Long time supporter and friend of NCTN, Simon Middleton tells us more about Blackshore, which started out as a clothing brand and is now a ‘shop with workshop’ on the beautiful Suffolk coast.
One of the great advantages of being small and independent as a business is the freedom to respond to moments of inspiration as well as to the suggestions and requests of customers.
We opened our first ‘shop with workshop’ in the autumn of 2019, perched on Southwold High Street, just half a mile from the town’s fishing harbour, after which our business is named.
Half of what we sell in our shop is made by us, quite literally ‘in house’. Our small premises at the beginning of the High Street (one of the first shops that visitors to the town see on arrival) houses a pattern cutting room and a sewing room, as well a retail space.
We encourage customers and visitors to explore and to follow the hum of the sewing machines to watch the garments actually being made on the premises, and to ask about the fabrics being used in the various styles.
Just a couple of years on from the first concept, and after a few months proving our manufacturing mettle in a workshop space in nearby Lowestoft, we are now established as Britain’s most easterly small clothing workshop.
The key colours of the brand and of our clothes (blue and orange, earth tones and sand, as well as shades of green) are inspired by the sea and the surrounding landscape as well as the colours of the clothes and safety gear used by the local fishermen and sailors.
Our core products include traditional worker jackets and trousers, shirts and overshirts, fisherman’s smocks, rainproof ponchos and various bags.
Being both the designers and the manufacturers, we can respond to customer interests and our own passions: quickly trialling new products to assess customer interest.
We created, for example, a new version of our classic overshirt recently, adding a Nehru collar for one specific customer, which was immediately spotted and requested by another.
Similarly we have created a water-resistant waxed version of our Reefer jacket, simply because a customer loved the style of the standard canvas version but wanted the rain protection of a waxed version.
Frequently we respond to external inspiration for new designs. The Blackshore poncho, a dramatic looking cape with a hood, made in drywax ripstop cotton, was specifically inspired by the films of director M Night Shymalan.
Hollywood movies might seem a long way from a coastal clothing style, but films can be very inspiring aesthetically. Our poncho was directly inspired by a military cape worn by Bruce Willis as a reluctant super-hero in the film Unbreakable, as well as by the yellow woollen medieval-style capes in the film The Village, starring Joaquin Phoenix. In both films the cape symbolises protection and safety from the dangers of the world (real or imagined).
Our poncho offers the same protection against the elements, and its dramatic appearance, particularly in the orange version, is empowering. It seems that it’s more than just a rain-cape. People respond to it quite emotionally when they see it in the window of the shop.
Another of our new designs, the Harbour 14oz Denim Jacket, was inspired by images from Japanese vintage fashion magazines, which in turn were inspired by 1950’s American workwear.
We were already making our signature jacket, the Southwold Worker Jacket, in various colours of heavy twill, and we hadn’t really considered denim until getting absorbed by Japanese vintage styles. So we made the style in a lovely heavy denim and it’s fabulous.
We opened here in Southwold just under four months ago, after a few months’ run-up in a workshop in Lowestoft a little further up the coast.
Moving here and getting in front of customers has been transformational. Visitors love the combination of ‘Made-In-Britain’ with ‘Made-On-Premises’.
They understand it, they appreciate it, and they enjoy it. In time we hope to grow our team at the workshop of course. But we are also starting to collaborate with other producers who can make some of our garments in larger quantities (though that is still at exploratory stage) as well as offering other exclusively British-made brands too such as Gloverall, Peregrine and Corrymoor.
We’re not really about fashion… but we are about the coolness of things well made, things made to last, and things made locally, within a community and within view of shoppers, by real people. Most of all we’re about bringing the power of ‘making’ back onto the High Street. In one sense it’s terribly old-fashioned, but in another it’s pretty radical!