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Royal Docks: How Jake Wigham took the plunge in lockdown and created a brand

Jake’s button-down shirts are made by hand at The Silver Building, inspired by classic American styles

Jake at work at The Silver Building
Jake at work at The Silver Building – image Matt Grayson

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When I knock on the door of Jake Wigham’s workshop at The Silver Building in Royal Docks, I can hear fast-paced music within.

Located at the end of a long white corridor in the Brutalist confines of a former brewery, there’s little to indicate that this is the site of intense industry, creativity and craftsmanship.

Step inside though, and its occupant openly wears and displays the influences that, woven together, help tell the story of his business and the clothes he designs and makes.

Jake’s is a menswear company focusing on the styles of 1950s and 1960s America,” said Jake. “It’s not just about the clothing, but the culture that surrounds it.

“I’ve always had an interest in youth sub-cultures and in music. My dad was a punk in the 1980s and, when I started making my own choices aged around 12 or 13 I got into punk and he said: ‘If you’re going to listen to punk, this is the real stuff’.

“He gave me his records, I’d put those onto tapes and I would have them in my Walkman – not really too great for a teenager, I guess, that angsty, bad attitude thing.  

“At about 15 or 16 I got into vintage black music – soul, reggae and jazz – and that was a turning point.

“My whole personality changed. The music is a lot more joyful and it helped me learn about cultures different from my own.

“That’s been a lifelong passion for the last 20 years – music is what I spend all my time and money on – buying records, going to gigs.

“That’s the good thing about London – all that culture is on your doorstep.”

Growing up in Carlisle, Jake initially left school to become a bricklayer but after a few years “got really sick of it”.

Turning instead to art school, he found inspiration in his tutors who suggested he try a creative craft.

“I liked the sound of tailoring, being able to make my own clothes,” he said.

“I’ve always been into specific cuts of clothing and I’ve always bought vintage items but, because of my height, finding things that fitted was a problem.”

Inspired by the works of Jack Kerouac, John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson, he wrote a  “quite aggressive” application to the London College Of Fashion in the style of a beat poet, setting out his likes and dislikes about the industry and modern culture. 

Life in the capital was something he’d wanted to try, having seen his brother’s experience studying in the city.

So, egged on by his tutors, he sent his piece off and was duly invited for an interview. His interviewers told him on arrival that they’d been waiting to meet the man behind his punchy personal statement and he won a place. 

Jake's shirts are cut in a traditional breezy fit
Jake’s shirts are cut in a traditional breezy fit – image Matt Grayson

“I did the degree, loved it, made a lot of friends, learned a lot about the industry and the craft,” said Jake.

“When I left, I tried to get an apprenticeship in Savile Row – I tried lots of different places, and all of them wanted me to work for free for the first six months at least.

“I’m from a northern working-class town and my parents couldn’t help support me to do that, as much as they wanted to, so I couldn’t stay in London.

“Luckily, in my home town, there are two Savile Row tailors. They are based up there but they travel all over the world.

“I had a relationship with them anyway, because in summers when I’d go back home for a few weeks, I’d go in, show them my work, and we’d chat and maybe I’d spend a few days working with them, learning bits and pieces.

“They always said: ‘When you’re finished, come up and see what you think’. But I didn’t want to move out of London.

“In the end I had to. I went up there and was offered a job – not a lot of money, but it was paid, so that was fine and I could move back in with my parents.

“I specialised in trouser-making, did an apprenticeship for a few years, and then I went freelance.”

Striking out on his own, Jake headed back to London after about six months, working for three tailors and renting the unit at The Silver Building to cope with the workload.

“I was doing really well, not making vast amounts of money, but getting lots of work,” he said.

“Then, when Covid hit, Savile Row was destroyed by it because tailors couldn’t travel and a lot of their business revolves around that.

“I’d always made my own clothes and shirts and so on, and they’ve always been specific cuts, I just decided to give it a go and make it into a business.”

