For our latest Q&A we sat down with Dean, the man behind Northern brand Yaka Clothing. Talking working class graft, his keen eye for menswear and dying love of Sunderland A.F.C, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to Dean talk and hope you do too. Give it a read, please give YAKA a browse and we hope you enjoy…
Hi mate, cheers for taking time to have a chat, how are you today?
Hello Dan, yeah not doing too bad thank you.
For those who may not know, please can you give us a brief backstory into YAKA, from past to present day?
The word “Yaka” itself comes from northern dialect around the coal fields of County Durham and Northumberland. People around here are called Pit Yakas, meaning folk who worked down the coal mines back in the day. So that’s basically where the name comes from. The brand itself has always been a dream of mine from opening a clothing shop or starting a brand, dating back to when I was in school. Over the past 3 years I’ve started Yaka and it’s grown to where we are today. The brand hopes to produce timeless pieces at working class prices.
What inspired you to form the brand?
I’ve always loved menswear. It comes from my dad who basically brought me up on his own. He’s always been a well-dressed cat even to this day and he’s not a kick in the arse off 60 now and he’s well up to date with trends and gets giddy when he tells me about his latest purchases. I remember saving my pocket money up when I was 12 and going into the likes of Aphrodite or Eleven (which sadly closed its doors a few year back now), both shops are in Sunderland and just admiring the clothes, places like that were like art galleries to me and seeing how the staff wear the gear in their own trends always fascinated me. Also, I’ve been going to the matches from a young age so I’ve always seen the different trends from the older lads manifesting from one to another. So all of that and my proud background of being a working class lad and the history of my family being coal miners I married the two together and it gave birth to what is Yaka Clothing.
What’s the ethos?
Razor-sharp working-class smart is the moto!
I’m not looking to become a superstar or make a boat load of money from the brand. Yaka Clothing is all about making classy garments that will hopefully stand the test of time at working class prices. Mainly I enjoy doing it which is the most important thing, if things became too stressful and I didn’t enjoy it I think it would reflect into the garments. Hopefully people can see there’s time and thought gone into everything.
Where else do you draw inspiration for the brand?
This is going to sound very cliché, but my daughter. Lyla or as I call her Scout, she’s 4 but whenever I do a new product or I’m sitting down scribbling ideas on a pad she’s there wanting to know what I’m doing and how she can help. Given the fact she’s 4, helping is the opposite thing to what she actually does but the joy she gets from thinking she’s helping is something only a father can understand.
I want to create a product that caters for the masses. Take the iconic Fred Perry polo, it doesn’t look out of place anywhere. Mods, Punks, Casuals, on the tennis courts and even Goths it’s a perfect fit. Now if you are a goth rocking a Stone Island shimmer jacket you’d be sceptical on whether they’re going to summon the antichrist or take on Millwall away but with Fred Perry it’s just timeless.
Other than menswear, what other passions do you have?
First and foremost, I’m a family man (I know what you’re thinking, here we go again). As I mentioned above I’ve got my daughter and we are expecting our second daughter to arrive in the coming weeks so as you can imagine things are a little tense. At the minute me and Scout are out every weekend all weekend walking and going on adventures with our Border Terrier Henry, it’s the best place for someone her age to be and to learn and I love being outdoors myself.
Apart from that I’m a huge fan of music and to my partner’s objection I’m a lover of records. I collect vinyl from all genres such as blue note jazz to soul, punk to Brit pop and beyond.
Obviously COVID has affected everyone’s life this year, how has it impacted the business?
At the end of 2019, I planned everything for 2020 and it was really going to be the year we went for it. The previous years were the build up to where we wanted to be. Then COVID hit. Absolute ball ache but although it didn’t pan out how I’d planned I can’t get too down about it, Yaka made it through the year. What has happened with COVID has devastated people and businesses in ways some may never recover from so we have to be thankful and count our blessings. Plus I’ve picked up a lot of new skills over the last year especially with having to cut my own barnet!
I’m lucky enough to have a full-time work as a Tool Maker and Yaka Clothing is just a side project.
