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MR PORTER buying director Sam Kershaw on unearthing and nurturing new design talent

Tom Bottomley
04 October 2021

This month saw MR PORTER reveal the three winning menswear designers who will take part in its "FUTURES" global designer mentorship programme, in partnership with Klarna.

It’s part of a positive, forward-thinking project in the wake of the nightmare of the last 18 months with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s a programme that MR PORTER has consciously created in this, its 10thanniversary year.

Kat Tua, Saif Ud Deen and double act Ryan Edmonds and Julian Canda will get the opportunity to build their own brand, and design and produce a minimum 15-piece responsible collection to launch on MR PORTER in September 2022.

It’s a 12-month bespoke high-level business incubation programme, with coaching sessions from leading industry mentors, and each designer will receive 50% of the net profits generated from the sales of their collection on MR PORTER for 12 months. Additionally, Klarna will donate a £10,000 award to each designer - or design duo - to help establish and grow their business following the programme.

MR PORTER’s Buying Director Sam Kershaw was heavily involved in the process of selecting the three winners from thousands of entries from 77 countries around the world.

Kershaw commented: “The birthday is a reflection on everything that MR PORTER has done over the last 10 years, but more so we wanted the birthday to be very forward looking. We’ve created this incredibly powerful platform, which is unique in the sense that it’s probably still the only super scaled men’s destination platform. So, what we really wanted to do is use that platform for some good.

“The ‘FUTURES’ mentorship programme is one of those things that really stands out. I know it seems that everyone on the planet – every retailer and every brand - has a mentorship programme at the moment, and I would not seek to compare and contrast, but what I will say about what we are trying to do is that it’s fairly unique in that its global and it's menswear only.

Ryan Edmonds and Julian Canda

What was more interesting though is that the process of application was such that it was totally anonymous. The Mentor Selection Committee, of which Kershaw was part, didn’t know where applicants were from or anything about them, and absolutely zero fashion experience was required to enter.

“Of course, they could have gone to a fashion school, or they could have picked it up for a while and then dropped it, but the thing was that it was applicable to anybody from a teenager in a bedroom,” said Kershaw.

“They were assessed solely on the work that they provided. That was based around unique ideas, and ultimately the candidates were selected because they presented ideas and scope that we genuinely felt had a point of difference in the market. One of the really interesting things about going through the process is, with the work we’ve seen and we’re developing from all three designers, I genuinely feel that these collections are scalable. It’s also work that we would never have seen if we had not launched this programme.

Kat Tua

“The thinking behind that was we all recognise that fashion is fairly elitist and there are lots of barriers getting in to the industry, and we really wanted to strip them back. The idea was that if we really wanted to discover new talent and lift the lid on what else is ‘out there’, then this is what we should do, as the opportunity wouldn’t ordinarily be there.”

Kershaw said they have some “fantastic mentors” as part of the programme too, such as designers Nicholas Daley and Reese Cooper, and for the first year of the programme the three successful designers will get all the help and support they need making their collections sustainably, while also having access to the insight and experience MR PORTER has as a successful business.

Kershaw added: “Hopefully it will give them all a solid start in the market and a give them a real competitive advantage. This is also not something we are doing only once, this is a forever project for us and the new intake for the second year will begin in April next year.”

Saif Ud Deen

Kat Tua, originally from New Zealand but now residing in Sydney, Australia, has a decade’s worth of experience working as a product developer and designer for various fashion retailers, but is keen to pursue a career as a solo designer.

Saif Ud Deen is a recent Fashion Design graduate from the University of Salford, and design duo Ryan Edmonds and Julian Canda, from Oregon in the US, met prior to the pandemic and have since collaborated on a joint project from their studio space in Portland, which clearly hit the mark with Kershaw and the rest of the Mentor Selection Committee.

Hear more from Sam Kershaw on this project and his long career in menswear buying on In Conversation podcast, in partnership with Klarna. Listen on demand here

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