“It was always my dream to have my own brand, but bringing it to fruition is a different thing. Obviously there’s a lot of money and work involved.

“Because of the freelance work I was doing, I’d never had enough time to focus on it, but that changed because of the pandemic.”

After a month of research and painstaking development to get the cut, sizes and fabrication just so, Jake was ready to launch his first shirt.

Some of Jake's equipment at his workshop
Some of Jake’s equipment at his workshop – image Matt Grayson

Promoting his brand through Instagram, on the first day he went live he had orders for 30 shirts.

“That felt fucking great, to be honest man, really incredible,” he said. “For a one-person small business it was a lot and I was really happy.

“Now I get orders worldwide from such a broad demographic of people – I suppose it’s people who appreciate craft. 

“Every piece is made to order – I don’t have any stock so every shirt here is accounted for.

“I’m trying to build a little community of like-minded people who are into the kinds of things I am.

“Jazz and reggae are my two biggest passions and everything feeds back into the company – I want to put my whole personality into it. 

“I spend a lot of time mulling over imagery and watching period films just because that’s what I’m interested in. 

“Whether that comes across when you’re just looking at a shirt on someone, I don’t know, but I try and tell the story.

“The main shirt in the range is like a mid-century cut button down from the 1950s with full sleeves and a full body.

“There’s no lining on the collar or cuffs. It’s a very soft Oxford fabric, which is heavy, durable and will literally last a lifetime.

“I use real mother-of-pearl buttons and try to make my shirts the best possible quality they can be.”

Jake's workshop is filled with vintage paraphernalia
Jake’s workshop is filled with vintage paraphernalia – image Matt Grayson

Shirts are made in a traditional breezy fit and are based on each customer’s measurements with an option for custom sleeve lengths and to have a name sewn into the collar.

“People need to understand it’s a specific cut,” said Jake.

“I get a lot of people asking for a slimmer shirt, but I always say no because you can get them anywhere. That’s not what I’m doing.

“It’s the same when people ask for a lined collar. It’s very much take it or leave it.”

That’s not to say the brand doesn’t offer options, including a shirt inspired by Miles Davies on the cover of his 1958 Milestones album.

Trousers are also soon to be available, manufactured in Yorkshire to Jake’s specifications. 

To cope with demand for his products, he’s already had to take on help.  

“The downside of the way I run the business is that there’s only a certain level I can get to, if it’s me doing it all, so I have to relinquish some of the responsibility,” he said. “I don’t really have ambitions to be Ralph Lauren or someone like that.

“I quite like the idea of it staying niche and relatively small. I’d like to have an atelier, where me and a small team of people produce really top-end products for a small customer base, because then there’s nothing throwaway about it.

“If someone buys a shirt from me, I want it to be that they want to get a lot of use out of the shirt. People are trying to go down more sustainable routes and that’s the future of clothing.”

Jake’s shirts generally cost £145 plus delivery. Orders are despatched within five weeks or sooner.

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Fish Island: How Rewritten rewrote the rules on sustainable bridesmaids’ dresses

Katie Arnott and Fran Cookson started their brand, which now offers a bridal collection too

Rewritten founders Fran and Katie
Rewritten founders Fran, left, and Katie – image Matt Grayson

The story of Rewritten has, at its heart, a friendship. Katie Arnott had been working at then emerging jewellery brand Astley Clarke for about four years when she was assigned as a buddy to incoming head of communications Fran Cookson.

Despite being in different teams, the pair worked closely, becoming good friends over the next four years when one night, over several glasses of wine, inspiration struck.

“We were both getting married and we couldn’t find nice, cool, contemporary bridesmaids’ dresses for adults,” said Fran.

“We’d asked our friends where they’d been shopping for them and were told there were only traditional, old-fashioned shops – we saw this gap in the market and decided to launch a bridesmaid’s dress brand.

