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The Interview: Cut & Pin Founders, Al Baker and Martin Parker

Tom Bottomley
17 August 2021

Yorkshire-based menswear brand Cut & Pin was founded last year by former colleagues Al Baker and Martin Parker with a mission to make in England, creating menswear essentials with quality and craftsmanship as the design focus, while aiming to be as sustainable as they can.

Initially scheduled to launch just before the pandemic struck, things didn’t go according to plan and they ended up launching in November 2020, though now they are getting back on track – having launched a ‘Made in England’ collection in spring, with more product from British mills to be added this autumn, and there’s even talk of a first pop-up shop. They tell their story so far.

What were you both doing before deciding to launch Cut & Pin?

Al Baker: Prior to this we worked at cashmere brand Pure Collection together. I was responsible for all digital and e-commerce globally, and Martin was head of design. That’s where we first met. We were based in Harrogate.

Why did you decide to launch Cut & Pin in the middle of a pandemic?

AB: We didn’t actually decide to launch in the middle of the pandemic, unfortunately it just happened that way! We were going to launch just before the pandemic hit in March 2020, but when it did hit it put a pause on everything. We then thought we could launch in early summer last year, but the lockdown continued and our UK supply base was scuppered. We then decided to launch in November 2020.

Cut & Pin

Martin Parker: The idea for Cut & Pin was that we would always work with UK manufacturers, but when the pandemic hit all hell broke loose. We were in talks with some UK suppliers, but it didn’t happen purely because of the pandemic, so most of the product for our launch came from off shore suppliers. We are still using off shore suppliers, but we have now got back on track with UK suppliers as well.

Why is made in the UK important to you?

MP: Firstly, it means less carbon footprint and, secondly, it’s easier to deal with suppliers on your door step, or not too far away. Also, UK suppliers have always had a reputation for quality and craftsmanship, and we really wanted to tap in to that. That’s part of our brand ethos, as well as the sustainable angle. A lot of the fabrics we are now using are from mills in England, so most of what we are now doing is UK produced.

Cut & Pin

What’s been your design focus?

MP: We didn’t set out targeting any particular products, but we both wanted to create  a contemporary collection that focused around foundation pieces. Essentials that every guy needs in his wardrobe, from jersey tops, to a piece of knitwear or a shirt and jeans, but looking at twists on those as well. We’re about seasonless collections whereby everything you wear is versatile and can work with every outfit, whether you’re working from home, popping to the shops or going out for a beer with your mates. There’s also the sustainable angle, and a lot of our pieces are actually made from deadstock, organic and recycled fabrics.

Have you found that there’s a shortage of skills and factories in the UK when you’ve been sourcing?

MP: I’ve actually discovered that there’s quite a big industry in the UK. I’ve worked in fashion for 23 years and most of my experience has been working with suppliers off-shore. We have been discovering that there are factories out there and there is definitely a skill set in the UK, however, a lot of UK manufacturers are CMT, which is cut, make and trim, so you basically have to source all your own fabrics and trims, and that’s certainly been a learning curve for me.

AB: But the quality is second to none. It’s a different process of working in the UK in terms of you need to do a lot more work to get what you need, as opposed to working with a good and established off-shore supplier. They are very slick when it comes to operations, where as in the UK it’s a bit rough around the edges!

Cut & Pin

MP: Also, there’s also no getting away from it, producing in England is more expensive, but then you have to look at the whole picture. If you are producing off-shore, there are duty costs, and now Brexit has come in to play producing out in Europe has brought its own challenges and expenses. If you look at the bigger picture, the UK may be more expensive but if I have to go to see a supplier because there’s a problem with a fabric or the fit of the garment, then I can get in my car and drive to see them instead of getting on a plane. So, there are advantages to making in the UK, though it’s a challenge to keep the price points accessible – which is what we want.

When did you launch the ‘Made in England’ collection and what does it consist of?

MP: We launched the ‘Made in England’ collection with a jean, a chino, an overshirt and two Oxford shirts at the end of April this year. But that’s just the start of it. The navy Melton wool overshirt retails at £180 and is in a deadstock fabric from the 180-year-old Abraham Moon mill in Yorkshire. The two button-down Oxford shirts have been created at Acorn, a renowned cotton mill in Lancashire. The founder’s story began in the 1970’s, weaving unwanted fabrics into new for clients that required small production runs. They have helped us produce a chambray fabric shirt, and a fine blue and white stripe shirt, both retailing at £85. The premium cotton chino, priced at £90, was created by M. Chapman & Sons, also in Lancashire, and the indigo denim slim-fit jeans (£110) have been designed and made in one of the world’s most sustainable mills. That style has all the classic hallmarks of a trouser, but re-worked in an Italian denim fabric. The idea was working with a casual fabric but doing it in a smarter style. It wasn’t easy to make a jean in England, but we managed it.

What will be new to Cut & Pin’s offer for this autumn?

MP: We’re actually doing more denim pieces for this autumn, such as denim shirts and overshirts, as well as some more jeans. A lot of people make denim out in Europe, and in my experience in Turkey and China. There’s not a huge amount of denim suppliers in the UK, but we managed to find a good one and now we want to work with them more. We like the workwear and utility feel to it, so there will be more of a focus on denim in the immediate future, though we are also doing some great jogging bottoms.

Who would you say your target market is?

AB: It’s a contemporary thinking guy who likes fashion but not fads. Not somebody interested in wearing the absolute latest thing, but someone who likes to look modern and someone who wants his mates to ask where he got something from. We also appeal to a more conscientious shopper. The cashmere we use is 70% recycled and our Tees and sweatshirts are 100% organic cotton, or even from deadstock fabrics. I would never say we’re sustainable, because that’s an overused term, but we are ethical and conscientious the way we shop ourselves, so we try to do our bit.

What feedback have you been getting to your products?

AB: The feedback has been really positive. Aside from the style, cut and fit across all of our products, one the things that has really resonated with people is the quality, especially considering we are a brand just starting out. It’s very high end, and that has surprised quite a few people, which is testament to the suppliers we are working with and the craftsmanship.

Are you just direct to consumer via your website?

AB: We are primarily direct to consumer, though we do also sell through a select few  online marketplaces that have a similar ethos to ourselves, such as Generous Ape, Bombinate and Wolf & Badger.

Do you plan to have your own physical store going forward?

AB: It’s certainly something we’re looking at, particularly pop-up opportunities in the right retail environments. We’d consider the major UK cities, particularly London and Manchester, but also towns that we think fit well with the brand, such as Harrogate and Henley. We’re looking to do something this autumn/winter – going in to the Christmas period.

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