A new tie-up with John Lewis & Partners has allowed contemporary brand Folk to produce its most sustainable collection to date.
When Glasgwegian Cathal McAteer was building Folk, the contemporary clothing brand he founded in 2001, he recalls buying an Apple laptop from John Lewis. Almost two decades on, he still buys “almost everything” from the department store chain – from badminton rackets to frying pans.
McAteer’s fondness for John Lewis has proved serendipitous. Last month, Folk teamed up with the retailer to launch a new, sustainability-focused sub-brand, It’s All Good Folk.
The partnership is mutually beneficial. Folk has used the might of John Lewis’s buying power to create its most sustainable collection to date, and the department store is stocking the brand exclusively as part of an ongoing effort to refresh its menswear offer.
Working with John Lewis has created economies of scale and brought production costs down
Cathal McAteer, founder of Folk
It introduced new third-party brands including Tretorn and Maison Labiche in February, and launched its 280-piece own-brand menswear collection, also called John Lewis & Partners, for autumn 19. It’s All Good Folk is available in 20 John Lewis stores, as well as online.
The core Folk collection offers understated, wearable styles for both men and women. Menswear is a larger proportion but the brand will not reveal an exact split. McAteer describes the brand as “arty and European” – design-led, with a focus on creating quality product for a fair price. Retail prices for the core collection vary from around £50 for T-shirts to £250 for outerwear. Key pieces include classic striped tops (£70), quirky printed shirts (£140) and unstructured jackets (£150). It declines to reveal wholesale prices.
The brand’s UK stockist list includes Selfridges, Liberty London and Mr Porter, as well as highly regarded independents Goodhood in London, and End, which has stores in London, Glasgow and Newcastle. Folk also has five of its own retail stores across London.
It’s All Good Folk, meanwhile, revisits the archive of the Folk main line, but has been designed with a more utilitarian handwriting. An early bestseller is a shirt that uses a leaf print from Folk’s summer 15 collection. All cotton used in the collection is either organic or meets Better Cotton Initiative standards. It’s All Good Folk also uses sustainably sourced viscose EcoVero and recycled polyester. Product is made in factories in China and Portugal that have high environmental standards.
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“Working with John Lewis has created economies of scale and brought production costs down, so we can offer the same quality [as the main collection] at a lower price point,” McAteer explains. “We will sell to a lot of guys in their forties or fifties who love buying Folk but have other things to pay for, like their families. The lower price point will also bring new customers into the fold.”
Retail prices across It’s All Good Folk sit about 20% lower than the main collection, ranging from £40 for T-shirts to £150 for outerwear.
McAteer tells Drapers that working with the retailer allowed Folk to scale up and make use of its eco expertise: “By partnering with John Lewis, and using its buying power and knowledge, we’ve been able to create the best garments we possibly can. We got to speak to their sustainability department, who we learnt a great deal from.
“Ideally, the knowledge we gain will permeate through the company. The dream is that eventually all [Folk] garments will have an ‘It’s all good’ stamp, although they might not sit as part of that sub-brand because it has its own specific handwriting and aesthetic.”
He admits, however, that working with John Lewis has been something of a learning curve: “John Lewis [Partnership] employs 90,000 people and we have a team of 45. It is intriguing seeing a business of that scale working, although sometimes decisions take longer than you’d like because there’s a lot of layers of sign-off.”
McAteer is a product person through and through. He started his career in fashion when he was still a teenager, landing a job working in a premium independent in Glasgow: “The bosses liked to party, so they’d end up sending me to the buying appointments in Paris and Milan for brands like Dries Van Noten and Helmut Lang. I then found factories in Scotland and started making my own garments for the store, before moving to London and launching Folk.”
He concludes: “For me, what’s exciting about retail is finding ways to do things better. Four of us are off to India this month to work with our factory [for the main line] to make our garments better – that’s the kind of thing I love to do.”