United By Fate x FatKidOnFire - Interview #121

United By Fate x FatKidOnFire

Interview #121

We’ve had a good run of awesome streetwear and independent fashion brands feature recently on FatKidOnFire. Things might have slowed down in terms of us publishing new features – but that’s not reflective of a lack of new brands worthy of your attention (as always, it just means I’ve got a stack of other stuff on).

Tonight, I’m pretty damn excited to introduce one of my latest favourite brands. And, like Ashdown Workshop and Never Second, this brand is (almost as) home-grown as it could be. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing United By Fate

“Inspired by a love of the outdoors, the ocean, the city, free-living culture and a touch of British spirit; United By Fate was born in early 2013. It is and always will be vital that the brand be functional and stylish, never exploitative and of a quality that’s built to endure. You’ll see elements of classic menswear, plus touches of vintage skate, surf and workwear. Most of all; it had to embody what I value most in people: passion, creativity and adventure. The Bright Eyed & Fearless.”

Liam Thomson, U/F Founder

Hi Liam, how’ve you been? Hi Wil, I’ve been having quite a year. In other words; busy – but good busy.

2013 has been one of those memorable years where everything seems to be coming together and you get to tick some things off the to-do list.

We’ve known each other for a while now – first during your time as a blogger, then as Fashion PR, then once you’d joined 33 and now with United By Fate. You’ve had a busy few years! When did you decide you wanted to move from a consumer supporting indie brands to running your own? It has been an interesting run hasn’t it? You’ve not been too restful yourself though – and I’m always excited to see what you’re up to next.

I’m a project lover, I like to create something from nothing. As soon as I started blogging about independent clothing labels I think a little spark of interest ignited in me and the work I was doing with these other brands provided a wealth of information of what and what not to do. In the end, I’ve been able to combine my background in content production and PR and marketing with my oddly unwavering entrepreneurial side. Sure, it took about 5 years to finally bite the bullet and start a label but I was learning and growing. I knew when the time came and everything from people, places and experiences aligned then that would be the time to do it and not a moment before.

As far as I can tell, you strive to keep your products manufactured here in the UK (or as close as possible). How important to you is this? Has achieving this been an easy process? I do indeed. I’m not fully there yet, but so far I’ve managed to make a few steps in the right direction.  I’m not a fan of throwaway fashion culture and as a British based, self-funded independent it can be hard to get on the ladder in terms of overseas manufacturing, be it good contacts or hitting minimum manufacturing order numbers. Not to mention being able to price competitively.

United By Fate x FatKidOnFire

All of those practical and emotional facts informed the way United By Fate has developed. I wanted creative control and aimed to create a label that felt accessibly premium by focussing on what used to matter and is starting to once again; quality, details and an experience for customers. This was best achieved, at least so far, by striving to create products here or at least have them finished in the UK. Currently the leather belts are 100% UK created, using traditional methods and although the other garments come from a carbon neutral factory in the Aegean region of Turkey, they are printed and finished in the UK. I’d like this to be a trend that continues. I’m not ruling out overseas manufacture but only if it aligned with the ideas and values of what I’m trying to create. For example; I honestly cannot imagine having created those belts in any other way.

How would you best describe U/F? Who would you see as competitors or in a similar vein? I’d say it is informed by classic surfwear, a little skatewear and the functional traits of Scandinavian workwear. I wanted to create a label that could become a go-to for creative and passionate people.

I have a friend who’s a film maker, he’s creative and talented, with a healthy sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors. It’s gentlemen like that who are the essence of United By Fate. Artists or designers, thinkers or doers, you know? The bright eyed and fearless. They embody what this label strives to be about.

I respect the output of labels like Saturdays Surf NYC, Element, Norse Projects and RVCA.

This is undoubtedly your brand, given you’re the only one involved 24/7. What’s been the highest and lowest points during your time so far? Sure, let’s see… I’d say a low point would have been when I spent £1000 ordering 2000 labels, because that was the minimum I could order and despite knowing it was the right thing to do because the label, for me, was where United By Fate would begin to take shape. Whether people notice or not, a lot of love went into the details in elements such as labelling and at the time, that was a “no going back” financial investment. It was a little scary.

I’d say a combined low followed by a high point – as is often the case – was just before launch, I’d spent 8+ months working evenings and weekends and spent the majority of my hard earned savings on a label I wasn’t sure anyone would like or want to buy or wear. I had a feeling people would, otherwise to even begin would have been madness, but it was completely unproven at that point.

The high came from my friends and colleagues getting behind me, being amazing and helping to send the label out into the world with a buzzing launch event, lookbook video and shoot. A bunch of gear was sold on the night and the feedback was great. It was a little seal of approval, it felt amazing, and it is genuinely what you need every now and again with any project or startup.

United By Fate 'PARALLEL LINES' leather belt

Of your products, which do you feel reflects the brand’s ethos the best? Why? Which is your favourite from your product list? I’m hugely attached to the handmade leather belts. They are 100% made in the UK, Wales to be precise, by a very talented leather worker. I hand chose and drew everything from the buckles to the stitching styles to the beautiful sheet of leather they were cut from.

