For the launch of the Air Max 1 ‘Denim’, we wanted to celebrate all things denim with the help of the kind folk at Blackhorse Lane Ateliers.
Speaking with founder Bilgehan Ates, we paid a visit to their East London factory where since 2016, the team have carefully been crafting ready-to-wear selvedge and organic raw denim jeans. Footpatrol being Footpatrol, we turned up with the recently launched Air Max 1 ‘Denim’ and gave it to some of the team to get their thoughts and opinions on this icon!
Shop the Air Max 1 ‘Denim’ here.
Footpatrol: Hey Guys, hope you’re doing well? Firstly its great to meet with you today. For our audience, could you give us a brief insight into Blackhorse Lane Ateliers?
BLA: Historically makers are well connected to the community whether they be a tailor/cobblers/joiners they were on the high streets and that how is the industry started actually. But in the late 80s towards 2000’s this relationship changed and gradually these local businesses lost their face and became huge productions which went offshore, especially in the garment industry.
So that created a disconnect, which is very much linked to sustainability in my opinion. When you don’t know how the garments or furniture or whatever item it might be is made, your appreciation lessens. Also, if you know that it’s also easily available at a very reasonable price you appreciate that less…in today’s world the help of fast fashion /cheap and quick bombardment of trends leads to a detachment from the makers and depreciates their work.
So, by introducing real makers and saying to people this is the person who made your clothes, in a small way that could reverse that trend. It’s not going to happen tomorrow but we could find solutions to the throw-away culture.
FP: Your brand very much celebrates it’s teams who are behind the scenes creating the products we see today. How do you feel this benefits the end consumer?
BLA: Coming back to connectivity, I think as designers we have a responsibility to connect to the end user and for me that’s vital to understand and develop that relationship. If we think back to our grandfather’s generation when they were going to a shop, they were treated like individuals, the shop assistants were what you would call “lifetime shop assistants” and they were connected to this community.
Whereas these days instead you might get an aspiring actor or a student who generally sees that job as a stepping stone to further their career. So, by giving lifetime repair guarantee what we achieve is our customers come back to us after six months, one year, sometimes seven years later and we get to understand their lifestyle and that creates a conversation and deepens our relationship with them.
For example, sometimes we receive garments which have been repaired by the customers themselves (even though we give lifetime repair guarantee), this is when we feel that we are achieving the aim because people are repairing their own clothes.
FP: We also understand you’ve also been involved within the restaurant industry, what was it that pulled you back into fashion? What did you learn during your time working in food same
BLA: One of the reasons I opened a local restaurant is because I didn’t want to travel to work, when I first started my career, I was managing factories in North East London; Harringay Manor House and Walthamstow, and within 10 years of that, I had a factory in Turkey and gradually went to the Far East.
During that time, I travelled for work 3-5 times a month, and I started to question my own values in life; is it really worth it? Am I doing it because of money or because is it the industry pushing me to do this? I think it was a combination of both, the more I went, the more I felt disconnected from the community that I lived in but most importantly from my family and my values.
So that’s when I decided to stop and come back to my neighbourhood and open a small business where I didn’t have to travel, I walked to the restaurant every day.
But of course, when I first opened Homa, I didn’t expect to be fast-tracked into a connected community; restaurants are very democratic places, and everyone can walk in, for a coffee, for lunch, etc but within one year of opening my restaurant, I started to know my neighbours, my clients, their children, their grandfathers so that was one element of reconnecting with the community that I lived in.
The other element of running a good restaurant is the philosophy of “you’re only as good as your ingredients” no cutting corners and using off-cut meats, in really good restaurants the ingredients which are used must be seasonal and fresh, if you start using cheaper quality ingredients you become a less respected restaurant.
I thought wow, that’s amazing because in the fashion industry we don’t follow that.
Generally, fashion brands cut corners; they want to use cheaper fabrics, materials, and cheaper labour and with that of course the end product is always cheap, both in value and quality.
The other element was the craft beer/gourmet burger movement which I witnessed in 2009. When I opened my restaurant, we had 4-5 brewing houses, five years later we had over 25 and that was just in Hackney not counting other London areas let alone nationwide.
So, imagine we had our Peroni’s and Heinekens but these local brewers were coming from left, right, and centre and creating these amazing recipes with double the price and people were still willing to pay for that because the quality was there. I thought, “What is the “beer” of the fashion industry?” I came to the conclusion it was jeans!
Previously whenever I looked at my jeans, I was never happy with the quality of them, outside they looked ok but whenever I looked inside, they were full of unfinished edges. As a trained tailor that was an eyesore for me.
In 2015, as I was coming towards the 5th year of my hospitality experience, I decided to come back to textiles and garment making with a very different approach.
I sold my restaurant and, that year opened Blackhorse Lane Ateliers in Walthamstow, East London. But with a different approach, because we wanted to create an open-door policy calling on my experience in having a restaurant, I decided to have a pop-up restaurant within the factory space, so that connectivity which I keep talking about was still carried over into Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, so therefore I think that creates a different vibe for us in the working space and the neighbourhood.
FP: How does this holistic approach to running a business influence the clothing line?
BLA: That’s a very good question… in 2015 when we started producing jeans in east London there weren’t any UK brands/designers who were making jeans in London, some people were making them offshore, but the limitation with going offshore is the minimum quantities which are required.
When we started, we invited other designers to come to us as part of the design community, and people gradually started to dream about making ‘Made in London’ jeans in smaller quantities, we gave designers the chance to make 40-50 pieces at a time. But if you try to produce that offshore minimum orders are usually 300-400 pieces usually. For a small designer that is too expensive of an investment.
So, by giving that opportunity to dream about making made in London jeans lots of people started putting jeans in their range.
If I remember correctly in 2018 The New York Times, ran an article about the UK denim brands challenging the US denim market. And when I looked at the article, 5 out of the 6 brands they mentioned were made by us. So, by us opening this space we created an industry, I believe. So being in the community and given the ability and opportunity to manufacture in London, creates a different kind of collaboration.
When you collaborate with other like-minded creatives you always create stories and new ideas… going back to craft beer…imagine after 20 years of the craft beer revolution how many more master brewers we have in this country! So, I’m hoping by having that kind of community in fashion we will create so many designers who get the craft mentality approach with UK denim too.
FP: You have some great collaborative pieces already but what would be a dream collaborator? Would you be interested in creating a sneaker
BLA: When I look at our day-to-day lives, when I’m on the underground, walking on the streets of London I see a uniform, even though we express ourselves in different ways, whether through different colours, shapes, hats, coats, etc but 90% of the population have one single uniform; their jeans and sneakers. I would love to design a sneaker with our logo and our ethos.
FP: And to finish up, what are some words of wisdom you could share with our audience?
BLA: One thing which has stuck with me over the years, I’m an entrepreneur; I create projects but generally what I realise is that I create projects to experience the journey, not the end of the journey. In the journey I feel I learn so much, being proactive and creating and acting on it. In the action, there is power and magic.