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The Interview: Sam Kershaw, Buying Director, MR PORTER

Tom Bottomley
17 July 2020

Last week saw the launch of MR PORTER’s Gone Surfin’ exclusive capsule collections from 15 brands – with 171 exclusive pieces of clothing, shoes, accessories and lifestyle items that honour and nod to the rich history and tradition of surf culture.

While in the thick of SS21 buying appointments, caught up with the award-winning global online men’s style retailer’s Buying Director, Sam Kershaw, to talk about how and why it all came about, as well as new products the retailer will be launching for high summer towards the end of July.

How did the Gone Surfin’ theme come about?

If you look back to the 60’s and 70’s, the surfer lifestyle was considered counter-culture. The rogue spirit of the surfer, the nomad who spent his days chasing the next best wave, and it’s his calling, and the clothes, that we wanted to explore with this collection and campaign.  With the vital support of our partner brands, many of which have steeped relationship wit he practice, we’ve brought the concept to life through 15 individual capsules. The result is an honorific collection that represents what we love about the iconic and idyllic surfer and his style. One thing we at MR PORTER like to do is to zero in on a provenance or a vibe and assemble a group of brands that best represent or inform a certain inspiation or feeling. Over the past few years, we have had success with these types of multi-brand capsules including ‘Made in California’ and most recently ‘The Japan Edit’. As a team we decided that there are few reoccurring style inspirations that capture our imaginations quite like the surfer and the surf lifestyle and that this would be a perfect source of inspiration for our next series of exclusives.

Was it in the planning for some time?

We’d actually wanted to do this for ages as we love surf culture. I do not personally surf, but I aspire to the lifestyle, look, music and laidback attitude of surf culture. From mid-2019, MR PORTER’s team of buyers started conversations with various brands to bring this collection together with the aim that it would be launching for the SS20 season, and here it is, in time for peak summer.

Mr Porter

How did you work out with the brands? 

Gone Surfin’ was a meeting of the minds between MR PORTER and our partner brands. We tased each partner in coming up with a collection that both encapsulates surfer style and showcased what they stand for as a brand.

We worked very closely with each brand to create pieces that fit the aesthetic of surf culture. With many this included regular showroom visits or back and forth on CAD drawings and the designs. There are 171 pieces within and the majority are fully exclusive to MR PORTER. Some standout pieces include Birdwell’s gold and yellow striped board shorts, Faherty’s ‘Baja’ striped beach poncho, Go Barefoot’s island hut print Hawaiian shirt, Noon Goons’ flower power T-shirt, Reyn Spooner’s ocean print camp-collar shirt, Saturdays NYC’s logo bucket hat and The Elder Statesman’s tie-dye sprayed canvas shorts.

How did you go about selecting those 15 brands for the Gone Surfin’ theme?

We undertook a lot of research to pull together this all-encompassing exclusive collection and knew that each brand selected would need to add an original perspective, while also introducing phenomenal product. We are thrilled with the outcome of this collection, each of the brands have surfing in their DNA.  From heritage brands like Birdwell and Reyn Spooner, who have been manufacturing wares since the 1950’s and 1960’s, to newer players like Outerknown and Pilgrim Surf + Supply, each partner has contributed to the evolution of surfer style.

What would be your real go-to pieces?

With a collection spanning 171 pieces, it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I would either go for the neoprene wetsuit jacket created by Saturdays NYC, which would be perfect to keep me warm in cooler waters, or the James Perse striped linen hooded poncho to put on once coming out.

Mr Porter

Which would you say was the most inspirational of all the brands you spoke to for Gone Surfin’, and why?

All the brands in this collection bring something unique, but I would say working with Hawaiian brand Go Barefoot was very inspirational as they have roots in the surf industry. I learnt a huge amount about the brand and its design inspiration for their shirts. I discovered that Go Barefoot founder, Clarence Hara, was friends with numerous Hawaiian ‘beach boys’ back in the 60’s such as Sterling Mossman, and he knew legendary surfers like Duke Kahanamoku and Robert “Rabbit” Kekai, so this culture and lifestyle was ingrained in the brand’s heritage. There are also some surprises from the brands in this overall collection. For example, you wouldn’t immediately think of James Perse for surf, but there are a lot of surf influences in what he does.

How did working with pro-surfer Mikey February for your campaign come about?

As with many of MR PORTER’s campaigns, we like to use real men where possible. So, we knew from the initial stages that we wanted to work with a professional surfer to bring the collection to life, and South African born Mikey February had the perfect love affair with surf culture to encapsulate through our campaign. We shot the campaign in early 2020, pre COVID-19 lockdown measures, in Cuixmala, Mexico.

What are you doing on social media to really get this story across?

Available to view now across MR PORTER’s social channels, we have introduced a blanket takeover of surf and lifestyle content. Our aim is to celebrate surf culture across the world through a warm, fun and colourful campaign showcasing product and people in this iconic way of life. We are working with a number of global surfers and content creators, based from Rio de Janeiro to Cornwall, to take the temperature of the surfing world post-lockdown, and find out what surfing means to these men on personal levels. Instagram is one of our most important channels, and throughout this campaign launch we have also been able to incorporate an engaging Instagram Live session with pro-surfer and campaign star Mikey February.

Who is your real target market with this?

Our target audience for this collection is a customer who both appreciates surf culture and, plain and simple, likes really great summer clothes. We knew our target market could be anyone from a surf pro to a devout sun-worshipper, or just a man in search of some beach time this summer. The collection is wide-ranging and the appeal is universal. We also see our customers looking ahead and wanting to invest in new season product. As a global retailer, it’s always summer somewhere for our customers.

Mr Porter

Are you seeing that customers are now looking for something new to wear – for going out and going on holiday – now that lockdown has eased?

Unsurprisingly, during the lockdown, MR PORTER’s loungewear and sweats categories saw an increase in demand as our customers were spending days at home in comfortable apparel. Alongside this, our sport, lifestyle and grooming categories performed well during this period. We are now seeing a natural appetite from our customers for summer apparel, as the days have become warmer and this relaxed style of dress has become our current norm. Many of our high summer categories have seen an increased demand, particularly swimwear, T-shirts and shorts. From our accessories remit, we have seen our customers shopping for loafers and espadrilles alongside sunglasses. It’s been great to see our customer embrace the summer season and we’ve seen terms like tie-dye and products such as shorts, sunglasses, linen, linen shirts, bucket hats and slides become our most searched for items on site.

What will be the next big menswear story MR PORTER will be pushing after this one?

We have some really exciting collections launching over the remainder of this year and our next big exclusive, which continues to support our high summer category, launches at the end of July. On Monday 27 July, we will be reintroducing our ‘Tee Store’, an exclusive, seasonal capsule collection of T-shirts created and produced by 19 of MR PORTER’s leading contemporary and designer brands. With T-shirts being one of our most important categories, it’s a great for us to partner with designers who develop their own unique stamp on the summer essential, whether through exclusive graphics or sourced from archival prints. It will be an edit of the best graphic Tees.

How are you currently finding the buying for SS21 during these unprecedented times?

The MR PORTER buying teams have been working closely with each of our brands through digital appointments. We have not been travelling during this period. Viewing collections digitally is very different, particularly with not being able to see the garments up close, and unfortunately the process is now more time consuming for the teams. Physical interaction with our bands remains imperative and we will be working closely with each of our designers throughout the season.

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