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.
Carving out your own space in a saturated market requires finding your own niche, adhering to a set of values and inspirations that are totally unique to yourself and your brand. A little while ago we were introduced to Jake's, a made to order label producing some of the finest shirting around at the moment. With heavy influences from both Jazz and Ivy League style of the 50's and 60's, Jake has carved his own spot in the vast menswear landscape by doing a couple of things, and doing them very, very well. We caught up with him recently and chatted about how he traded bricks for bolts of fabric, the importance of distinguishing what you do and what we can expect to see from Jake's in the future.
Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Jake Wigham (JW): I'm Jake Wigham, 31 years old and hailing from Carlisle, Cumbria. I didn't do that well at school and the prospects weren't great in Carlisle, so I started my working life as a bricklayer after a short stint working in a cloth mill with my Dad. After about 7 years in the building trade I was completely sick of it. Although I was happy with the manual skills I’d acquired, I grew bored of the actual job. Quite a few friends had done Foundation Art and Design courses at the local art college and most of them were doing cool creative things or moving to interesting cities, so I decided I’d give it a go. The Foundation course was one of the most rewarding years of my life. I got to experiment with all kinds of different materials and methods, and my tutors were excellent. They recognised that another hands-on skill would suit me best and were the first people to mention tailoring to me- they really planted the seed. I applied for London College of Fashion’s Bespoke Tailoring degree and was overjoyed when I was accepted. Upon completion of my degree, I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship as a bespoke trouser maker at Steed Tailors. After a couple of years of working with Steed, I did what most trained tailors do and went freelance.
AS: We normally try our absolute best to avoid talk of the pandemic, but in your case it acted as the conduit for you to launch Jake’s. Was it a difficult decision for you to go out on a limb and order everything you needed to set up?
JW: I had only been freelance for a few months before lockdown started in March 2020- I had enough to keep me going for the first couple of months and then work really dried up. I managed to get some work making Madras face masks for John Simons which kept me going for a few weeks, then after that I was lucky to get a small grant through my local council. After I’d paid my flat rent, studio rent and all of my bills, I decided to spend the remainder on setting up Jake’s.
Luckily, because I decided to do all the manufacturing myself, there weren’t any huge
outsourcing costs. Once I had the shirt patterns
finished and the materials bought, the rest just kind
of fell into place.
AS: Your products and personal interests are based around post-war subcultures such as Suedeheads and Ivy Leaguers. In the present day, do you feel like subcultures exist in the same way they did back in the mid-twentieth century?
JW: I used to be very active in the Suedehead scene, but I've kind of fallen out of love with it. There’s a lot of rules and 'this is how it’s done' type of attitudes, that just didn't really wash with me as I grew older. Ivy style has always sparked my interests and I always leaned more towards that look even when I was into Suedehead, so it was a natural progression. I just feel like it’s such a refined and adult way of dressing, never too overdressed and never too underdressed.
AS: Jazz is also incredibly important in the Jake’s story. Who are your personal favourite musicians and whom do you feel had the best style?
I really love Hard Bop era jazz and the musicians associated with that period. People like Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd. They were all very stylish in every aspect of their lives and I've found huge inspiration from their music and clothing choices.
AS: You call yourself a tailor instead of a designer. Is it important for you to distinguish yourself between the two?
JW: Most definitely! Although some aspects of design definitely come into play, I am first and foremost a maker.
AS: Trousers and suits have been mooted in addition to your current offering of shirts and ties. What’s your starting point when it comes to exploring a new style? Is there a Jake’s archive of vintage references?
JW: Vintage has been a big part of my life since my teens. I've always wanted to have pieces that were special and unique to me, and I've always been very particular about the type of fits and silhouettes I like, although these can change over time. I wouldn't say I have an archive per say, because I don't keep any pieces that don't fit me, which is one of the main reasons I first started making my own clothes. I'm quite tall and have really long arms so most vintage isn't suitable for me!
AS: Will we see the more relaxed aspects of Ivy League style from Jake’s at some point? Polo and Rugby shirts for example?
JW: Hmm, I’m going to say no at this point. Those aspects of the scene don't really interest me enough to spend the time to develop and make.
AS: Japan has always held a strong interest in Ivy League styles; even within contemporary publications the influence of Ivy is present and obvious. Have Jake’s felt much interest from that side of the world or indeed been featured in any of the press from Japan?
JW: Oh man - the Japanese are the best. They have a keen interest in quality and appreciate when pieces are period correct and long lasting. I've been lucky enough to have some really good interest from the Japanese market so far. I've had no press from over there as of yet, but there’s talk of it in the future so I’m hoping that goes ahead.
AS: Working within a made to order system gives you more control when it comes to the amount of orders you take on and also the ability to focus more on quality, but can also limit your growth as a brand as interest increases. Does Jake’s have a plan to scale up, and if so, how do you keep the same high quality whilst growing?
JW: No plans to scale up at present. I'm not looking to create a huge business because I believe my products are catering to a pretty niche market. As long as I'm kept busy and have some time to develop new products and ideas then I'm more than happy. I’m hoping to take on an apprentice soon, I've had a young lad
in recently who's showing real promise.
AS: With jackets and trousers in the works, what else can we expect to see from Jake’s in the near future?
JW: I’m developing a couple of new shirt styles and have a couple of really fun collaborations in the works. Once I have some free time, I'm planning to develop and refine a proper unstructured Ivy style suit jacket pattern. Other than that, expect to see more wardrobe staple shirts and trousers- they're the next jobs to tick off my list.