Oi Polloi

Interview: Kestin Hare

Published: Thu Sep 07 2017

Kestin Hare is a man from Scotland. He drives a green Land Rover Defender and enjoys spending time amongst the great outdoors. He’s also pretty good at designing clothes.

After working for people like Nigel Cabourn and Margaret Howell, he’s now going it alone, making super-sharp, functional garb under his own name.  

Combining details from workwear, sportswear and outdoor gear, his stuff is what could maybe be termed ‘everyday wear’ — you can wear it when you’re struggling with tent poles in a midge-ridden camp-site, and you can wear it when you’re trying to impress people you’ve just met in a fancy restaurant.

Highly versatile.

I took a train up to Edinburgh to peck his head with some questions.

Maybe the obvious question to start with here is what got you ‘into clothes’. How did you start designing stuff?

It started in school. I liked drawing things but I was never the best in the world. I realised when I got rejected from most architectural colleges that it wasn’t for me.

From the age of about twelve, me and my best mate would always go through to Glasgow. We were into going out and into brands. At that time it was John Richmond Destroy and this whole Glasgow club scene. There were all these amazing stores like The Warehouse and Ichi Ni San, which ended up developing into Folk.

When was this?

I left school in 1996, so this must have been 1990 or 1989. Back then we were dead into trainers and what we were wearing when we were going out. We’d go to this old club called Tin Pan Alley which unfortunately burnt down a bit later on. My friend’s sister went to Northumbria to do fashion, and I was quite intrigued. I’d always been into clothes and I thought it might have been for me. So I went down there to do a four year course.

What sort of stuff were you into back then? What sort of stuff were you designing?

To be honest, for the first few years I got absorbed with the whole Global Underground Sasha and Digweed phenomenon that was happening. But to get a bit of money in, I used to work at an independent shop called Strand. For its time, it was amazing.

What did it sell?

Maharishi, Prada Sport, Neil Barrett… all of those brands were at the top of their game, and they really influenced me in the projects I was doing.

At that time I found it difficult to understand pattern cutting, so one of my tutors said to me, “Why don’t you just go out to a charity shop, buy a jacket, unpick it and have a look at it.” So I found this old tailored Dior jacket, and that allowed us to create a pattern.

That started off the way that I design… to go out and find vintage pieces and take maybe a collar or a pocket from it.

When did you start working for Nigel Cabourn? What was the story there?

During my final year at university, I was taught by a woman called Christine, whose husband was Gary Janes, the head of design at Cabourn. She thought I’d get on really well with him, so she said I should go down the windmill where Nigel was based. Gary took me under his wing, and I started going up there on evenings and helping out.

I came in right at the point of the ‘Ascent of Cabourn’ collection — the birth of the Everest Parka and the Cameraman Jacket. It was a great experience.

What was all that like?

Nigel is a driven guy. He championed UK manufacturing at all times, and he was collecting really rare vintage pieces no one had seen before. People talk about knowing vintage garments, but no one knows vintage garments like he does. And he was really into sourcing amazing fabric. There was a huge amount of energy and passion. It was amazing training.

What’s the story about table tennis? I’ve heard he’s a bit of a pro.

Nigel’s a funny guy, and he’s really good at table tennis. We always played on a Monday evening, and he’d say, “Right Kes, do you want a game of table tennis? I’ll play you for your wages.” I’d usually try and get out of it as I knew fine well I’d get absolutely hammered. 

Haha, good call. What led you to leave Cabourn and try and do your own thing?

I wanted to take the details and make something more modern. Cabourn was very purist. He wants to recreate things, almost as they were. He’d want to find the nettle-dyed Swedish cotton to make the rucksack in the same way they were made in World War Two, whilst I’d want to take that bag and combine it with a load of other bags, and refabricate it from more technical fabric.

I was head designer at Cabourn, and I got a bit of a big head. I thought, “Maybe I could do this myself?” It was also to do with circumstances, as I’d been in a relationship for nine years which broke down, and I needed to get out of Newcastle. So I came back up to Edinburgh with the idea of doing my own thing. I was maybe a little naïve.

I started doing some freelance stuff — some stuff for Burberry and some stuff for Margaret Howell — but I wanted to do my own thing and put my own twist on things. During that time I met a guy who had a footwear company called Common People, and he wanted me to do clothing to sit alongside what he was doing.

So a couple of years down the line, we had a little store up here in Stockbridge. We were designing out the back and selling out the front. I was happy with the way things were going, but then the guy who was financing it went into administration.

