There was a time, not so long ago, when the British Empire straddled the globe, it was famously said of Queen Victoria that the sun never set on her empire such was its magnitude. The catalyst for this vast expansion of reach from such a tiny island off the north western coast of Europe was industry, nobody embraced manufacturing, automation, technology and general hard work like Britain and its people were the engine which powered the machine. That was then and this now, though still a figurehead power on the world stage Britain has long since lost its economic muscle and its will to work, manufacturing has been replaced by service and truthfully we are not particularly good at that, ours is a legacy which has been in decline since VE Day with war debts, reparations and the cost of the fading empire setting us along a path which each governments version of the welfare state has steered us further down. Now with almost all manufacturing sub contracted abroad due to damage done in the 1970’s by embattled trade unions, cheaper labour rates and spiralling debts as the world economy plunged into the red the state of British industry is desolate in comparison to its former glory. Once home to a proud textile industry where our prowess for materials and sewing was second to none on the world stage we are now severely lacking anything resembling a clothing industry, this is where Joe Schindler and his very British brand Joe and Co Denim come in.
Joe is an old hand in the clothing industry with over 30 years experience. He has been bruised and battered by the economy, known good times and bad, and is determined that his denim brand will be the equal of the popular foreign brands whilst manufacturing in the UK. A staunchly proud Mancunian (resident of Manchester), Joe is a wise man with the kind of understanding which can only come from having been there, seen it, done that and not just worn the t shirt but also probably designed it and made it. Joe and Co is a brand intent on doing things right, they do not limit themselves in either style, time period or materials and have already established impressive collaborative efforts with famed Irish shoe maker Padmore Barnes along with working on a line of British milleraine jackets with a British manufacturer known in the industry for their quality work in the Japanese market. As a very hands on brand owner Joe is intimately familiar with the perils, pitfalls and immense satisfaction of making your vision a reality, so when I had the opportunity to speak with him that is exactly I did.
DHQ – Tell us a little about yourself, your background and what you do?
JS – I have been in the industry for over 30 years in some capacity or another, starting off in sales in the North West of England for one of the first Multiple stores, Stolen From Ivor in 1980. Moving on from there to higher level independents, until starting Josef Jeans in 1987. This was more of a commercial brand and everything was made in England until everyone started to move production out the UK. This led me to opening a lifestyle store in 2000 and for the next 10 years we invested quite heavily into the store and building up our brand profile with brands such as Edwin, Nudie, LVC, Red Wing, Sugarcane, Adidas Originals (Vintage) Stussy, Clarks Originals, Nike, Victorinox, Dickies, New Balance and many more., however, due to the crash in 2008, everything took its toll and eventually closed the doors in June 2010.
In 2008-09 I came across a Japanese brand at Bread & Butter and we discussed the possibilities to make a small amount of denim with them using the Nihon Menpu Mill. In the end we made 30 pairs of denim in 3 fits JCX001, JCX002 & JCX004 ( JCX003 is the same as JCX001 but with the cinch back). After we received the denims, it took us about 3 weeks to sell what we had at £175.00 each. In the meantime the registration of the brand was still going through, therefore, I sat on it and waited for completion. During this uncertain time, I was developing Joe & Co into a premium denim brand, but could really not afford to take it any further than I already and therefore was shelved for a while.
After the closing of the store, I was approached to design a collection and come up with a name for it and was given full control over the design element and branding. I got the brand to the stage where it was ready to exhibit in Jan 2012, however, after all this, the company ran out of money and could not afford to finance the brand.
All this happened in the summer of 2011 & by Jan 2012 I was exhibiting Joe & Co at Jacket Required for AW12 with the fabrics I had acquired from the Japanese and Italian mills, and had it made in England. I wasn’t particularly happy with the positioning of the stand, however I had some great feedback from Selectism and Marubini, but nothing concrete. As you are probably aware, Marubini represent stores like, SHIPS LIMITED, UNITED ARROWS, JOURNAL STANDARD and so forth
Since then, a price point type of denim was introduced, to trade with stores that I did not really want to. There are times in your life that you have to do something that you do not want to do, I wanted to build up the brand to get to the level I wanted to, and worked all hours god sent, to source the UK factories and other mills and the people who I actually wanted to work with to produce my garments on micro production runs with the emphasis on quality and attention detail. Having scoured the country from top to bottom looking for the right factories to work with and to manufacture what was actually required , with the right minimums, has not been easy to say the least, however, I now have these, and have pulled the brand from all UK stores for AW14 and concentrating on our website, with made in England garments and the balance of what is being carried
What I have, is a genuine article for the premium level of Denim & Apparel , focusing on various qualities of selvedge denim from JAPAN, ITALY & in some cases ASIA. I am looking forward to building the brand to be available in the most respected stores around the word and of course our own web store.
