Habilitate Talks to Cloth & Cut

Man wearing Cut & Cloth gear

When I first came across Cloth & Cut — a heritage menswear brand based out of Cologne, Germany — I, like many a menswear fan before me, was immediately drawn in by the values outlined in their mission statement. They focus on creating workwear, militaria, and outdoor clothing that remains faithful to the classical roots of the garments they produce. It means that as a label they are obsessive about design, materials, production techniques, and a host of small and easy-to-miss details. They also care about transparency and sustainability, providing (among other things) a list of their suppliers and a repair and alterations service on their site.

It’s rare to come across a brand where you can imagine yourself wearing just about everything they produce, let alone one that prioritises craft, quality, and sustainability in the way that Cloth & Cut does. So when the brand’s founder, Richard Duncan, agreed to talk to me for this, I jumped at the chance to learn more about his work and the ideas that gave rise to a business that emerged right at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic only to become one of the must-know menswear brands of the last few years. 

Man outdoors in Cut & Cloth gear

Hi Richard, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in clothing?

I’ve had an interest in clothing since my teenage years. I’m British and let’s be honest, looking good is a national unspoken competition! When I was a kid, casualism and Paniaro style was the thing (I’m dating myself here and when it was still affordable dressing that way), then clubbing life kicked in with acid house, and then something a bit smarter than dungarees and smiley T-shirts after that. Early in the 1990s, you could walk into most shops on High Bridge in Newcastle and get good quality labels like Comme de Garcons, Smedley, Armani, or Westwood which meant good quality, cut, and construction. Then at some point during the 2000s you started paying for the label, not the quality (more on this later).

You created Cloth & Cut back in 2020, right?

It was in the works for a few years before then, in my head mostly. Fighting for the trademark was my first challenge, but that’s another story…Once I had the trademark, I started with my first product, a beanie and began sampling the wax chore, which looked cool. Then we had a soft launch in Nov 2019 followed by the marketing launch in March 2020.

What motivated you to start your own brand?

First off, a real interest in clothing and the little details that make a piece functional and looking cool. As I said before, paying for a name on a label rather than the quality of the garment was pissing me off. I saw a gap in the market to provide good quality fabrics and construction and stylish cuts at affordable prices, all from countries with rich histories of fabrics and manufacturing right on our doorstep such as England, Scotland, Portugal, and Italy.

What — if anything — has changed about the business since those early days?

Fucking Brexit but let’s not go there.

The work you do centres on classic workwear, military, and outdoor clothing. Why were these the styles you wanted the brand to focus on?

These clothing genres have influenced most of the clothing that we wear right now. Many items of clothing people wear today have a history based on military, workwear, and outdoor/sporting attire, albeit in different iterations. Take the raglan shoulder, for example, which was developed (by Aquascutum) to provide more freedom in shoulder movement during swordplay for the Earl of Raglan after he misplaced one of his arms. What I’m saying is this clothing was developed with a purpose and function — engineered if you like. And when you engineer something you try and build it with the best materials and design for that purpose. So looking at those genres of clothing, much of the design has already been delivered and as a brand I wanted to deliver the quality they deserve. And this is where it’s at.

Cut & Cloth trousers

That’s very well put. Heritage militaria, outdoor clothing, and workwear certainly have a passionate following within the menswear community. What do you think it is about this category of clothing that resonates so strongly with people?

I think men in general want their clothing — or only buy it because — it has some function. And they want quality to ensure it serves that function well and over a long period of time. If we can provide that kind of clothing whilst looking good at the same time then it’s a more logical choice for men. That’s why ‘Looks good acts tough’ was a natural strapline for the brand. So essentially you can wear the clothing for outdoor pursuits and the pub.

When you’re working on designing new products, where do you typically turn for inspiration?

Military and workwear. They have developed so many fabrics and functions that are still relevant and used today across everyone’s clothing.

Do these same things influence the way you dress personally?

100%, I only develop things for the brand if I like them and would wear them and use those fabrics or functions myself. The whole concept is driven from ‘looks good acts tough’ with those small, easy-to-miss details on some items, like backing buttons where the buttons are the main closure on a jacket or a throat latch for when that easterly wind picks up.

Close-up of Cut & Cloth outdoor gear

I’m also curious about your ‘Limited to 100’ concept. Can you tell us how that works and how you landed on this approach?

I like the idea of exclusivity and I don’t think I’m the only one. As a brand I can create that exclusivity at affordable prices and continue this with our core collection by making subtle changes, like pocket design or fabric variations.

You also offer a repair service that performs visible mending in a Japanese sashiko or boro style. This aesthetic has even become something of a motif for the brand at times. What is it that appeals to you about this style of clothing repair?

