For me, one of the best things about running FatKidOnFire is being able to discover and follow the independent brands and artists of this world – in all their similarities and differences. And, as I’ve progressed up the career ladder (i.e. started to get paid more), I’ve been able to afford to follow some of the more premium independent brands that exist.
[Rav & Tom of House of Billiam, shot by We Are HQ]
House of Billiam is one of the few independent clothing labels that, in my opinion, embodies everything a British brand should.
Taking the stereotypical American-inspired streetwear silhouettes and putting a British twist on it (by using premium British fabrics, manufacturers and tailoring) – it’s safe to say Tom and Rav, the two masterminds behind the company, are running one of the most unique/ interesting clothing labels in the UK today.
I’ve been a fan of the guys’ work for a long while, and since I’m getting to the point where I’m able to put my money where my mouth is and buy a Billiam piece, I got in touch to find out more…
Who and what is House of Billiam? T: House of Billiam is essentially two guys in a room near Haggerston station making nice clothes.
There aren’t too many bespoke streetwear companies in the UK – what inspired you guys to start using premium/ classic suiting fabrics for “unsuit-like clothes”? T: For a number of reasons. When we first started doing it we wanted to create a distinctly British streetwear company. A lot of the streetwear labels in the UK seem to copy American streetwear and we wanted to try and blend both aesthetics together by using classic Americana shapes, mixing that with British tailoring and British fabrics.
Our use of suiting fabrics, British-made wax cottons and classic linings (like liberty prints, ginghams and florals) defuses the hard edges of streetwear and makes for a very British look to our clothes. When we first started making clothes, it was easy to get hold of suiting in very small quantities and allowed us to work on a very low budget – as we had almost no money when we started. We are really passionate about using British fabrics for our clothes with even our ribbing knitted in the UK. The variety of cloth and the quality of cloth is just not available anywhere else and we really wanted to celebrate that.
R: It’s a love for quality fabrics, using these fabrics in staple street wear silhouettes creating a hybrid wearable garment.
Your current product line is fairly extensive; with t-shirts, shirts, the collaborative Derby shoes, trousers, blazers and so on. What’s been your favourite Billiam product? T: Well for me, I have a navy on navy gingham lined varsity from our second season collection in Japan, I wear it all the time and to be honest it’s my favourite piece. I’ve lived in it and I feel like I have a relationship with it. My favourite piece on the site is the speckled tweed blazer and trousers but we sold out of my size so I had to go without.
R: I have many favourite pieces, I like to dress well. So I have quite a few personal pieces, but from the collection I would say the new A-2 Jacket; navy melton wool body, navy suede sleeve and a detachable fur collar. It represents what the brand is about.
You produce all of your custom garments here in London. What’s your secret for keeping manufacturing in the UK? T: The secret is relationships. Manufacturing in the UK is based on trust; the longer you work with UK manufacturers, the more they like you and get to know what you want them to do.
We work really hard on establishing a good relationship with the people that make our clothes; it helps that if we need to we can make any of the garments we sell and that really sets us up nicely when we are talking with our manufacturers about the construction of the garments.
R: Yeah we have created relationships with honest people, but we passed a few not so great people on the way. It’s hard getting the price point right but we try.
You’ve produced clothes for some high profile artists (such as Tinie, Labrinth and Keane to name a few), how do those projects come about? T: They mainly come from stylists, we work closely with a few. I think the fact that we can offer something unique to each and every person means that we can create great stage pieces for them as well as every day items.
You get the same experience whoever you are and we make everyone feel special when they come and get something bespoke made for them. Artists have very particular mindsets on what they like and we can cater for that very easily – which makes them want to come back. They know that another artist won’t be wearing the same piece as them when they are doing a shoot or going to an event (because the item was made specifically for them). It is really nice just to make individual changes to items and make clothes that are unique to each client.
R: It’s our ability to make a garment specific to the stylist/ artist’s requirements. We can also turn pieces around in no time, as we cut patterns and sew and don’t dodge hard work.
What does or will distinguish House of Billiam from the rest of the UK streetwear being dropped these days? T: We have a strong ethos, we make UK-made cut and sew, using British fabrics and we do bespoke like a tailors. We can cater for every individual and we have a strong silhouette. If you have a House of Billiam piece you will recognise the same signatures in other people wearing a House of Billiam piece. The shape of our garments is the branding; we are not crass, we don’t plaster our names all over the garment – we use a very light touch.
R: We made every single pattern and carefully selected the fabrics and we have an obsession with the details. I think this sets us apart because we don’t rely on anyone to create patterns or manufacture or pick the fabrics; we went out and sourced everything ourselves and I think that gives us an edge. It was a lot of hard work but we have built up a really nice collection of suppliers that collectively bring a unique look to everything we do.
Who or what influences you in your work? T: The list is pretty long, we tend to have a real clash of what we like and this reaches a happy medium. I am really into fabric and quality fabric, I will often buy stuff that I do not know what I am going to do with but because I like it I will buy it. I am also obsessed with the idea of longevity, I live in the same clothes day in day out and I really like the idea of wearing something until it falls to bits.
