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A State of Nature founders on winning Shaftesbury’s ‘Soho Incubator Project’ competition

Tom Bottomley
12 December 2022

Last month saw young British unisex brand A State of Nature announced as the winner of Central London landlord Shaftesbury’s ‘Soho Incubator Project’ competition, giving it the chance to have a rent-free 658 sq ft pop-up shop at 99 Berwick Street in the heart of Soho.

The shop opened on Friday 2 December 2022, for a period of three months. Not bad considering the Hackney based brand – which perfectly fit Shaftesbury’s sustainability and inclusivity credentials - was only founded by young up-and-coming design duo (and husband and wife) Nick Eisa and Barbara Fidler-Wieruszewska during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

One week into their three month Soho tenancy, Eisa and Fidler-Wieruszewska tell’s Contributing Editor, Tom Bottomley, what it was like to win, how it’s going so far and what their plans are for the future.

Why and how did you launch A State of Nature?

Nick Eisa: Barbara’s a fantastic shirtmaker and a great designer. I had a lot of experience in bespoke shoemaking and luxury handbags. All of it planted firmly in the luxury world.

Barbara Fidler-Wieruszewska: We always admired well designed and made and workwear. Through the years of working as designers we learned about the industry. Time spent at the factories looking at products being made was one of our favourite things about being designers. In fact, this got us thinking about retraining as craftspeople. Nick and I discovered that craft drives our imagination, and eventually took the plunge and transitioned from design to making.

We wanted to continue to make products at the same high standard we were trained for, but we’re both uncomfortable with the exclusivity of the Mayfair world. We wanted to bring the high quality we had learnt to our customers at a more accessible price point. Every shirt we make is still made in London by independent seamstresses and we don’t intend on changing that.

You started the brand in 2020 during the pandemic - how did that affect things?

BFW: The pandemic accelerated our thinking and planning. We’d never run a business like this before, so the difficulties just seemed like an everyday reality for us. Now that the pandemic is tailing off, we can really feel the difference. It’s so nice to see customers and chat in person.

NE: We started out with one shirt. The idea was that, firstly, Barbara is an excellent shirtmaker capable of producing an amazing level of quality and, secondly, we were both good pattern cutters. We wanted to make and sell handcrafted clothing, but didn’t want it to be so expensive that only a Savile Row/Mayfair customer could afford it. But we also wanted to keep the quality really high, and keep it made in London, by us or by other skilled craftspeople.

How did you get the word out to promote your new business in such strange times?

NE: Instagram has always been our focus as far as online platforms go. We use it to build our following, maintain a running blog of our activities, and it’s the centre of our advertising efforts. Our Instagram started its life as Barbara’s personal account. We changed the name to A State of Nature around the time we made our first shirt, and it’s grown pretty steadily from there.

There have been a few leaps forward, not because of major events but because of new products we’ve released. People seem to gravitate towards our profile because of design and craftsmanship. That’s what we like to see!  We’re at about 17,000 followers now and we’re really proud of that growth.

A State of Nature Founders RETAIL STORE

Where did you hear about Shaftesbury’s ‘Soho Incubator Project’ competition and did you think you had a strong case to win it when you entered?

BFW: As a growing business we’re always on the lookout for support. And there are a lot of great opportunities out there for spaces, financial support, business mentoring, you name it.

NE: We've always been confident about our skills. That’s why we both felt comfortable moving from design to making. When we applied to the Shaftesbury competition we knew we had a strong proposal because our brand is a reflection of us and what we love doing. And what we love doing is making beautiful objects out of cloth and leather. It’s what we were trained to do and it defines us as people.

What do you think you brought to the table that was always going to be different to what other entrants had?

BFW: From an outside perspective people see us as different because we make our products onsite. We had some sense of how special that was before opening the pop-up, but running the space has really drilled it home. People love seeing us working away on Berwick Street. Our brand is all about getting to know the people who make your clothes, that’s a pretty rare opportunity, and we were so happy to learn the people at Shaftesbury agreed with us.

