Lauren Yates & W’menswear: Hard Hitting Garments For Hard Hitting Women
Starting an article that brings a number of different characteristics and elements, I want to tell you, highlight and explain to you is going to be pretty tough. There are just way too many things around Lauren Yates, her projects and her way of living that impress me so much, that I don't know where to begin with.
So let’s start it like this: Lauren Yates is an absolute boss, icon and role model or to use one of her phrases: Lauren belongs to a worldwide collective of ‘Hard Hitting Women’.
So again, where should I start? The superhub of this story, brand and hard-hitting woman is the Ponytail Journal. In 2013 Lauren stared a journal/blog that concentrate on the things she loved, wanted to know more about and explore into.
With the primary focus on workwear, textiles, Asia, creative people and photography the Ponytail Journal covers everything you might be interested in but probably have seen or heard from other blogs/sources before. But here comes the twist: Without trying to throw too much shade at today's blogger scene, Lauren is doing things totally different, completely dedicated and full of authenticity and realness.
The way Lauren is connected and her interest in workwear, its process of coming alive, the textiles, the numerous people involved in the process and more importantly the actions, activities, travels to different places where you actively need and use workwear is one of a kind. Lauren really goes down to all these details, lovely little stories and bits that make her a one of a kind connoisseur of workwear and the lifestyle around it. If there is a person that can elaborate why there can be so much love, detail and character to a piece of clothing far beyond our nowadays fast fashion culture, it must be Lauren.
A workwear piece consists of so many details, from the design inspiration to the used fabrics, the manufacturer you choose and the purpose you use the jacket for - Lauren combines all this in the Pony Tail Journal. She describes all these bits in such a lovely, easy to get, in an understandable manner of her learning thought process. This is just a small glimpse of textiles, workwear or functional garment and if you have a small interest, you immediately should start reading her journal.
The insights go that deep that I actually was quivering a bit when I called the Journal a blog earlier. It really is more than that and such a personal account of knowledge and dedication that is hard to find on the world wide web. From an inside story into one of my favourite Tokyo shops - Tokyu Hands - an interview with one of Nigel Cabourn woman designer - Emilie Casiez - to some incredible editorials and photo stories - The Ponytail journey is a fantastic project and if you are knowing my Biancissimo hustle and love you should easily understand now why Lauren is such an icon and role model for me.
So from Ponytail Journal we now actually come to the reason I'm writing this article: Lauren started her own brand - a workwear brand that rapidly became one of my favourite brands of all time: W'mnswear.
Again it's not that easy with what to start. As already told you above, workwear is a science of its own. From the actually design, the fabrics, the origin of each piece and the execution to produce a jacket, pair of trouser or liner that meets the requirements and standards of its past predecessor and your own perfectionism - workwear is a hell of a (lovely) ride and never-ending book of wonders and blast from the pasts.
With W'mnswear Lauren created something extraordinary. She took all that lovely dust from past generations, garments, flight jackets, sherpa jackets, military pants and transferred it through her own vision, mind and love into one of the best labels I have ever seen. W'mnswear offers such a refreshing and crisp take on workwear that writing this article alone will probably make me invest a stupid amount of money into a flight jacket or a pair of trousers in the next 2 hours.
Just look at the Outdoor jacket above or the waxed cotton raincoat and the W’menswear battlefield pants below. W’mnswear delivers high-quality products with the very right aesthetics.
Lauren really hits the nail with her interpretations of workwear, and I'm sorry for all these overstatements but everything that makes a good brand comes together here. Its Lauren’s own dedication, love, her worldwide network, the backbone of the Ponytail Journal, her connection/friendship to the biggest workwear and vintage senpai of all time Nigel Cabourn plusshe has an incredible eye for on-point editorials, the talent to find the right people, creatives and models for it.
When I then saw her Autumn Winter Editorial in Kathmandu "The Valley of Kathmandu", shot in Nepal I knew it finally was time to get in contact with her and finally find out more about her story, vision and ideas. As always I am more than happy to present you this Interview and brand here on Biancissimo.
Lauren Yates & W’menswear: Hard Hitting Garments For Hard Hitting Women
Dear Lauren, can you please introduce W’Menswear and the team behind the brand to Biancissimo?
W’menswear is a vehicle for women to explore the most beautiful, hardworking textiles in the world, as well as the history that paved way for women today. That’s why I like to call W’menswear schwag ‘hard hitting garments for hard hitting women’. The team behind the brand is really tiny, it’s just 2 really. I work with designer Gigi Thanawongrat to make it all happen. Gigi is a super talented illustrator and industrial designer who looks after hand drawings, graphic renderings, packaging design. My roles are a laundry list of creativedirection, concepts, garment design, sales, marketing, PR, logistics, accounting, and customer service – but like any small business, these are the things we do for love.
