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The Interview: Cathal McAteer, founder and creative director, Folk

Tom Bottomley
02 September 2019

Cult British brand Folk has created an exclusive collection with John Lewis & Partners called It’s All Good Folk – now selling in select John Lewis and Folk stores. It’s a new sustainable range, celebrating a shared commitment to inspiring design, responsibly produced, with a nod to some of the brand’s archive classics. Folk founder, Cathal McAteer, talks us through it.

How did the collaboration with John Lewis come about?

They’ve been changing their business on the fashion side for quite a while. They started with the women’s, and now there is big changes to the menswear offer. So, they’ve been talking to us for maybe a couple of years now, but through distribution issues and so on we’d not been able to work with them, until now.

Folk John Lewis

What is the sustainability angle to It’s All Good Folk?

We’ve been trying to really engage with our sustainability credentials for quite some time, and how to do that properly. We felt that we didn’t just want to integrate certain fabrics in to the main collection, as we wanted to do something a bit more meaningful way. We’ve been researching ways to do that, and the idea of launching it with John Lewis meant we would be able to do that in a much bigger way, and accelerate our whole investment and journey into this. Through that, we’ve launched this new It’s All Good Folk sub-brand that promises to have a 360 degree look at making the garments in the best way we possibly can, with a kind of manifesto that says we will do our utmost to meet all standards and go many steps further – only using sustainable fabrics.

So what would you say is at the core if this new sub-brand?

Sustainable fabrics, durability and timeless design are at the core, which has been developed with the “Wear it Out” concept in mind. This encourages consumers who buy a piece to get maximum wear out of it and, if it’s damaged or worn out, return it to Folk where it will either be repaired or recycled.

Folk John Lewis

What is the branding and with there be more collections?

The branding on the label is It’s All Good Folk. This is a Folk brand, it’s not a brand that is owned by John Lewis. We’re just locking horns with them and using each other’s resources to launch this brand, as a Folk brand. We’re selling it on our website and in all our stores too. We’re working exclusively with John Lewis and our own stores to launch it, but this is the start of something that we will grow and the public will decide how big it gets. It could possibly be wholesaled in the future. It’s whatever is best for the brand. I’ve just delivered the first collection to John Lewis, then the second collection goes out in four weeks, and the third one goes out in 10-12 weeks. They are all for just my shops and select John Lewis stores. The next collection after that will be the same, because that’s already been bought for next summer, then we will look at it together and decide where to take it.

How has the collection been received in stores so far?

They’ve had a really good time with it. The hero piece, which is the multi-coloured leaf print camp collar shirt, has been the best seller. It’s also the most vibrant piece. The feedback has generally been very good, but it’s only been in the stores for just over three weeks so far. There’s about 20 pieces in the first collection, then there’s another 16 in the second drop, and another 10 in the third. The whole aesthetic of the offer is celebrating Folk’s history, so there’s an archival reference to some things. We’ve pulled out a design or a specific detail, fabric or print and we’ve put those in. It’s got a utilitarian feel to it. Not workwear, more your everyday stuff, so not restrictive shapes. It’s easy wearing and really good on the eye, but it doesn’t have the kind of textural fashion design pomp that the main collection has, though it is still very designed and detailed. We’re making garments as cleanly as we possibly can, but in terms of the initial contact with the consumer, they will see a brand that they will buy for how good it looks. The sustainability credentials will be a nice bonus.

Folk John Lewis

How do the price points differ to the Folk mainline?

They are approximately 20% cheaper than Folk. We don’t think the price is so much of an issue. There are demands to the buying of this type of production, such as buying Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) fabrics, organic cotton and recycled nylon. There are certain minimums to these fabrics, or you end up paying a premium, but because we’re buying more through John Lewis it has allowed us – with economy of scale – to actually reduce the prices. We didn’t go out to make garments cheaper, but through buying power it has enabled us to make them cheaper. So, it’s kind of win-win for the consumer, and for us. Of course, I could charge the same prices as Folk and make more money, but that doesn’t go with the ethical and moral credentials.

Is working with John Lewis good for Folk and raising brand awareness to the mainline too?

I think so, they’ve got something like 90,000 people working there. It’s been interesting for our 45-person company to talk to such a massive company. It’s going to be good exposure for us, for sure. Also, I have an affiliation with John Lewis as a customer myself. I bought my first computer there when I was set up business a long time ago, as well as my towels and frying pan! John Lewis is the place to go to when you buy your first flat. It’s a great British company that takes care of their people, and they are pretty inspiring that way. They are successful at it too, with that ethos behind them. For us to work with them is pretty great.

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