I like clothes to tell the story of an individual so that they become some part of you. I think this is part of the reason I like the bespoke aspect because even when the jacket is new it already has a story to it, it tells a tale of your own personality and you have a personal relationship with it from day one. Other than that my influences come from all sorts of thing from childhood experience to what I read, watch and enjoy doing.
R: My work is simply influenced by the things I see, and have seen. Referencing the past, taking elements of garments and refining it to the brand’s aesthetic. The initial idea/ drawing in 2D, to realisation of the piece is what really drives my work.
What’s your take on the independent clothing scene in the UK at the moment? T: It is tough at the moment. We make a premium product in comparison to a lot of streetwear companies and with the financial climate as it is, it is a hard slog; wholesale is a tough market with shops not really willing to take big risks on garments such as ours and at the same time people who want our product need to tighten their belts. It is not easy and we’re grateful to the people that buy from us.
I think a lot of people are doing some really interesting things in this climate though, producing in the UK and battling against the recession. I really like what Percival are doing and I really like what Palace are trying to do, it is great to see brands that are genuinely trying to establish an aesthetic. Places like Albam are doing great things with UK-made products and really letting people know about what it is to buy a British-made piece of clothing, especially in menswear.
With LFW announcing a men’s fashion week, I am interested to see where it goes and what happens. British clothing is built on the foundations of great menswear with companies like Burberry and Aquascutum starting with a great piece of menswear. I am really pleased that LFW are starting to recognise menswear a bit more as it has been ignored for so long. A lot of new menswear designers are coming through and doing some really great stuff so it’s good to see that being promoted as an individual thing. I think Patrick Grant has been a great spokesman for menswear and it is great to see the industry really take notice of menswear.
R: I don’t think people realise the work it takes to make a brand successful, there are so many elements that are not considered when people decide they want start a brand. I think we stand alone on the UK scene as we have such a niche.
Where do you see House of Billiam being in 5 years time? T: No idea, it has been a real struggle over the three years we have been going that we never really have much time to look forward, we probably need to think of a long term plan. We hope we will still be making great British-made clothes, using great fabrics and developing what we do. It would be great to have a shop and do some nice collaborations and be known for what we do by everyone.
R: Hopefully successful doing what we are doing right now. keep the brand philosophy alive.
Where can people expect to catch the House of Billiam products, are you stocked anywhere other than your webstore? T: We have a capsule collection dropping in Dover Street Market on the 16th March and we will have a few more announcements on new stockists for A/W ’12. If you are in Japan we are currently in about 25 stores so that is your best bet but to be honest, the best thing to do is to visit the studio just off the Kingsland Road.
R: Yeah, pop into the studio. I get bored of talking to Tom, and it’s a more personal experience with a cuppa and a smile!
Top 5 favourite albums? T: I probably haven’t thought long enough about this, top five is not really enough:
- Nas – Illmatic,
- Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu
- Eels – Electro Shock Blues
- Pavement – Terror Twilight
- (and for childhood memories of long car journeys) Paul Simon – Gracelands
R: all my favourite albums represent great periods of my life….
- N.E.R.D – In Search Of,
- Common – Like Water for Chocolate,
- Mos Def & Talib Kweli – Blackstar
- Mos Def – Black on Both Sides
- The Knife – Deep Cuts,
- Can I say Craig David – Born To Do It (or is that not ‘cool’? Haha good times!)
Any Shoutouts? T: Family, especially the Big man, David Bird. My Stylist Says, Superette Sundays and all of that team. My housemates, the nice people we deal with – especially my man Wasim. The nice boys in the studio downstairs, Agi and Sam. Nautical Nancy… Oh and Karl (who still owes me money). Our amazing PR team at TwoTone, Emily and Shakira, who are smashing it at the moment and the excellent Clement Marfo and the Frontline all of whom give us shoutouts all the time. All the people that support the brand in their own little way and all my friends… Think that is it.
R: All of the above, they’re great. my Mum and not forgetting Parv Lota!
I can count the number of independent brands like House of Billiam on one hand (well, maybe two) – keeping the British way of producing clothing alive. Designed and made here in the UK, combining some seriously (awesome) premium fabrics with killer streetwear shapes.
Tom and Rav’s work with the label suits (excuse the pune) my streetwear taste down to a T – and I’m more than a little excited at the prospect of visiting the studio and getting the ball rolling on my own HoB garment. If you like the look of House of Billiam, and are based in London, I thoroughly recommend heading over to the studio. If you’re unable to visit the guys themselves, check their website and have a look through their products. You can also follow House of Billiam on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
On a side note, if you’re at a loose end next Wednesday in the London area why not come down to the House of Billiam x Dover Street Market launch party? All the information you need is on the flyer above – see you there!
If you have any thoughts on what Tom and Rav from House of Billiam have had to say, or want to recommend a new brand you’ve discovered or just want a chat about something you’ve seen on FatKidOnFire, drop a comment below or get in touch via email, Twitter, Facebook or the FKOF TakesQuestions page.