Then, of course, there is the Ponytail Journal deeply connected with W’Menswear, can you please take us a little bit down the memory lane and tell us more about the Journal story?
I started Ponytail Journal in 2013 to explore a gap in the internet for a gal like myself who is fascinated by form and function. Ponytail Journal became a personal account of my exploration of different creative fields that really captured by curiosity and senses. It was my way of honing in on design, textiles, music, food, and art that resonated with me. Somehow the more I dug, the more people seemed to want to join in! Ponytail Journal grew into a network of creative people, makers, photographers, writers, perfumers, artists, designers, chefs, and musicians, who shared a fun sense of enthusiasm for our strange Universe, and it was through the journal that new doors were opened before me. I was invited to write about style for Vogue Australia for 3 years, and along the way, I befriended many people whose work I admired and had looked up to... some of whom I often work with on my own projects at present. From the beginning, I never had the foresight to see what PTJ could become, but as the wave crumbled and turned, I rolled with the changing momentum and made a choice to enjoy every moment of the ride.
When did you first start thinking about starting your own brand and when was the right time for you to finally do it?
I remember it pretty clearly. In 2014 I was in Tokyo with my buddy Nigel Cabourn for his first women's fashion show, when he dropped a little idea into my head. He told me to produce a small range of men’s and womenswear in Hong Kong to sell exclusively on Ponytail Journal, making around 50 pieces per style. At that point in time the site was not positioned to be a retailer, but by coincidence, a few months later in 2015 I met a Canadian denim tailor Ben Viapiana in Bangkok who offered to kick start a small capsule of canvas workwear for women in small volume with me. So I decided to give it a try with Ben, working out of a decked out shipping container. Ben had the most profound collection of vintage industrial machines and had a true talent for pattern making, so we worked together for a year developing and producing the first collection. I decided that I would try selling the collection by wholesale off the bat because it would take a good amount of time to transition Ponytail Journal into its current form (4 years down the track), Ponytail Journal + Supplies, a content-based retailer of the funniest things possible!
Your experience in workwear seems endless, where did this love start?
I’m a practical person at heart, so my love for workwear came from my passion for fishing and creating objects in my home studio. My favourite fishing ensemble was a pair of vintage hickory striped Levi Strauss overalls and a ripped up Barbour jacket that was always hiding mounds of stale breadcrumbs in its pockets. I suppose I love the grounded values that workwear represents to me. For me, workwear is an honest and trustworthy tool belt. Now that I’m designing workwear, I realise that you can get lost in technical details, but it’s important to zoom out and visualise the practical use of the garments in life... They’re vehicles for curiosity and experience!
Can you tell us a little bit about your work and friendship with Nigel Cabourn? It seems like you are hanging around with the best ever workwear Senpai the world has to offer.
Nige and I are good friends, and coincidentally we are both Librans who have a great enthusiasm for life in our own ways. We share the same love for vintage garments and are both sensitive to the visual world around us. Most of all we have a ton of fun whenever we’re together... probably because we’re both kids who never grew up! He’s a breath of fresh air in the industry and there’s nobody quite like him on earth. Nige has been so supportive since the day I met him, and his 50 years of experience in the fashion business has definitely been an invaluable source of wisdom for me with my clothing business. He claims to have somehow learned a lot from me along the way too!
Before you started doing your own brand, where did you find and source pieces and clothing for your own?
There’s something in my blood that has always drawn me to flea markets. It’s a weekly ritual for me, no matter where I am in the world. Flea markets are a portal that connect the past with the present, and long before W’menswear, I was digging through junk yards and thrift stores to be inspired. When I was at art school in Sydney, there was an auction house across the road where I would find the most incredible objects and pieces from deceased estates or bankrupt businesses. My friends and I would make art or furniture from reclaimed materials, and it was probably around this time when my fascination with the past developed into a passion.
I found the first articles about you starting the brand back 2015! So what did happen so far, how would you describe your progress and all the things you have learned?
Yeah! I was so fortunate to have been in the press’ eyesight from kick-off, but it was probably because I had spent the previous years building the Ponytail brand. A lot has developed since 2015 when I launched W’menswear, back then it was only to be sold in Japan as wholesale for stores. Now W’menswear is selling in America, Australia, the UK, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and China. Another big change in the business is when I started selling direct to the public through Ponytail Journal + Supplies, which has surprisingly taken off since its launch in 2017, probably because it has become direct line of communication between the customers and myself. The coolest thing that W’menswear has become is a new level of connection whereby I can create beautiful of fun things with other likeminded people.
