From brand storytelling to circular fashion expertise, the next generation of fashion designers need to be armed with a new set of skills in the current climate, according to Sam Kershaw, buying director at luxury menswear brand, Mr Porter. It’s these skills that Kershaw is keen to instill in emerging designers through the retailer’s inaugural global mentorship program, Mr Porter Futures, which launched last month. As part of the new annual initiative, three designers or duos will be c
l be chosen to take part in the year-long program of workshops and coaching, guided by a team of industry experts, including menswear designers Reese Cooper and Nicholas Daley, Judith Tolley from the London College of Fashion, director of Beams & Co Tatsuo Hino and others. The mentees will also develop their own responsibly sourced and produced collections, which will be available on the Mr Porter site in September next year. In this exclusive interview with Inside Retail, Mr Porter buying director Sam Kershaw discusses the new mentorship program and what the future of menswear looks like. In terms of future menswear designers, what are you looking for? We’re in search of original voices and fresh ideas for menswear. The special thing about the programme is that applications are open to anyone and everyone, and you don’t have to be formally trained or a developed brand to apply. If you’re a menswear enthusiast or a burgeoning designer with a great idea for a men’s wear collection, we want you to apply! What are the kinds of new skills that modern designers need in the current retail and fashion climate? In the current retail and fashion climate, consumers expect a certain set of values from a brand when determining who they want to support and what they want to buy. The consciousness of sustainability, circular fashion and reasonable sourcing is at the forefront of the fashion conversation, and we know this will continue to be a priority for any new brand and designer starting out. With Mr Porter Futures, each designer will be coached to create collections that will be sourced and produced in an ethical manner, and through our own label design and production capabilities at Mr P. We also know that being a designer or a brand today means that your business needs to be equipped with a brand story, and one that allows for cut-through to customers when building a relationship with audiences. Similarly, we will be empowering our three inaugural designers (or duos) with business mentorships and workshops that support a 360-degree approach to brand development, while teaching them ways to cut through and create connections in a very distracting global marketplace. How would you describe the current menswear landscape? Where are the opportunities and challenges? I feel like it doesn’t get as much love as womenswear. In my opinion, the current menswear landscape is really quite inspiring, expressive and fun. This next generation of brands and consumers have access to so much information and inspiration, and as a result, you really see some exciting and nuanced approaches to style. With that, modern dress codes are reinterpreted, and fresh perspectives often flourish. Fundamentals of menswear are often marked by traditional manufacturing techniques and quality craftsmanship. The classics will never go out of style, but it is cool to see how these fresh voices in menswear both honour the past from a production perspective, while creating new codes of dress aesthetically. Take for example, designers Nicholas Daley and Reese Cooper, two of our Mr Porter Future mentors, who role model a unique approach and execution of menswear. Both have focused stories which inform and inspire their brand narrative and collections, which truly lends to one-of-a-kind product. We could not have asked for better mentors in Nicholas and Reese – alongside Tatsuo, Julie, Judith, Olie and myself – to support this year’s selected designers. How has menswear design evolved since Covid hit? During the pandemic, casual was king. This presented a new opportunity for people to dress for fewer occasions, while ushering in a seachange for customer’s buying habits to buy less in volume, while seeking out pieces that were better made and purchased with longevity in mind. That said, as the world emerges in the next few months, people are having more occasions to dress up for, and we’ll no doubt see people celebrating the act of getting dressed and stepping outside each day. There’s also an increased desire for travel and new experiences – take for instance our recently launched exclusive collection with luxury designer Dries van Noten, which draws inspiration from dream-like summer days, travel and escapism, while encapsulating Van Noten’s vision for colour, vibrancy and optimism. The collection is a direct response to everyone’s wanderlust being put on hold last year. For the last 14 months, to dress up was to dream, but fortunately, this is becoming more of a reality in the days and months ahead. What are some of the interesting fashion and retail trends that you’ve got your eye on right now? It’s a great time for menswear. What I love about how men are dressing these days is that they unite quality and comfort, alongside traditionally-made pieces that are developed for contemporary settings. Brands such as Tom Ford, The Row, Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana and even our own label Mr P., are celebrated by our customers because they offer special, luxury-made pieces that are versatile and ultimately wearable. Another interesting trend – and one that has very much picked-up momentum in the last year – is the predominance of menswear that celebrates utility and function in the great outdoors. Going outside in the last year was very much [about seeking] refuge and an occasion for many of us, and with that, dressing for the outdoors has become a pleasure and a pastime. I mean, how could it not be with such excellent offering from the likes of Patagonia, Arc’teryx, And Wander, and Nike ACG, to name a few. How has Covid impacted the way that fashion design and e-commerce now operate? The online consumer has only grown over the years, and with digitally-native generations maturing in the consumer space, it will only continue to grow. Certain categories, such as luxury watches, have adapted quickly in the last few years, and we will only continue to see this reinforced with more enterprising pioneering in the online space. Take for instance last month, when we launched our second-year partnership with Watches & Wonders. Together, alongside Net-a-Porter, we provide our customers with unparalleled access to the digital watch fair, alongside expert selection and product curation, exciting lifestyle and fashion content, and first-rate personalised services. Similarly, much of what we do at Mr Porter is to help our customers discover brands that might not have had wide, or global distribution before joining our site. With our 10th year anniversary underway, we see the opportunity to celebrate the smaller brands and provide them a platform to tell their story. You’ll see this in several upcoming launches this Summer, and this idea of discovery is very much rooted in our inaugural year of Mr Porter Futures.