Co-founder James Shaw discusses the challenges facing menswear, what defines the Brit brand and the possibility of a womenswear line
Some brands transcend fashion... it's a matter of either quality or a focus on style (or both) , rather than recyclable trends. This is very much the case for British label Albam. The brainchild of James Shaw and Alastair Rae, Albam has only been around for five years but have managed to make a mark in the competitive market of heritage workwear-inspired menswear. Quickly expanding - Albam, with its new Covent Garden store, boasts five retail venues - and with a strong and focused idea of what the brand means aesthetically, Shaw and Rae now have always put quality before quantity.
The duo only started out with seven pieces of clothing in their sartorial repertoire, and for long they resisted the idea of sales and advertising. Today, with stores all around key London locations, Albam have also taken to supply its loyal customers with lifestyle goods, as well as clothing, accessories and shoes. Mags, books, furniture and a shave at Natty's Barbershop all add to the Albam experience...
Dazed Digital: What's the story behind Albam?
James Shaw: Albam started in 2006 as an idea that we wanted to try. The starting point was a concise range of garments that made up the basics of a wardrobe that we wanted to be wearing at that time. Since then the idea has strengthened and developed with the idea of Modern Crafted Clothing upholding the idea of the wardrobe and defining the style of Albam.
DD: What does the name mean?
James Shaw: It is a play on the word 'album' which means a collection of things e.g. photos. In type that word didn't look enough and we wanted something that wasn't necessarily placed to a country, person or area.
DD: How would you define the clothes?
James Shaw: Quite simply the term Modern Crafted Clothing outlines what we offer. We are coming up to five years old now and our heritage is being earned along the way rather than a recreation of old styles. We make garments as much as possible in the British Isles and the machinery and skills go someway to defining the clothes as the construction and people create a soul to the garments that would be lost in a long production line. We value quality of materials, make and service and the philosophy that simplicity is genius. The idea doesn't need to be radically different but the execution should be new and relevant.
DD: What does Modern Crafted Clothing mean in 2011 for you?
James Shaw: Approaching the end of the year we are now looking to 2012, but 2011 has been about working even more closely with our friends who make the garments. Sitting with them and learning the processes and really understanding each garment and how we can make this better an better. With everything in a perpetual state of flux maintaining a consistency in our product and giving the customer something that they will have for many years to come seems to be the thing.
DD: You could argue its more style than fashion, would you agree?
James Shaw: Albam designs clothes, always have done and always will. Fashion designing is a world that we love but leave it to the experts. What we can do is make garments and products that will form a backbone to a wardrobe that you can bring out the season later and it still hold a value but with enough detailing to move it forward.
DD: You have expanded quite drastically with four London shops - what's next for you?
James Shaw: When you are in it then it doesn't feel that quick, we are very pleased with what we have done. There are many areas that we can improve on and we are working through them. Next is S/S12 and then we are working on A/W12, we are increasingly interested in running, food and homewares so maybe something along those lines.
DD: There's a barber shop in your stores store, you sell books, mags and furniture... how important is the lifestyle element to Albam?
James Shaw: Albam is a representation of what we do and how we live so it is very much a lifestyle. The starting point was the clothes but we are finding inspiration everywhere and we want to involve this in the brand and share it with others.
DD: What item in the archives best sums up Albam?
James Shaw: The Fishemans cagoule, Ventile Rain Mac, Fishermans Stripe knit and I am sure there are others that we remember fondly...
DD: Will there be a womenswear line?
James Shaw: We would love to do this, along with home, food etc etc! Watch this space I guess.
DD: What, according to you, are the biggest challenges ahead of the British menswear industry?
James Shaw: The economy is interesting, it scares people because things are so uncertain but it is also an exciting challenge in running a brand. As a brand we must develop a great team, who are making great products that remove the unnecessary but contain a little fun in them. We have been encouraged to have it all but the simpler things in life are becoming more important and finding ways to include more people is an exciting challenge.
Albam's latest shop can be found at 39 Monmouth St, London, WC2H 9DD