I’ve got to be careful and say that it is inspired by Japanese sashiko or boro as it’s really only visible mending, nowhere near as skilled as real sashiko. I love the practicality of it. Anyone can do it, by hand or with just about any sewing machine. The fact is that the Japanese invented it and, knowing their history, they apply quality to just about everything they do. For example, Japanese katana are known as having been the finest produced swords in history due to the thousand-plus times they are folded by the Katana-kaji, which is ten times more than any other nation has historically applied in the manufacture of swords. The Japanese have a virtue for quality and patience seemingly built into them and consistently take products developed elsewhere and improve them by increasing the quality through the materials and craftsmanship they employ. Anyway, this was born from limited resources and repairing the quality garments they built in the first place. It helps to keep the items you love most that little bit longer. Plus, it’s sustainable and it looks cool. This is also something of a hashtag for the brand  #newwornloved

Another unique feature of Cloth & Cut is a sense of transparency about the suppliers you use, a list of whom you include on your website. How do you go about deciding on who to work with on the supply end?

First of all, I want my customers to know where their clothing is being produced. There is also quality cache in this as the countries I source from have rich histories of manufacture and fabrics. It also informs the customer how far their clothing has travelled and clearly the fewer miles the better as we attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. I have also sought out smaller, family-run manufacturers as I want to invest in their local communities, not some global faceless corporation who may provide employment but ultimately answers to shareholders who in turn then bank their pennies in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying tax with no give-back to the local community. It’s better to invest in the economic region you live in, for obvious reasons. Then, last but not least, the smaller companies have more focus on quality and are proud of their work.

Cut & Cloth selvedge trousers

On your website, you mention the kind of details you obsess about as a brand — French flies, throat latches, specific pocket details, or a particular stitching technique, say. It’s the kind of attention to detail that acts like catnip on menswear enthusiasts, myself included. Why do you think little touches like this matter and do you have a personal favourite detail that might go unnoticed by the casual observer?

They only matter when they provide a real function which adds to the quality of the garment, not just for the sake of adding a detail, which of course you see on many high street brands just sewn on for ‘the look’. Like the non-functional cuff buttons on a blazer rather than actual buttonholes allowing you to roll the sleeves up!

Cloth & Cut mostly sells its clothing online directly to consumers rather than in a physical retail setting, right?

Yes, but we do sell some B2B in France and Sweden and have been to a couple of exhibitions last year. Like Denim Days in Amsterdam, which clearly centres around denim, or The Heritage Post Show, which is run by a men’s culture magazine based out of Dusseldorf (just down the road from us in Cologne), which is perfect for us as the magazine’s readership profile has many touchpoints for us too (FYI the physical magazine is in German but they do have a free online version).

Cut & Cloth Heritage Post trade show advert

What made you decide to go the e-commerce route?

I wanted to test the market and the investment costs are much lower. It’s also quite fortunate that I did choose that approach as you may have noticed the full launch date was March 2020…This probably also helped the brand as people had more time on their hands and shopping was slightly restricted, to say the least.

Given the timing, that seems the best route to have gone for sure. Even so, does brick-and-mortar retail hold any appeal to you as a business owner?

Yes! I’d love to have a shop-come-workshop to meet more of my customers as they are enthusiasts and, although they are happy to buy with the level of detail we provide, they love to see, feel, and try on the clothing. This was confirmed at the two exhibitions we attended last year where customers travelled to see the brand and told us they had done so for those reasons. Also, the workshop element appeals as one size does not fit all, literally. We’ve done many bespoke alterations at customers’ request, mostly shortening jeans with real chain-stitched cuffs, but also other bespoke alterations like additional pockets on a jacket or shortened arms and lengths of jackets.

Man wearing Cut & Cloth wax chore coat and shirt

Are there things you’d like to do with Cloth & Cut that you haven’t had the chance to explore yet?

Yes, we are only just beginning. We’ve made lots of friends who are hobbyists with their craft but are seriously good at what they do. I’d like to collaborate with more of these like-minded people. We’ve already teamed up with a very talented embroidery chain-stitcher @lovebuzz_stuff and @utauber for his beautifully handmade leather items. And there’s more to come!

One last question: When you’re not at work, what are we most likely to find you doing?

I don’t really see this business as work, it’s so interwoven with my lifestyle. I think this is part of the question you asked earlier but I hadn’t thought about it as the main reason for starting the brand but I guess this is where I’m at. So if we restyle the question, what I am most likely doing at any given time would be listening to music, reading, being out and about in the great outdoors, travelling, at the gym and sauna, socialising, cooking and then using all those things as inspiration for the brand.

Man wearing Cut & Cloth clothes at a lake

All images courtesy of Cloth & Cut