Interview with Jimmy Collins & Fraser Moss from YMC
YMC is an independent men’s and women’s British fashion brand founded in 1995 by Fraser Moss and Jimmy Collins. Today, it is stocked all around the world including a store in South Korea. They also have three shops in London, including one next door to Huckle the Barber on Lamb’s Conduit Street that opened last year.
Recently, Huckle the Barber founder Chris Ward caught up with them for a coffee and a chat about their history, the importance of retail and the relationship between hair and clothes.
Your most recent store opened in Lamb’s Conduit Street at the end of last year. Why do you think so many independent fashion brands have chosen to open on this street?
Jimmy Collins: It’s one of the most charming thoroughfares in Bloomsbury which is a very special area in London located smack bang in between east London and the West End. It’s a lovely place to work and has a fantastic array of independent stores. Lamb’s Conduit Street has become a destination street; it has a genuinely local feel to it and it’s rare to find somewhere these days that hasn’t been taken over by the bigger brands.
Your store in Soho has been there for 10 years now. How has that area changed since then?
JC: Over the past decade Soho has gone through a relentless process of gentrification. Lots of the older establishments have had their licenses revoked and the area has lost a lot of its charm; the “seedy” atmosphere has almost disappeared. Soho has been in decline mostly because of rent hikes which has pushed out a lot of the independents. When we opened the rents were still relatively cheap and there where actually lots of empty units. Back then Soho was in a bit of a decline because there was a shift towards opening shops in east London. But Soho remained our first choice; we loved the area and felt it was a good location for our customers who work close by.
In terms of style, hair and fashion have always gone hand-in-hand. How important is a good haircut?
Fraser Moss: Well, fashion and hair are inseparable, and have been since the birth of the teenager - mods, punks, teddy boys, etc. All those subcultures were as much about the haircut as the clothes so a hairstyle has to be spot on. Personally, I’ve spent my teens and adulthood experimenting with haircuts and, along with music, act as a diary to my life. To me the relationship you have with your barber is a deep one and on the few occasions I’ve changed my hairdresser it felt like I had been unfaithful to a girlfriend.
Has a haircut ever influenced a YMC collection?
FM: Not directly but from a design point of view when I put a collection together I always have a strong idea of the hairstyle. In the last few years it has been more about extremes; what I would call anti-hairstyles - either very long or shaven.
Music is an integral part of the Huckle atmosphere and experience. I know music is important to you too. You even DJ at venues such as Spiritland. How did that love of music begin?
FM: I was lucky to have a father who had good taste in music while I was growing up in Wales so I was regularly immersed in eclectic sounds as a kid. I started collecting records at around 11 years old which would have been in the late ’70s. Most of my first records were 45s shoplifted from Woolworths - not a proud moment - during my school dinner hour.
The only problem with this was you just grabbed what you could which meant for mixed listening - anything from ELO to the Dickies - which probably accounts for my openness to music. So it was vinyl from the beginning; and fortunately I never succumbed to CDs.
My introduction to fashion was through music. This was due to the tribalism of British youth culture. Every scene had a uniform and this was what informed me when starting up YMC. My record collection is housed in a man shed at the bottom of my garden which also functions as my office so I’m always submerged in music while I design and I’m never short of a record to play as I must have over 15,000 singles & LPs.
What does your average day consist of?
FM: I moved to Brighton from London 14 years ago so my working place is now in the bottom of the garden so there’s no problems commuting. I wake up at 6am, read my emails and do my usual online search for vintage clothes. I then leave the house at 7am to walk the dog through the Downs and across the beach. This is where I do most of my thinking. Depending on which stage of the season I’m in, the day will either be spent sketching, studying textiles or working on prototype garments. My evenings are usually spent researching with the TV as the backdrop which doesn’t go down well with Jody, my wife. But I’m passionate about what I do and I can never seem to switch off. Obviously I don’t want to totally isolate myself from the main YMC business so I try and travel to London once a week.
Technology has revolutionised retail but customers still expect a good in-store service and well designed shops. What are the opportunities that the new technology offers and what are the challenges?
JC: Until recently bricks and mortar had been our route to engaging with customers; but today we're an omni-channel business. When we started in 1995 YMC was a wholesale company supplying independent stores. Then in 2009 we opened a store in Soho and we launched our e-commerce business shortly afterwards.
Our aim is to reflect the brand’s personality through imagery, music, shop design and, of course, great customer service. Today technology is playing a massive part in how we connect with our customers. We use tools such as online marketing, content creation and collaborations with like-minded people to express YMC in the digital world. Equally the internet allows us to network and build a community around YMC. All of these 21st century inventions are crucial for bringing our audience into the stores themselves. For sure, e-commerce and online shopping will continue to grow but for us it’s still vital to have that walk-in experience and for our fans to see and touch the clothes. Also, the stores themselves can tell more of the story of the brand and the staff are always there to help our customers and to offer that human experience that we all cherish.