Aloof aims to shine a light on the best brands and companies operating in the independent market right now, from all over the world. Those under the radar of the wider consciousness but with great stories to tell and a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts of building a brand.
Writing an interview for a brand that, at the time, had three photos and a website homepage with an email sign up is no small task. That said, we at Aloof pride ourselves on being able to unearth new brands, which is why we're delighted to have persevered and sent Café-Mountain some questions about what they do. Emerging fully formed with a catalogue of great looking gear and perfect visuals, we wanted to get to the bottom of what we're sure will be one of the best new menswear labels this year.
Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Café-Mountain (CM): My name is Lewis Wilson and I am one of the co-founders of Café-Mountain alongside Ben Hughes. We are a new brand that focuses on making long lasting quality garments that can occupy both the city, the outdoors and the spaces in between. We work as a team to cover all aspects of the brand, with Ben specialising in visuals and myself in design.
AS: You opened orders at the start of February. How long have you been working on your first collection? Was this the first time you’ve developed clothing?
CM: In one sense, the brand has been in constant development over the years as both our professional and personal lives very naturally led us on this trajectory. Seeking inspiration from different surroundings and exploring professional and personal projects has allowed us to identify a shared need to create and improve things. The brand eventually formulated into Café-Mountain back in April last year. When the opportunity to press pause was presented, we decided to press play. I previously worked as a designer for cult British designer Nigel Cabourn, so we are well versed in developing a collection. However, it comes with an entirely different set of expectations and intentions when creating and executing your own vision.
AS: There are nods throughout the range to Miltaria, Outdoor wear and Workwear. Have you got an archive of older pieces that you refer to when working on how something will look?
CM: A fundamental value of the brand is to research historical and cultural movements that inspire us and more significantly, their connection to nature. This approach underpins our design philosophy and allows us to utilise archival pieces to create a more authentic and relatable product; combined with our own personal taste and understanding of function in the modern world. We believe there is value in the things that have come before us.
AS: Although it’s not overtly referred to by yourselves, your home city of Newcastle is a vibrant melting pot, but also has some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery only a stones throw from the city. Do you feel like Newcastle has an impact on Café-Mountain, or do you feel you can detach the city from the brand?
CM: It would be undeniable to say that Newcastle and the North East landscape as a whole haven't directly shaped the brand. With such ease of access to the outdoors, whilst still being connected to the city, it becomes almost essential to have a practical and casual approach to your wardrobe on a daily basis; this is the space in which Café-Mountain exists. On a wider note, I believe our collective connection to nature is becoming more prominent and important to individuals on a global scale, something that can only be a positive.
AS: The outdoors is a central focus in your visuals leading up to this point. How do you incorporate experiences in the outdoors into the design process?
CM: We personally spend a lot of time in outdoor spaces as well as the city, which has naturally led to us utilising the outdoors as a backdrop for the collection as well as a space for us to refine ideas and discuss the brand. A design action as effective as adding leather zip pullers to our outerwear came from being outdoors; realising when in cold weather it was more difficult to grip a zip head compared to a larger puller when your hands have been basically immobilised by the wind. It’s through years of careful observation and months of living in the samples that we’ve been able to deliver purposeful garments that connect to both the city and the outdoors.
AS: Your motto Craft, Community, Culture speaks to the core values of your brand. As a new brand, how do you plan to cultivate a community or do you already see yourselves as part of an existing one?
CM: For different people community has different meanings. For us, community is something you have to contribute to honestly, committing hard work and energy to benefit others around you. This includes working with local manufacturers, suppliers and artisan makers to create a strong manufacturing community. We also have some very exciting projects in the works that are focused on this particular pillar of our ethos. One of them is the Café-Mountain Outdoor Initiative which we will be rolling out towards the end of the year, dependent on how the current global situation pans out!
AS: Was there a fabric that you found particularly enjoyable or challenging to work with?
A favourite of mine has got to be our British milled organic wax cotton ripstop. The fabric has been heavily laundered to remove the bulk of the wax leaving a slight and subtle residue of wax which creates a gentle patina and lived in feel on each garment. There is something fascinating about natural fibre fabrics that have a performance aspect to them, in this case, water repellency. We are really excited to delve deeper into this specific area of fabric.
AS: You’ve chosen to style your outfits with Paraboot and Birkenstock. How does your choice of footwear for the photoshoots reflect the clothes? Or is it a less conscious decision than that?
CM: Apart from both brands being some of our most worn shoes, Paraboot's own heritage and skilled manufacturing aligns with the traditional and crafted aspect of Café-Mountain, whilst Birkenstock’s ergonomic approach to design aligns with the functional aspect of our brand. Both are brands that we admire and see relevant to our own philosophy. You can’t beat a short stroll in a good pair of socks and Birkenstocks either!
AS: Jumping in at the deep end and starting a brand can be a really daunting task. What’s been the most difficult part about starting Café-Mountain and is there anything you’d like to have done differently looking back?
CM: Fortunately, starting Café-Mountain came as a natural progression for both of us and we plan to keep developing in this organic way, both personally and as a business. There has been an abundance of difficult situations that have arisen from starting a business during a global pandemic, however, for this reason we are constantly learning to adapt which only motivates us further and refines our practice. Positivity wins.
AS: Orders open on the 1st February. Can we expect to see you in shops or are you running Café-Mountain as direct-to-consumer?
CM: Currently, we will be operating on a direct-to-consumer basis. It's important to us to be able to connect directly with our customers and build relationships. We hope to restore interactive practices and create a dialogue directly with you.
AS: What can we expect to see in the near future from Café-Mountain?
CM: We are really excited to develop the community pillar of the brand, this includes strengthening local manufacturing links and also launching the Café-Mountain Outdoor Initiative. We have also been working with some of our favourite artists to create some special pieces which should be available soon. Aside from that, more creating, experimenting, building and walking!