However, I would say there isn’t a particular product that fully represents the label. I’ve tried to show a little DNA of the idea in each and every garment from the eye-catching pocket tees to the bolder backprint t-shirts, not to mention the simple, minimalist crews and tees that are perfect for the office or when a subtle statement is what you’re going for.

United By Fate

How important has the web been in what you’ve succeeded in doing with the brand? In an internet-less world, what would you have done differently? The web has been involved in everything I’ve done since I was 15 and running my first online music and lifestyle mag, right up to launching this brand. It’s been incredible in connecting me with wonderful, talented people such as Gaynor and her amazing leatherwork abilities and Jon Schubert one of the finest hand illustrators and nicest guys you’ll come across this side of Texas, which as it happens, is where he’s from.

What does the next 6-12 months hold for the brand? Where will we see it progress to? I’m in this for the long game and I’d prefer to grow organically than overextend too soon. Much like the belts, I’d rather focus on quality and details. This translates into everything I’ll do with the label. I’ll be putting out a summer capsule and following up with a small Winter collection that’ll sit nicely alongside the debut collection, hopefully people will dig it. In the end, it’ll come down to sales, if I can sell enough of the debut collection, it’ll mean I can keep pushing forward. So it’s a team effort between the customers and I. Go team!

Is the brand stocked in any brick&mortar stores? If so, how was the process of getting the brand into retailers? This is 100% a goal and something I’m very keen on doing. I’ve got a lot of ideas I’d love to see materialise and a physical space where customers can connect more deeply with the label, have a great time and experience a variety of events together as a community would be awesome.

In terms of being stocked, there’s been some interest but it isn’t something I’ve gone looking for right now. If someone comes along and it feels right then I’m all for it but it isn’t a priority just yet.

Is running your own brand something you’d recommend others do? I’d recommend that everyone have a creative outlet or project. They’re hugely rewarding and they bring passionate people together which is really positive. I also work at a digital agency and I find that the worlds have collided beautifully with experiences and people translating seamlessly between one world and the other. It’s also stressful, expensive and time consuming – like all the best things in life, right!?

United By Fate's 'Bright Eyed'

A lot of people seem to be setting up on their own at the moment, but there seem to be few brands that stand the test of time. Is there anything brand owners can do to future-proof themselves? I’m not sure I’m even in the place to answer this yet. I’m very much at the beginning and I’m sure there is more than one way to skin a cat and I’ve seen brands grow massively very swiftly in the last 2-3 years. Perhaps it’s like starting a band and there’s plenty of luck, timing and good fortune involved?
Right now, I’m focussing on getting the to the much lauded 1000 true fans and staying focussed on the ideas and gut feelings of United By Fate, whilst doing a lot of listening. If that means I can sell enough products to keep growing and creating more to hopefully delight a growing customer base, again and again by being increasingly ambitious (in the way that often only comes through growing financial freedom) – then that’d be incredible. As my good friend from Cape Town, Rob (who actually built the United By Fate site) always says, “holding thumbs” or as us Brits love to say – “Fingers crossed”.

It’s a great brand, with a lot of thought, love and care behind it. What are your long-term goals with United By Fate? Thanks Wil, that’s really kind of you to say and as you’ve occasionally been in the loop since things first began, so that means a lot.

My long term goals are getting to 1000 true United By Fate advocates and selling enough products to keep developing and growing the range and label as a whole. I’ve had quite a lot of requests to do womenswear, so given the interest; this is something I’d love to explore in future. Doing events and getting people together in real life situations, be that through a retail store or by another means – is another area that really matters to me.

United By Fate x FatKidOnFire

Any final words? Thanks for your time and all the best for the future! Just a big thank you for taking the time to chat to me and write about this thing I’ve created. It really does give me a huge buzz every time someone gets behind what I’m trying to do or gets stoked on anything from the fit to the packaging.

Also, thank you to the readers. I hope you’ll check out United By Fate and tell a couple of your mates. If you take any of the gear on any adventures, please share photos and stories!

Thanks to Liam for taking time out of his (always) busy week to sit down and talk about the brand. When I first heard he was interested in starting his own brand, given his passion (and previous successes) I knew it’d be something to get excited about. When he showed me what he’d been working on, I was genuinely blown away.

Sixteen t-shirts(!), two belts, three sweatshirts and a kick-ass web presence. All funded out of one pocket. That’s how you launch a brand; take note everyone else! Liam’s put in a ridiculous amount of time, effort and money to get U/F off the ground – now it’s up to us to help him grow to the next chapter of the brand’s history…

If you’ve enjoyed learning about Liam’s foray into the fashion industry, find U/F on FacebookTumblr and Twitter and visit the brand’s website here.

As always, if you’re a young brand looking for exposure, hit the FKOF fashion writers Chris and Dominic up on Twitter (or you can have a chat with me on @FatKidOnFire) or fire us an email to the streetwear inbox. We’d love to hear from you!