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Q&A: Ryan Llewellyn-Pace, founder and chairman of Hay Life Clothing

Here we talk to Ryan Llewellyn-Pace, former managing director of Barbour, about the launch of his new unisex fashion brand, Hay Life Clothing. What prompted the… View Article


Q&A: Ryan Llewellyn-Pace, founder and chairman of Hay Life Clothing

Here we talk to Ryan Llewellyn-Pace, former managing director of Barbour, about the launch of his new unisex fashion brand, Hay Life Clothing.

What prompted the creation of Hay Life Clothing?

The journey started two years ago with the belief that unisex fashion could have greater acceptance. The light-bulb moment for unisex was when I was managing director of Barbour and although we did womenswear Alexa Chung was seen wearing a men’s jacket. We want to build a lifestyle brand around unisex. No one is really championing it.

What does a unisex brand bring to the market?

Unisex comes into self-expression. There’s a lot of pre-conditioning with clothing and we want it to be unconstrained by boundaries. It will also help the mental health perspective as we want people to be more accepting of letting people wear whatever they want. We’re partnering with a charity YoungMinds that helps young people with identity issues. We’re pushing retailers into providing more of an opportunity for unisex and we’ve found many brands would like to do it. But it won’t happen overnight.

Which retailers are you referring to?

Our launch this week (on Wednesday) involves us partnering with Next and John Lewis [as wholesale partners] as they believe in unisex too. They believe our product and direction is good. At John Lewis we’ll initially launch with the rental service Hurr, because we’re interested in circularity, and we will then move onto selling in the main store.

What other sales channels are you using?

We’re wholesale and direct-to-consumer. Working with John Lewis and Next we’ll get a wide audience and we’ll invest in these platforms. And we’ve our own website. There are stores planned for the future, because physical retail is very important, but for a new brand to suddenly open a store it is too great an investment.

We want to be able to bring things to life and for our wholesale partners we have a physical showroom, alongside our offices, in Bow, East London. We’ll also soon have a digital showroom for these wholesale partners.

What about the creation of the product?

A lot of the differences are not needed in the clothes of men and women. Soft tailoring and knitwear is our area and so we’re about slightly more over-sized. With our marketing we’re making a lot of effort to show the same product worn by men and women

What’s the core target audience?

You see it in Asia and in Korea with the K-Pop generation where you see people wearing the same items. There is more of an acceptance with Gen Z but the target audience is all age groups because we want it to be inclusive.

Who is inspiring in this area?

Brands that I like include The Frankie Shop, Reiss and All Saints. I’ve also been inspired by listening to stories and people in the industry such as Liz Houghton, founder of Mint Velvet and Andrew Xeni, founder of Nobody’s Child.

Are there financial upsides to unisex?

It can remove a lot of wastage and duplication. There are usually two teams operating in silos for men’s and women’s. Each has its own designers, sales teams and marketing departments. There is lots of duplication. There are also efficiencies to be had in production by consolidating in one location. The levels of waste could be reduced considerably from the sizing and fits.

You’ve mentioned circularity, how important is that and sustainability to the brand?

The name of the brand ‘Hay’ links to farming and we use a by-product of farming, recycled straw, in our clothing. The ‘Life’ part counters the fact that there is a lot of doom and gloom and we want to champion happiness and wellbeing. We also recognise the importance of not being so quick with throwing things away so we’ve linked with SOJO who provide after-care for the likes of Selfridge’s and Nobody’s Child with tailoring and repair. Also Clothes Doctor that creates products to help prevent you from throwing things into the washing machine as often.

What do you expect to be the main challenges and opportunities for the brand?

There will be challenges all the way. Getting to retailers to talk about unisex has been a challenge. The next challenge is the fact that we are a new brand and the prospect of failing. Despite the challenges we’re proud of the response we’ve had so far from the trade. We hope it’s the same with consumers.

There is an opportunity to drive into this unisex space. But we’re in no rush, it’s a long-term project. Knee-jerk reactions and rushing could be a mistake. We’ll build in a considered way. There is a cost-of-living crisis and consolidation in the retail market but often the best opportunities come about during more challenging times.

What are the medium-term plans/objectives?

It’s taken two years to get from concept to execution. Our medium-term is absolutely about getting the message out. If we can change the perception then we’ll be doing a great job. If we move consumers to buy into this then that will also be great. We’re looking forward to the journey. It will be a very emotional one. All the shareholders agree that we can make a difference.

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