DHQ – The UK has a strong history of work wear and garment manufacturing, something which I am shamefully mostly ignorant of, how important is manufacturing and securing your brand in the UK to you?
JS – I have been manufacturing in the UK, on and off since 1987, however since then, the majority of factories went overseas and followed the poverty line, the rest declined and changed the way they manufactured or went bust. Now it seems, every man and his dog is looking for British manufactured, which is not a bad thing, however, what you have is factories with skeleton staff, as there is no workers to man the machines and what workers there are, can’t speak English and need an interpreter. A lot of these factories are either owned by the foreign investors with an English front man or factories with very basic equipment. The equipment is available, but expensive and no one is willing to invest in the machinery that is needed to produce the goods to the quality standard which the customers require.
The factories that have all the equipment are either far too expensive and want the same minimums as say China, Vietnam or Bangladesh, for instance are very busy with the likes of the Arcadia group. I find it scandalous that Great Britain (UK) has no manufacturing workforce or skilled labor to produce Made In Great Britain products. Our industry is screaming out for skilled labor and the government needs to start investing heavily into it before it’s too late. The problems we have that the youth of today would rather work in McDonald’s for £6 an hour or whatever the minimum wages is nowadays, than be a seamstress or a pattern cutter. These are jobs which are highly skilled and should not be sniffed at, but unfortunately they do.
We are now supposed to be a service industry and we can’t even do that properly. Therefore to find a decent factory, who is willing to work with you on micro production runs, with the fabrics that you have sourced from mills that are willing to work with you by selling you a few hundred meters and not 1000 is virtually imposable to find in the UK. Unless you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who is willing to do it for you. Even then you’re not sure whether the garments are going to be of quality that you would expect or require, therefore everything is sourced by myself
Securing the brand in the UK is not as important as it used to be, as the internet has thrown it wide open to the whole world, however, I believe that if you are a British company, you should have as much as you can made in the UK to bring the British economy back and to Export British made goods all over the world. The only thing that is missing is the investment, everything else will follow. I believe it will be at least 5 years or more before we see anything like we had in the early 80s.
DHQ – What do you make which you are particularly proud of?
JS – There is no specific garment or product that am particularly proud of. I am very proud of every product we produce, as the same time and effort goes into every garment and product .
DHQ – What inspires you in the denim and work wear scene?
JS – Our inspiration comes from all walks of life, nothing specific, different cultures and different times. Our product is our lifestyle it’s proper British Work wear with a twist, it’s what we do , it’s what we want and it’s what we expect. You get what you see… Nothing more nothing less….
Everyone has a story to tell, We tell ours though our garments and the lens, I also like to pay homage to the Icons of yester-year who epitomize the essence of cool and I try to create a new take on past trends. Not just in our collective history but of our forefathers from across the pond, by using modern shapes & utilizing dead stock fabric
DHQ – What can we expect from Joe and Co going forwards?
JS – Going forward with Joe & Co, I am looking forward to be working with one of the finest denim factories in the UK and the denim mills that have been sourced. I am also working with an outerwear factory in the NW of England who make for the Japanese brand NEPENTHES and other quality brands, and in talks with a micro brewery to produce us a Pale Ale on the run up to Christmas, which is quite novel. There is so much going on, it never stops….. never a dull moment here at Joe & Co
Joe & Co are doing something extremely brave, something which I fully support in basing much of their operation in a market hostile to its own manufacturing, and where domestic products are routinely set aside for imported brands with perceived kudos. Having handled some examples of Joe & Co Denim jeans I will nail my flag to the mast in saying that they are the equal of just about any high end denim you could mention. I’ll be sharing my look at their denim in the next DHQ Fresh Weaves piece.