In the very first of our Meet the Brand series, we spoke to one of the minds behind jeans makers ULLAC Denim who nominated Blackhorse Lane Ateliers as a fantastic British brand for us to feature in the future.
So not being ones to ignore a bit of good advice we spoke to the founder behind the business, Han Ates, about how London based denim ateliers Blackhorse Lane came about, and how they’re revolutionising the industry.
The MALESTROM: We’re all about championing British brands that we love the ethos of, why don’t you tell our readers a bit about Blackhorse Lane and how the business came about?
Han Ates: Blackhorse Lane Ateliers came about from my lifelong experience with two industries: one is fashion (fast-fashion) the other is the hospitality industry where I worked for about 5 years.
In a nutshell, from 1992 to 2007, I was heavily involved in manufacturing in London and gradually, demand from the high street for cheaper garments encouraged us to move production first to Eastern Europe (Romania, Turkey) and then to the Far East (China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka).
In this journey, personally I lost my connection with my family and the city that I lived in, and naturally, I was not able to relate and connect to the foreign lands where I produced garments. That created a big huge split within me. When you have such a split and hole in you, that causes a huge pain and one day I decided to come out of it.
My experience in hospitality came right after that decision of not traveling for my work and I decided to open a local, all-day bistro in my community.
Within one year of my opening the restaurant, something incredible started to happen: I was connected to the local community and I started to know people’s grandparents, their nieces and nephews; people got married at the restaurant and had their first children, they celebrated their birthdays and anniversaries. Just being involved in the community in such an intimate way was very fulfilling.
The other experience was that I was witnessing a hospitality revolution, where everywhere gourmet burger joints were opening. That was eye-opening because we had our MacDonalds and Burger King but it seemed that there was a hunger for a better-quality burger with locally-produced quality meat.
The other thing was craft-beer: again, similar to the burgers we had our Carlsberg, Peroni etc but locally-produced craft-beer was getting popular due to its quality and as well as being produced locally.
Within a decade 80% of pubs now in London offer craft-beer tasters at the bar which was previously unheard of. These two examples created a huge awareness with the consumer in terms of quality. With that, now wherever the consumer goes, they demand good-quality craft-beer or burgers.
For me, jeans are the burger and beer of the fashion world: for 150 years denim has been growing strongly as a fashion item but the quality of the denim has been going down and somehow this has been accepted like cheap burgers and beers. Now we are reversing that with our crafted-denim revolution by producing the world’s best jeans and by giving a lifetime repair guarantee to our garments.
Also, here at Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, with our set-up, within our community, we create connections with local people through our open-door policy.
Our pop-up restaurant hosts two nights a week and Sunday brunch, our art-restoration and weaving studios, again brings different walks of life into the space.
What are some of the pitfalls you’ve faced along the way?
HA: We set up Blackhorse Lane in London. For the last 50 years, there was no jeans production in London and therefore there was no know-how and knowledge.
When we first set up Blackhorse Lane, we spent a huge amount of time and money on training and this is still continuous.
What is your ethos? And how important is it to the brand?
HA: Our ethos is connectivity to the community that we live in and by giving lifetime repair guarantee we encourage our customers to buy well and buy less.
Tell us about your products?
HA: In our products, our emphasis is on quality. If we are not going to achieve the quality then we decide not to produce that garment.
How important is it being a British brand and actually making all your jeans in your London workshop?
HA: I have two heritages; one is cultural (where my parents came from) the other is my professional heritage (where I learned my trade and skills as an industrial tailor/garment technologist). My tailoring heritage, everything I know, I learned in London.
In the last twenty years, there has been a huge drainage of know-how and skill in London in garment-making and by us producing in London and running workshops to teach people how to make 5-pocket jeans, the idea for us is to slow that drainage and encourage other people to make garments in London again.
Every single style we have in Blackhorse Lane has a London postcode as its style number. That is another part of our connectivity and being a London brand.
What’s the most popular item you’re selling right now?
HA: In 2018 our best selling jean has definitely been the E8 Slim Tapered in 14oz indigo or black selvedge from Kurabo Mills Japan. We’re finding that the combination of an amazing fit and our most premium construction details.
We’re also finding that customers want to pick up our E17 Double Indigo Chore Coat or N17 Natural Indigo Chore Coat to go with their pair of E8s.
What does the future have in store? What are your aims?
HA: We are opening our first shop. It’s a conceptual project and it will be a denim haberdashery. Again here, we will encourage people to make their own jeans. We will also have ready-to-wear and made-to-measure services in the shop.
What advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting their independent business?
HA: I would suggest that they plan it well, take their time to get professional advice from designers to makers to financial advisors.
In this journey always be true to your values and create a system of checking in with these values, with good friends or colleagues for example, and in this, you have to listen to other people’s opinions too.
How important is it to engage with other like-minded brands?
HA: It is very important to measure yourself when you are faced with like-minded brands to understand how you fit into the market.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you lose your direction and focus; here at Blackhorse Lane we have a transparency policy and through that, we constantly collaborate with like-minded brands and share our know-how and supply chain information.
Through this action, we create our own community with like-minded brands and that gives us a huge strength holistically as well as in terms of business.
What’s your favourite independent British brand? Who would you nominate for us to feature next?
HA: Any Northampton shoe-maker and/or Vitsoe.
How can people track you down?
HA: At our website www.blackhorselane.com, or come and see us at our factory!
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