This week we caught up with Darren, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind one of our favourite Scottish brands, HAAR. Talking COVID, Scottish manufacturing and all things menswear, we hope you enjoy our latest Q&A with a great lad.
Welcome Darren, how are you?
Good Cheers. Sick of this Pandemic and the restrictions it brings. Looks like I’m being made redundant from the day job too so that’s not ideal, especially with a new baby, but looking forward to really pushing forward with HAAR which is the dream. Going to try and make the most of the situation and see it as an opportunity.
You’re one half of the brains behind HAAR – for those who may not be aware of the brand, can you give us a bit of background?
Yeah, it’s me and my wife Jessica. Starting a brand has been something I have dreamt of doing for a long time. I have worked in some great stores in Aberdeen: Attic clothing where I was introduced to the world of menswear, then Kafka Mercantile when I really learned about the industry and the products. Working with some of the best brands meant that I got the opportunity to really see how things were made, form opinions and learn about the products in a way that I otherwise would probably not have access to. I worked on the website/marketing/product photography side of things at both stores, but as small independent stores, it often meant wearing many different hats.
In 2016 we decided to go for it with our own brand properly. Up until that point I had tried my hand at a few little t-shirt brands and had a part-time side hustle re-waxing Barbour’s while selling them at Attic, haha. Me and Jessica met at art school, so we are both creative, but I’m a dunce when it comes to numbers. It just so happens that she is great with that stuff and she also had a bit of experience in the fashion industry having been a catwalk and editorial model for some luxury fashion houses.
We started up with basically nothing. We spent a lot of time researching, designing and determining what it was that was going to set us apart: Made in Scotland, the highest quality and details, and as ethical and sustainable in all our manufacturing as possible. We set ourselves up for a challenge. Manufacturing in Scotland has practically all but vanished. It was once a pretty vibrant industry in Scotland but when the mass exodus for cheap overseas labour happened a few decades ago the industry was destroyed.
Anyway, we did our research and found a small factory in Glasgow who on paper seemed to do everything we were looking for. Made in Scotland, ethical and sustainable manufacturing… there was one part that was missing though, the high quality bit. At this point we had already handed over a heap of cash and they were next level incompetent, nothing was getting made, samples were truly terrible and we were wasting lots of time and money. It was awful. We had a contract in place for a collection of garments but this manufacturer decided we needed to make yet another payment when we still had nothing to show… I don’t know why or how he thought he could get away with this, but from speaking to other start-ups it seems they were on the con with a lot of people. Long story short, we had to go to court (representing ourselves) and finally got our money back after a lot of hassle.
Instead of giving up at this point we decided to go for it again and found an excellent manufacturer. Since then we have begun working with local seamstresses which has meant we can deliver the quality we always wanted and are able to provide fairly paid work, here in Scotland. It’s not that we have a problem with clothing being made anywhere else but If people are working in terrible conditions, being paid poorly and on top of that you have the problem of long distance communication, it just seemed that producing in Scotland seemed the best way to go.
We are now at a point where HAAR has gone from strength to strength, we still work on it in our own time which is what we knew needed to be done if we were to get to the position where we are able to make HAAR the day job. Although we have been in a pandemic and lockdown has been a nightmare, we have been so grateful to have our most successful year to date, we really appreciate all the support from everyone, whether that’s a follow, a comment or a purchase. It genuinely means a lot
Just how big of a part does Scottish manufacturing play in the brand?
For us it’s very important, it’s where we are based and we want to provide jobs to people around us. Manufacturing in Scotland means we have great control over the quality and development and means we can be more sustainable by not shipping fabrics around the world before the items are ready for sale. We pay our seamstresses and tailors fairly and that’s a big part of it too, we value the work they do and we encourage them to get involved with the development or our products. This makes for a superior product for sure. Utilising the finest materials along with everything else comes at a cost. We price our products fairly and we think very competitively for what you get. We completely understand that while not everyone can afford everything we make, our garments are built to last and pay for themselves in the long run.
As you mentioned above you’re a family run business – how do you find working with loved ones?
We are a good team. We never switch off, it means we can discuss our ideas and we pride ourselves on being able to do all the day to day stuff ourselves. We built the website, do all the social media, the marketing, the designing, the packing, the photography, the writing, all the financial stuff and loads more. I think that has been key to building the brand from nothing, in the early stages you need to be able to do as much as possible unless you can afford to pay others to do it. As a team we are small, but we’re agile and can put things into action quickly. Having a 9 month old baby obviously has its challenges, and doing this in our own time could have been a recipe for disaster, but now, if we didn’t have HAAR, we wouldn’t know what to do with our free time.
Where did the name originate from?
We chose the name HAAR, from the Scots word which is the name for the thick sea-fog that comes in from the North Sea over the North-East of Scotland which is where we are based. Visually the word looks nice and symmetrical and it’s simple. Choosing a name is always going to be difficult and it’s easy to overthink it. HAAR just seemed like a cool word and referenced the area and the language of region.
Talk us through your thinking process, from design through to construction.
