Hawkwood Mercantile is a new label that caused some buzz on instagram recently.
We spoke to its founder Richard Illingworth.
Basics first: Who is Hawkwood Mercantile and what made you start the brand?
My name’s Richard Illingworth and I’m from the North East of England originally. I did a textile design degree at college, but only did it for a short while after college then worked in business, mostly recruitment for about 15 years. I did still do a little freelance design work now and then, but it wasn’t enough and I really wanted to do it full time so when the chance came up to do move to India and start my own company I took it.
I’ve been into clothes since I was about seven or eight years old and it seemed like the obvious thing for me to do. In some ways I wish I’d done it sooner, but actually, I think that I wouldn’t have been ready before.
You live in New Delhi now, what made you move there and what are your experiences in starting a clothing label over there?
We moved here because my wife’s family are from here originally & she wanted to be nearer to her mother. We’d just had twins and were tired of living and working in London and needed a change. It was really difficult finding suppliers who wanted to do small runs of high quality clothing, they want to do thousands of low cost pieces & it got pretty frustrating, so I decided to hire my own tailor to do sampling and now I’ve gone from one to four full time tailors in the past three months and they produce everything in house. We’re still expanding and moving to a bigger workshop in the next week or so.
Did you have any experience in the fashion industry before starting HM?
Just a little textile design and I did once work on a design for Ralph Lauren while helping out at a friend’s studio in New York (where I lived for a while). There was no one else in the studio and they needed it straight away, so I just did it and they approved it, which was great.
Though you also have a website in the making, the way to buy your gear is quite unique. Do you prefer the direct contact with your customers and do you tend to hold on to this when your label is growing?
I think I’ve been very lucky in being able to deal with all of my customers one to one & I’m sure it will really help me as the company (hopefully) grows bigger because it’s given me a really useful insight. The question is how to keep that personal service as we do grow. Making money is not the most important thing for me, what I really want to do is make clothes that people love wearing and want to keep wearing, not throw away fashion.
Your first designs show strong influences by military and workwear and as I understand you are collecting vintage army clobber. Where else do your inspirations for your designs come from? And where do you mainly get your deadstock military items from?
I do obviously love vintage military clothing and I spend a lot of time searching for pieces on eBay, vintage stores and other sources. You just have to keep doing it all the time and you can get some great pieces. I’ve got a whole load of old US parkas and smocks on the way for inspiration. I do also read a lot of books about vintage menswear & design in general and love the Japanese menswear magazines like “Clutch” and “Free & Easy”. Obviously there are other designers like Daiki Suzuki and Nigel Cabourn whose work I admire too & I think a lot of Japanese labels produce very interesting work.
“Action Man” seems to be your favorite testimonial for presenting your ideas. Who do you think of if you should describe the HM target group?
That actually came about because I’ve always loved Action Man & had one lying about the studio. I jus had the idea to make a Tryfan anorak for the Action Man and post the picture on Instagram and people really liked it. Action Man is 50 years old this year and it’s tied in really nicely. I’ve never really thought about having a target customer group, but I guess people like myself who appreciate clothes & good design, but aren’t really that interested in fashion. Maybe they’re bored with established brands and want something that bit special that a made to order piece can offer because they can get involved with the process by choosing fabrics etc.
Any plans on doing some items for females?
I’ve actually been quite surprised by how good a reaction the stuff has had from women. One customer’s girlfriend did get him to ask me if I’d consider doing a range for women and another wrote to me to tell me how much she liked her other half’s anorak. I’ve not got any plans to design a women’s range yet, but you never know.
According to social media, your first designs were quite appealing to a lot of people. How was the feedback until now?
I actually put the stuff on Instagram because it was taking so long (almost three years) to get things started that I just thought I’d post it and see what the feedback was like. Almost straight away we started getting orders and the response has been great.
More and more people are beginning to care about the circumstances a piece of clothing is produced under. As your gear is made in India, do you take care of this aspect – like avoiding child work, fair payment and such?
They are and rightly so. We produce everything in house with our own small team of experienced tailors, so it’s easy for us to make sure no one is being exploited. I can also honestly say that I’ve never seen any signs of bad practices at any of our suppliers, like printers, dyers and cloth houses etc. – and I would not use them if I did.
And finally, what can we expect from Hawkwood Mercantile in the future?
Honestly, I don’t even know myself at this point as everything’s happened so fast I’ve not had time to think. I just need to get the website & the lookbook finished, then see where we’re at. Maybe a collaboration with an established brand. the most important thing is to keep making high quality clothing and providing an old fashioned (in a good way) personal service. I’d also like to do some more technical pieces in waterproof fabrics and maybe even design uniforms of some kind.