White t-shirt stories are…
A series of candid conversations with creatives, uncovering their values and style.
Rachel Walker is..
…founder of The Breton Shirt Company, a British brand producing 100% organic cotton Breton shirts.
We are in a Nautical Mood at the moment. So while we were on the hunt for the perfect Breton for cooler days, we were delighted to come across the The Breton Shirt Company. We look the opportunity to learn a little more about what sustainability means to the founders of such a great brand.
EON: What are the essential pieces that make up your wardrobe? I suspect a Breton stripe is in there…
RW: I think the Breton stripe is an iconic piece. It really doesn’t matter how old you are, the Breton stripe is a classic and it’s been in everyone’s wardrobe for years. Jeans are another essential, I just think a pair of jeans goes with everything and anything.
My thing is shoes and handbags! I’ve got a huge array of shoes… I think if you’ve got a nice pair of shoes, a pair of jeans and your Breton top it’s just an easy casual look.
EON: Apart from being drawn to a garment’s style, what sort of information do you look at that would make you want to buy something?
RW: To be honest it’s really down to style, and quality is important too. I always say though ‘you pay for what you get’, so if you buy something that’s fairly cheap, it just isn’t going to last long.
So, from a sustainability standpoint, if you’re buying something that’s of good quality it’s going to last longer. If I wear something a few times and I feel scruffy in it, I just don’t want to wear it anymore.
EON: Do your customers ever ask you about the provenance of your products, or do they generally just inquire about size and fit?
RW: It’s a little bit of both really. Of course there is a big story behind the original Breton shirt and that when French soldiers fell overboard, the number of stripes they had on their shirt would identify them.
Our shirts are the original square cut fit and are unisex, so they fit everybody. That’s the first thing people often ask.
The second is about quality and where the product is made. All the typical high street department stores tend to make everything in the Far East and so by manufacturing in Portugal in smallish runs, we have a unique selling point. Once we sell out of a line, we’ll bring a new colour in to replace it.
Illustrations by www.libbywalker.co.uk for The Breton Shirt Company
EON: What do you think makes the Breton shirt such a classic style for all ages?
RW: It’s easy to wear and it goes with everything in your wardrobe - you can just wear it with most things! But it’s also the history behind it. It’s strongly associated with people like James Dean, Coco Channel, and Picasso and in turn is frequently worn by celebrities today.
Our customers wear them for a whole range of events. We sell them to people who sail, to chandlers and to people who are going on holiday and want to take them to the beach or our younger customers want to take them to festivals and wear them with shorts and wellies - so they appeal to a huge range of customers.
If you’re wearing a Breton shirt you’re not automatically labelled as having a certain style, it’s one of those things you can wear whatever style you follow.
My husband started the Breton Shirt Company about 25 years ago and we still have customers from that beginning era calling us saying that their shirt’s literally just worn out and they want to order another one. It just shows you people still want them in their wardrobes when they’re still ordering them 25 years on.
EON: I’m assuming that the classic blue and white combination is the best seller, if you exclude that one, what is the most popular colour combination?
RW: It’s the ecru rouge (cream/red) and then The Nautique, which is the reverse of the original Breton shirt. Along with the original, they are the three top sellers.
EON: Your brand uses 100% organic cotton, how long has that been the case?
RW: Since July 2015, when we started our own brand. Our ‘Club de Mer’ shirts are all made with organic cotton.
EON: How much do trends affect your sales, when you sell such a timeless item?
RW: In terms of the volumes of sales they’ll definitely go up when someone like Kate Middleton wears a Picasso shirt or something, but otherwise trends don’t really affect us that much – people look for Breton shirts all year round.
EON: Have you stayed with the same factory since you started and how easy is it to maintain that relationship?
RW: It’s a family run business in Portugal and they are just lovely people. We’ve got a great relationship with them. I go out probably three times a year and the last time I was out we did a factory tour. Our shirts are actually made across three factories, so they took us to see how our fabric was dyed, dried and spun on to the big roles. How the templates are made, how the pieces are cut out, hand-finished, hand-stitched and then packed. They do everything for us and we’ve been with them since the beginning.
EON: What you’ve described there, that journey from raw material to end product, is that something you think your customers would be interested in?
RW: Yes, when we were out there, in September, we had a photographer with us and they documented the process. I think it is of interest to people, I like a story and I think most people do!
EON: What do you find exciting about the fashion industry today?
RW: I think there are a lot of conceptual ideas shown at London or New York Fashion Week, but the designs are not necessarily something that you or I would wear in our daily lives and they’re kind of untouchable to the general public. What I think is really quite exciting is people like me or someone who runs a small brand, being able to interpret those ideas into more affordable and accessible pieces of clothing for everyone. That’s an exciting thing.
Rachels original style Bretons can be found at www.bretonshirt.co.uk
Interview conducted and editing for post by Eleanor O'Neill: www.study34.co.uk
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