“We always knew we wanted to do our own thing and between us we thought we had the right skill set. Katie understood retail and operations and I had a background in fashion design as well as marketing.

“We put a business plan together and approached Virgin for a business startup loan in 2016 and that’s how we founded Rewritten.”

startup

“We’ve nearly finished paying back that loan,” said Katie. “Applying for it was really good for us because we had no idea what we were doing at all. 

“We’d never started a business so we didn’t have a clue how to write a plan for one. Doing that really forced us to sit down and look at so many different aspects of the company. 

“We put this huge document together, applied and got accepted straight away. Virgin has been very supportive over the years. We have often gone back and done talks there because they have lots of entrepreneurs and startups going though their programme.”

Rewritten Bridesmaid
Brookyln Dress in Olive Green, £140

styles

“We started with four colours and four styles, and now we have around 14 colours and 10-12 styles,” said Fran who designs Rewritten’s products.

“We’ve grown quite a lot as a brand and we have a wholesale channel as well, so we have stockists around the UK and internationally.

“We sell mainly through our showroom appointments and we’re fully booked until August as well as selling a lot online.

“We’re quite a disruptive brand, in that we were really the first ones to do a wide range of colours and sizes and styles available digitally, which wasn’t really a thing before in this market. 

“The bridal industry is very old fashioned although it is changing. Traditionally bridesmaids’ dresses would be very generic and really expensive – £300 per dress – that’s a huge amount of money if you have eight to buy. 

“Many were prom-style – it was almost a joke category and that’s what we wanted to change.

“The question we ask is: ‘Why can’t you wear a really cool dress or a jumpsuit as a bridesmaid – something that you could potentially wear again?’. We call it sustainable bridesmaid-wear – the idea is that this no longer a ‘single use’ industry.

“Women’s fashion is one of the biggest environmental offenders and bridesmaids’ dresses are a big part of that – they’re relegated to the back of the wardrobe and we wanted to change that, making pieces you want to buy and wear, whether that’s different styles in the same colour or the same dress in a wide range of sizes. 

“When we started, this approach didn’t even exist and people really enjoyed that autonomy rather than being told they had to wear a horrible dress.”

Rewritten Bridesmaids
Rewritten can provide different dresses in identical colours

showroom

Having originally opened its doors in Tottenham, the brand has relocated to Fish Island in Hackney Wick, with premises that cater for its shipping operations and, crucially, customers who want to try dresses on.

“We make the whole thing really special with private fitting appointments and we open at the weekends too,” said Fran.

“People can come in as a group, have a glass of Prosecco and it’s a really lovely experience.

“It’s our clients with their mates having a trying on session – and our frosted glass makes it very private. Hackney Wick is such a cool area, with all the bars and restaurants around here – we have a blog on our website that tells visitors where the best places to go for brunch or a drink are and people really make a day of it.”

sustainability

Katie said: “We’re trying to change the preconception that weddings are about single-use fashion. Our brand is about rewriting the rules.

“We had to apply for our space at The Trampery in Fish Island – they were looking for sustainable fashion brands and we are one of the six founder members here. 

“We’re not saying we’re perfect but we’re really striving to make a lot of changes, using recycled fabrics and making a lot of the collection in London as well as only making dresses when people order them which is a sustainable way of manufacturing.”

Rewritten Bridal
Rewritten’s bridal collection includes Simone Dress, £575

spreading

Rewritten recently launched its first bridal collection, made entirely from organic and recycled fabrics in response to demand from fans of the pieces in its core collection.

“We’re quite a London-centric brand at present so we’d like to become a lot bigger in the UK,” said Fran. “We’ve been looking at Manchester and we also have a lot of Irish brides, so Dublin could be an option too.

“In terms of sustainability we want to have the whole collection made in recycled fabrics by the beginning of 2023 and that’s partly about changing people’s mindsets about what that means, educating our customers. Our bridal collection really shows that – it’s affordable and the dresses could really be worn again.”

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