Our designs take references from everywhere, elements from vintage clothing, military and workwear pieces. We make clothing which is very wearable and timeless. We want to introduce some more experimental designs in the future but for now we want to build a core collection of well-made, well-designed and high-quality garments. It’s about form and function. We’re excited to release a few new styles we’ve been working on this year.
As far as the process goes, I imagine it is much like many other clothing brands. We come up with an initial idea of what we want to make, we research other examples and come with sketches that take elements that we like from other pieces, determining the silhouette and fit, and adding detail. We source the fabrics we want to use and get an initial sample made up, from there we make changes until we are happy with how the garment looks and fits. We work closely with our tailors who really know who to put a garment together and can bring ideas and tweaks to make the garment the best it can be.
Where do you draw inspiration for the brand and products themselves?
Where we live inspires a lot of what we choose to make, we love the outdoors, hiking, and exploring, clothing must be fit for purpose but also you want it to look good. We are surrounded by Mountains, forest trails, rivers, and the coastline.
We want our garments to be with you for a long time. We are very aware of all the negative effects of the fashion industry on the environment and we believe it is just as much our duty to do our part as it is the end consumer. We believe making clothing to the highest standard, as ethically and sustainably as possible and built for longevity has to be a model all businesses need to adopt.
What product are you most proud of and why?
We are possibly most proud of our Munro Bagger Parka, which was a long time in the making. We had made various versions of this jacket and each time we just weren’t happy with it enough to release it. It had to be right. When we finally got to that point, it was such a great sense of satisfaction. There is a lot of subtle detail in the parka and we really think it stands up to anything else in it’s category. Making it from start to finish in Scotland and using a Scottish fabric for our first version felt like it really was the epitome of what HAAR is about.
Our lined Harris Tweed CPO’s have been a great success also and we love this natural fabric. Some may have this impression of tweed as a stuffy old gents fabric, but we think our CPO showcases the fabric in a more contemporary light.
Moving away from clothing for a while, are you into football and who do you support?
Not really, as I boy I was, but I kind of lost interest to be honest. I was born in Luton so I went to a few matches there and then to a couple of matches up here in Aberdeen and Dundee. If I’m honest for me it’s more about having a good time with mates rather than paying to much attention what’s happening on the pitch. I love everything about football culture though, obviously the clothing, the music, and a good pie doesn’t go a miss. But yea I don’t really support any team.
Another one of our passions here at Casual Cultures is music, who are your favourite artists and why?
I love music, we’re always listening to music here. I know it’s a bit of a cliché and a crap answer, but my taste is really eclectic.
We actually made some Spotify playlists at the very start of lockdown with a massive dump of random tunes if anyone gets bored and wants to have a listen just search HAAR and then there are a heap of playlists called ‘something for everyone’. You can expect everything from synthesisers to soul and funk, electronic, jazz, hip-hop, acoustic, ambient. If I liked it I whacked it on. I should probably update it a bit actually…
Probably my favourite source of music would be NTS Live and in particular the Charlie Bones Do!! You!!! Show. There’s a great little community on there and the chatroom can be a laugh.
I couldn’t pick a favourite artist, completely impossible and I’d change my mind in 2 minutes if I did. Jessica loves 90’s rap… so there’s that.
Back to clothing, what clothing brands are you fans of and do you ever use these for inspiration for HAAR?
There are so many clothing brands we love. From older Stone Island stuff which really pushed innovative garment production and fabrics to Americana workwear brands such as Post O’alls, Engineered Garments, OrSlow. Japanese brands such as Nanamica, French brand Arpenteur, 1stPat-RN, and then more technical brands like Arcteryx, Snow Peak and, and Wander. Nigel Cabourn has an interesting back catalogue and I admire British brands that still manufacture in the UK. A lot of them only produce a small amount of products here which is a real shame and that’s why we aim to be a part of the British revival.
It would be a lie for any brand to say other brands don’t inspire them. Of course you look at what the guys at the top of their game do and work out how you can get there. I really think our products are at that level of quality and workmanship and we just have to put the time in and get our name out there so people can see what we’re about.
Do you have a favourite designer?
Not really, Although I met Yuki Matsuda of Yuketen/Monitaly and he was a lovely bloke who is clearly passionate about what he does. I respect anyone that is doing what they love. It’s a difficult one to crack, but people that find success in what they love really inspire me personally.
How big of an impact has COVID had on the label?
I would say that the very things that make a HAAR product unique are some of those that have enabled us to continue relatively unscathed by Covid: We work in small batches, make products locally, and source fabrics from many suppliers who are great and operate from the UK. The main impact, which is an indirect one, would be that my full-time job has taken a hit and that will mean a bit of a challenge in the short term.
What does the rest of 2021 have in store for HAAR?
We have a lot of new styles in the pipeline and some interesting fabrics for the warmer weather. We are going to focus on selling our products through our own channels this year although we have a great project we are working on with our Japanese retailer; Onkochishin for his 5th anniversary. It’s difficult for everyone to make plans just now, but we are just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing up until now and try to build slowly and organically.
Finally, can you summarise HAAR in only 3 words…
Built for good.