A few years before, we’d had a phone call from a man in Japan. He said he liked what we did and wanted to come over and talk with us. He flew from Osaka to Edinburgh and eventually became our distributor in Japan. So fast forward three years when we lost our finance and had all these orders coming through, I rang him up. It was the middle of the night, he was camping in Osaka and he was actually pissed at the time, but I said, “These orders we’ve got from all these stores, we can’t deliver them anymore because we’ve lost the finance.”

So he flew to Edinburgh the next day and said, “Look, this is what we’re going to do; the orders we’ve got as Common People, we’re going to deliver them as Kestin Hare. People know that it’s you who does it, so we’ll register the name as a brand.” We sold Common People and got the orders out as Kestin Hare.

Was it a bit strange designing under your name? Would you have done that if the circumstances were different?

I’m not the sort of person who’s big into birthdays. I hate the attention, so it took a bit of getting used to. You have to talk about yourself in the third person, and that’s quite a difficult thing.

How does what you’re doing now, under your own name, differ from what you’ve done before?

I still believe you’ve got to look back to go forward, you’ve got to have an understanding of the history. I’m still taking things from the past — maybe taking an old Shetland jumper, but giving it a technical lining — trying to make things wearable.

You mentioned your following in Japan. Why do you think people over there are so tuned into this sort of stuff?

Britain and Japan are very similar; we’ve both got a history of producing quality garments. They’ve got a real interest in anything British. They constantly seek out something new and different.

Is it hard to avoid fads? I suppose if you’re putting your name to something you’ve got to maintain dignity. You must notice some brands changing their shtick pretty quick… one minute they’re inspired by Scandinavian design, the next their some bratty streetwear thing.

Haha yeah, trends come and go, but traditional designs will always be there. People will always want a mac or a blazer or a shirt of some description.

Yeah, things like the Lacoste polo or the Mackintosh coat will always be there. Maybe moving onto a slightly different subject, I know that a fair amount of your stuff was used in that new Trainspotting film. How did that come about?

The stylist came into our shop in London and was like, “Why’s everyone Scottish in here?” So we explained we were from Edinburgh and it came from there. We’d had Ewen Bremner as a customer before, and she thought it would be good to have an Edinburgh-based brand doing the clothing for the film.

When Spud was sick in that bag, he was actually wearing one of our sweats. And that shirt he was wearing on the poster was from us too. It was great to be a part of that.

The first film came out the year I left school. And it was almost like the best government advertisement for not doing heroin. We were young and we wanted to try things, but we knew that that was a step too far.

Was that first one a fairly accurate representation of what it was like round here back then?

Yeah, Leith is a completely different place now. There are more Michelin star restaurants in Leith then there are in any square mile in the country. It’s an exciting place to be in. 20 years ago you had to be careful. There were a few Begbies knocking about.

Maybe a bit of a tedious link here, but I read somewhere about how some of your stuff is inspired by actual train spotters — as in people with notebooks stood on the end of a platform. That’s maybe not the first thing people would base some clothes on. Where did this come from?

It’s that whole technical thing — being prepared for the outdoors. I was looking at a lot of old 70s jackets. It’s very much about function and detail — making sweatshirts with details from old K-Way cagoules.

Who’s this stuff designed for? Would you call it outdoor clothing?

It’s everyday gear for everyday guys. It’s just what I want to wear. We’ve got a house up on the Isle of Skye and we’ll go up there for the summer. It’s not about creating performance clothing, but it’s more about making clothes for that sort of environment. We’re very much inspired by escapism and the great outdoors.

There’s maybe been a bit of a shift back to the great outdoors and stuff in the last few years. Why do you think that is? Is it a reaction to technology and heavy levels of smart phone use?

Yeah definitely. I think you have to get away from it all sometimes. I’m at my most creative when I’m in that kind of place. We want technology, but you still want to be able to dip out of it.

Yeah, it’s getting that balance.

I’ve got back into drawing again. After years of using Adobe Illustrator, it’s nice to sit down with a sketchpad and draw with a pen.

I suppose it’s maybe similar to what you were saying about how those traditional items of clothing will never go away. New computer software will change every five minutes, but things like reading a good magazine, drawing with a real pencil or having a real conversation will always be there.

And people should do more of that — they should sit at the dinner table and have a real conversation. I think that’s why people want to escape things and get out. It feels like we’ve fallen in love again with the British Isles and what we’ve got.

Yeah definitely. I’ve just noticed we’ve talked for approximately two hours now, so we should probably wrap this up. Any wise words to end this with?

You’ve got to do what you believe in doing. Anybody out there who’s thinking about doing something — just get out there and do it.

See the clothes here.