I must say, if anyone reading this has any struggles or are feeling the effects of COVID please drop me a line I’m more than happy to talk to anyone and maybe have a virtual pint with you if that’s what you need.
What’s been your proudest product to date and why?
It’s a tough one. The first drop Yaka did was a sweatshirt and at the time I was buzzing with it but looking back I think I would of done a lot of things differently, but it’s part of the learning curve I guess
The product I love the most has to be between the 1/4 marra sweatshirt and the cord bucket hat. Both designs are simplistic but are effortless fucking cool, both sold out within 24hrs and there’s been a demand for them again so it’s something that readers may see pop up in the near future.
Aswell as fashion, this blog is all about music and football – do you have much interest in either?
As I mentioned I love music, it plays a huge part in my life and my daughter is named from the Oasis song “Lyla”. So many gigs I had planned to go to have been cancelled, I even planned to take the little one to a local festival last summer but again that got knocked on the head and it could be possible it’s going to be pushed back again this time.
I was a mad football fan, I followed Sunderland everywhere but sadly my love and passion for football in general has died over the past few years. Not because Sunderland are shite (mainly because Sunderland are shite) but because of the money that’s involved now, it’s totally killed the game for me along with VAR. My old man though has followed Sunderland up and down the country since the mid 80’s and still does, he was there when we were in what he still calls league 3 so being in this situation again doesn’t bother him.
What’s your earliest football memory?
My old man first took me to the old ground, Roker Park, proper old school ground. He took me there before it got knocked down just so I could experience it. I remember asking him at that first game “can I shout something?” With his nod of approval, I let rip, I was only 5 but I was bitten from the off. Since then, I was an avid supporter and I got myself into all sorts of mischief along the way, which put a lot of strain on my relationship at the time and becoming a father I had to finally grow up, so to speak. I only just dropped my season ticket when we dropped down into league 1, my liver couldn’t deal with me drinking my sorrows away anymore. Sunderland U21’s and the ladies team play their games just up the road from me literally 100 yards away and Lyla has been asking to go to a game for the past 18 months now so when things start to get back to normalities and the turnstiles open we’ll be back through them.
Music wise, what you listening to?
I listen to pretty much everything, apart from rap. My dad caught the punk bug when he was young so I listened to a lot of that growing up and as a kid of the 90’s britpop played a huge part of my love for music.
I know I’ve banged on about my old man alot but he has been a huge influence in my life.
But back to music, I love the roots and influence of black music from the likes of mod jazz, blues and soul, Northern soul and the whole mod scene. I use the word mod very loosely because when you mention Mod people straight away think parkas and a daft Weller cut (which I once rocked back in my youth). But mod has a huge umbrella in which things stem from starting with 50s Soho jazz jivers all the way up to the rave scene in the 90’s. Mod is all about moving forward with or ahead of times and looking fucking cool whilst doing it.
Does music influence the brand in anyway?
It does yeah, like I said I label myself loosely as a mod. So in keeping with true Mod style we want the brand to move forward or ahead of trends but give a nod to the past as well.
What’s the best, and worst, thing about owning and running your own brand?
We’ve just recently had word about a new business come along donning our name and a very similar logo so that whole thing as been a pain in the arse, disputing over copyrights and what not but they do say imitation is the best form of flattery.
The best thing is getting to know and work with some amazing people over the years who I keep in touch with still to this day and have helped me out hugely. So a massive shout out to the team at Woven in Durham who have had me along for all their events. Demis at Profilo Basso Fanzine who gave us our first publication and everyone who has supported Yaka Clothing in one way or another.
What are your plans for the future?
I planned to take a step back from the brand this coming April for a year because of the birth of my coming daughter and because I was involved in a road accident back in November so I have some work to do on injuries from that, but I think I’m just going to gracefully work in a smaller scale, do a drop every 3 months in a more limited number. Again, though it’s all down to covid, the manufacturers we work with are taking on smaller amounts of projects so it’s becoming a little bit more difficult.
Describe YAKA in only 3 words
Working Class Smart