How hard was it actually for you, being a fan and connoisseur of high-quality garments, to produce clothing you were 100% happy with?
Ahh now we enter the complicated world of manufacturing. Making clothes is a delicate balance between timing, resources, cash flow, and the relationship you have with the makers or manufacturers. For me, quality can never be compromised, so managing my own production process has given way to a lot of personal growth and development in myself... I see challenge as an opportunity for learning and evolving. I feel like each collection has improved a milestone from the last, because that’s the what happens when you mix curiosity and passion with time right? So I’ve been quite happy about the outcome of each collection up to now.
Is there a slight chance for a capsule collection or single drop that could be unisex, too. Or even better, do you got any advice regarding sizing for men that want to buy pieces from your online store?
A lot of people have been asking me that question! Actually, quite a few guys buy W’menswear each season from our store. I never thought I would have been able to flip things like that, getting men to literally buy womenswear but I suppose our pants and outerwear are super easy for men to wear because they’re all based on authentic workwear and military pieces. We do have a size chart on the site for all of the products if you’re inclined to whip out your measuring tape, and since April, we have started to sell a larger size (12), and I hope that I’ll be able to expand our size range even further soon.
I personally don’t think consumers are ready to buy ‘unisex’ at present, just from a merchandising and marketing perspective I think it’s very complicated to sell an item with both sexes as your target, but I have been considering the idea of doing a small men’s range for my male customers. I think an easy way in would be doing a collaboration with an existing men’s label to test the waters... let’s see.
Can we please talk a little bit about your lookbooks! THE VALLEY OF KATHMANDU belongs to one of my favourite photo series ever. Where do you find inspiration, the right people and places for all this magic?
The look books are a true creative indulgence of mine. I actually studied to be a photographer at art school back in the day, so the medium is very special to me. Eric Kvatek who shot my first season (AW16) and the latest AW18 look book was in fact a big inspiration of mine during my studies. I had so much respect for his photojournalistic work, as well as his work shooting the 45RPM catalogues over a decade ago. I sometimes pinch myself to think that we’re good friends now, and the fact that he actually wants to shoot W’menswear and Ponytail Journal stuff makes me so happy. SS17 and SS18 I shot myself, which was really fun but I definitely felt the pressure of playing multiple roles on those two shoots.
Usually the models are friends, street casted, and sometimes models, but I think it’s much cooler to work with people who have personality rather than being picture perfect. The most important thing to me is that everyone respects each other on the shoot while having a good time. The final images are always retouched myself, and Gigi designs the final book for print.
I love shooting with Eric because he is the best problem solver and most reliable photographer I have met. He totally understands my vision, and we always have a blast! After all, shooting is an organic process that presents itself with many obstacles, but sometimes the obstacles make things more interesting.
What were your favourite pieces/designs so far and what makes them so special for you?
It's really hard to choose but to name a couple, I really love the handmade sheepskin vest I developed with Steven Toohey of Simmons Bilt in Scotland based on the vests that Australian air force pilots would wear in flight during WWII. They are made in ultra-soft Scottish sheepskin and the design is very unique if I may say so myself. It has been a pleasure working with Steven and his wife Deborah who have run their factory since 2012 and are truly dedicated to producing the highest quality skin pieces the world has seen.
Another piece that I personally love is the Garden Smock which is is based on the USN coverall. It is such a functional piece that has resonated with so many customers that it is now a permanent style in the range that we revisit every season. the design speaks to our core values and I wear my AW17 smock all the time over my army pants or over a tee in summer. The AW17 version is made in a tightly woven Bedford Cord made in a small mill in Japan and is such a beautifully durable fabric that seems to have been forgotten about.
What comes next? Is there another big goal you are aiming for with W’menswear?
I’d love to focus on doing some collaborations with other brands that I love and respect, not necessarily in the same field as W'menswear. There are a few on the cards but that's all I'll say for now! In the future, I would also like to aim for a real lifestyle space where food, retail, and learning can be incorporated in a creative way.
The Biancissimo readership/family is quite international, so where exactly can we buy your products from?
CHINA: DAPPER &CO., Shanghai
JAPAN: 103, Tokyo | Nigel Cabourn WOMAN, Tokyu Plaza, Tokyo | Nigel Cabourn The Army Gym, Nakameguro, Tokyo | Nigel Cabourn The Army Gym, Osaka | GARRET, Aomori | DESPERADO, Osaka | ENN STORE, Okayama | Laha, Hiroshima
KOREA: OHKOOS, Seoul
THAILAND: ONION STORE, Bangkok
Thank you so much Lauren!