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Essential Journal

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Modern Heritage: Stanley Biggs Clothiers

Interview by Will Halbert

Old of soul yet young at heart, Stanley Biggs Clothiers are a paradox in the most wonderful of ways. Their lines are classic in design yet contemporary in construction. They’re a brand steeped in heritage yet youthful in their approach to business. Eschewing fast fashion in favour of a slower, more measured pace, Stanley Biggs are all about making modern style classically personal. We sat down with Stanley Biggs founder, Sophie Bainbridge, to talk classic leanings, lockdown lessons, learning curves.

First off, what drives Stanley Biggs? What’s the philosophy behind the brand?
The brand is driven by a love for history and adventure; inspiring us to create unique, heritage-style clothing. With design influences from the 1930s, we intertwine this with modern-day wearability to create our range. We provide clothing that is both stylish and easy to wear that harks back to the days when men and women simply seemed to dress better, with less.

Our philosophy is quite simply to facilitate the chance for all to enjoy understated elegance, at a reasonable cost, and for it to not be impactful to the environment in a negative way. This philosophy runs through the very fabric of our clothing with British wool being our favoured choice across the range.

There’s more to being a heritage brand than simply being around for a long time. What does it mean to be a heritage brand to you?
Well, that’s true, and of course, we haven’t been around for a long time! We celebrate our heritage in terms of style and aesthetic. This isn’t fancy dress, but a re-imagined offering that takes a passion for history and heritage garments and subtly plays with it for a modern-day audience. What it means for us may well differ for others, but both myself and my husband have had a passion for vintage products and items since our early teens, so being able to combine that with the day job is an extra special element.

What is it about the looks and styles of yesteryear that you find so appealing?
I think the romanticism of the bygone era appeals to us all. I regularly hear from customers – some are outwardly interested in the era and some that aren’t so much. They all have an appreciation and admiration for the styles worn back then. They aspire to embody that look and with that, take pride in their appearance.

It is wonderful when a garment gives someone a confidence boost because they believe in it so much. The mindset that was far more common in the early 20th century of ‘having less and loving it more’ is something that I feel is more and more appealing to people today.

What are the challenges that come with starting your own brand? What major lessons have you learned from your first few years in business?
We started in November 2018, so we haven’t been going for a terribly long time and then the pandemic struck too, which has hit so many businesses across the world and some far worse than us. Our age has allowed us to remain flexible and open.

In terms of the challenges, there is always a learning curve and I guess in this industry it always will be. For us, connecting with the right manufacturers; getting samples sorted; quality control; timelines; budgeting; accounts, it’s all quite time-consuming and something you have to get used to as it’s always there.

As for the key lessons that will remain with the business? Well firstly, you cannot and should not rush or compromise on quality. And secondly, you should always endeavour to remain in touch with your customers; it costs nothing to communicate and be transparent.

As a brand so thoroughly inspired by the past, is there a lot of historical research that goes into the process? Where do you draw inspiration for your collections from?
As mentioned before, I have been interested in history most of my life, taking an active interest when I was around 10 years old. Without giving my age away too much, it is a solid grounding!

Aside from reading history academically, history has always been a hobby of mine also. From attending collectors’ fairs to visiting museums, all areas of history have been a lifelong passion of mine and are a key influence and inspiration.

The story of Stanley Biggs is of course a real one and began as a research project; over the years I have collated photographs, film, first-hand accounts even personal items belonging to Stanley Biggs. The collection showcases history at every step. From the materials, to design, to even the name of the product; History is a constant source of inspiration for the brand.

Is it ever a challenge to create clothing with such a call back to the past that still caters to modern sensibilities?
Oh yes, definitely. The challenge is how to keep the look and feel of yesteryear without losing it through too much modernity. It is a fine balance, where we are considerate and sympathetic to the physique of the modern wearer.

Also, our ancestors were a tough bunch – they had everything in its natural form and didn’t know any different. Wool was the staple fabric of most of their clothing. The customer of today is spoilt; they have probably worn a wider range of fabrics throughout their lives; from silks to cottons, to synthetic fabrics. So, convincing the modern wearer that traditional and natural fabrics, such as wool, aren’t a bad thing is part of the challenge. We help the cause by mixing the old with something new. 

It is also sometimes easy to want to follow a trend, to adhere to the tried-and-tested paths of others. But in this climate, brands should stand out and be individual. I think we do that well and will continue to do this.

And finally, what’s next for Stanley Biggs?
We are looking to solidify our brand name in a natural, non-forced way and to speak to an audience that has an active or passing interest in choosing the better clothing option, whether they are vintage enthusiasts or style lovers – or both!

We have learned to embrace the uncertainty of recent times and turn it into a strength. The fact that it takes time to create quality pieces is a reality that shouldn’t be criticised or seen negatively. It is actually quite extraordinary. I mean, it is an achievement to create something from scratch in normal circumstances, let alone doing it through a pandemic and lockdown.

To share the process and development with our customers, so they can celebrate the achievement is just as important (if not more important) to the brand’s success as its commercial sales. 

Life has been stripped down for everyone this past year, with people becoming more considered and attuned to what is important to them. Detail and the attention to origins are far more important to people; this is why ‘slow fashion’ has really come into its own recently, I feel.

To have a special ‘something’ to look forward to is far more important to people now and we completely agree. That is why we have reinvented how we go about offering our pieces to our audiences.

We figured that with all that time and energy taken to create one of our pieces, it should not all go to waste just because it’s ‘a new season’. So, we have deliberately chosen to continue each product, on a smaller/limited run basis. We now offer a pre-order system too; there is nothing more exciting than the anticipation of waiting for your new purchase to land on your doorstep, knowing that it is being made especially for you.

We will continue to expand the range, but we are certainly being more considerate of what we launch, which is only a good thing for customers. Ultimately, it means the items we do launch are the embodiment of the very best Stanley Biggs has to offer.

View the entire Stanley Biggs collection here.