Was having your own shop after initially just trading online from your website always the dream?

BFW: We enjoy both sides of the business - in person and e-commerce. We have a lot of international customers from the USA and Canada who would find it very hard to get involved without e-commerce. We build and maintain our relationships with them via emails and online sales. On the other hand, it’s so nice to see our UK based customers visiting us in Soho. We’ve actually had quite a few visits from people who follow us on Instagram who wanted to see us, and the product, in person.

What does this pop-up mean for your business?

NE: Taking a step into renting a commercial space without any initial testing is a high risk. Winning this competition gave us a great opportunity to try things out before making the decision about moving somewhere permanently.

How good did it feel to be open and, though early days, what has the response been like?

BFW: It has been fantastic!  We’ve had a lot of people through the door telling us how rare it is to see clothing being made right in front of them. Many walk through the door just to ask questions about what we do, and we’ve enjoyed talking to them.  Craft can seem like a bit of a closed off world sometimes, but we’re making an effort to open it up and invite people in, and it’s so good to see how positively people have reacted.

How well do you feel you fit in to the Soho location?

NE: Soho is a real mixing pot. It’s hard to define a single “Soho customer”. I think we fit in well because Soho’s a very tactile place, people like to come in and share the experience of being in a workshop, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Is everything made to order, or do you also carry stock?

NE: We do carry a tiny bit of stock, which has been useful for those customers who are only in town for a few days or want to buy presents. But the core of our business is made-to-order. When you buy something made to order you get to make little tweaks to the design and fit. It would feel like a shame to buy an item made by the person standing right in front of you and not have the option to ask for an extra inch on the sleeves, if that’s what you want. Plus, making to order means we never over produce.

Is everything usually made in your factory/workshop in Hackney? 

NE: Yes, we do the whole lot in house, from the pattern making to cutting, sewing, finishing and then packing. We even make our own swing tags, and they’re hand stamped with gold foil lettering using our leather embossing machine. It helps us stay versatile, but it’s also just fun to have such a close relationship with the entire process. We’re constantly playing around with little details of packaging and presentation.

A State of Nature

Have you had to move your equipment to the shop so you can make on site for the duration of the pop-up?

NE: Exactly right. We already had a lot of orders in the run up to Christmas, so in our initial discussions with Shaftesbury we made it clear that serving our existing customers had to be the priority. We moved all our machinery over and I spent about six days in the basement of the shop building all the furniture for the shop; work benches and the like. By the time we opened our doors we had a fully functioning workshop in place, capable of producing every item we had previously made in Hackney.

What has the response been like from customers who have never seen clothing actually being made in front of their eyes?

BFW: Our customers get very excited about the industrial machines being used in a commercial space. I’ve seen a lot of people take pictures and videos of the shop and us making clothing. We’ve also had a few conversations with clients who have plenty of specific questions and would like to find out more about how we operate. We really enjoy being transparent about the processes and suppliers we use. This includes chatting about where the fabric comes from or how long it takes to make a piece of clothing.

How do you intend to grow the business?

NE: Our main focus is on increasing our production capacity. Finding great makers can be hard, but they are out there. As a maker, A State of Nature is a great client to have. We understand the job because we do it ourselves, and it’s always nice to work for someone who fully understands your job.

What new designs are being added going forward to entice new customers?

NE: We’ve got lots of things on the go, such as a great raincoat pattern which we’ll be utilising with some exciting new fabrics. We’re also expanding our accessories offering with more headwear and leather goods, and we’ll be introducing some more colour options for our tweed and corduroy pieces, as well as some lighter weight fabrics for the summer.

A State of Nature clothing

What are your hopes for the future?

BFW: We hope to expand our network of craftspeople working for A State of Nature, to be able to serve even more clients. We would love to settle in a permanent retail location where we can produce our handcrafted clothing and get people more involved with fashion manufacturing.

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