is making me change my habits, and coming home to a box from Mr Porter is always nice.
Native Youth autumn 16
Do you wear Native Youth?
Always. I’ve been wearing the autumn 16 suede bomber a lot lately.
What’s the most ridiculous purchase you’ve ever made for yourself?
On my first-ever inspirational trip to a summery New York City, I bought a white blazer. Worse still, it has a hood and was super-expensive. It’s been over 10 years and I’ve kept it as a reminder to myself.
If you weren’t working in fashion, what would you be doing?
Trying to be an actor.
Who do you admire most in the industry?
My grandmother has always been my mentor. I learned how to sell, how to manage people and how to get the best out of your team, and – most importantly – how working hard would help you to achieve your goals.
What do you do to switch off from work?
Football, food and family life.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I’m a chocoholic.