What’s the story?

S.E.H Kelly was founded in 2009, with the idea of using mills and factories encountered after working on Savile Row, to make casual, everyday garments.

Savile Row was a terrific place to work; inspirational, day-in day-out — partly because of the associated craft of bespoke tailoring and the prestige and heritage of the houses, and partly because we were privileged to work alongside some of the best mills and factories in the country. The chance to do something new — to make garments more suited for everyday wear — with all those people and establishments was what spurned things on.

Why make in England and the British Isles?

Before S.E.H Kelly was time and experience spent working with tailoring and couture houses on Savile Row in London. They are awash with heritage and tradition, and predominately use British fabrics and (to a lesser extent) factories. It seemed a sensible idea to use these makers, who are excellent, to make more everyday clothing than is made on Savile Row — and began S.E.H Kelly.

What is the British Isles, by the way?

It is Great Britain — that’s England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — as well as the Republic of Ireland, and a lot of other, smaller, islands too. About 6,000 smaller islands, in fact.

The Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey in the Channel Islands are part of the British Isles, too.

Is it difficult to make with British mills and factories?

Not really. It is easy to work with mills that are a train- or bus-ride away, so if anything, it is less difficult in many ways than working with makers overseas.

So it’s not difficult making only in Britain?

Since the centre of operations is the workshop on Boundary Street in east London, makers all over the Isles are easily reached. The British Isles isn’t such a large land, after all — it can easily and quite enjoyably traversed.

There is great satisfaction in, in the space of one week, procuring buttons from the button maker in the West Midlands, cashmere cashmere from a mill in West Yorkshire, and then combining them at an outerwear factory in North London.

Describe your garments please.

Best to steer clear of superlatives to describe garments.

The approach to making them is an appreciation of cloth and make. The output of the mills is so fine that it speaks for itself. Needs no complicating or dressing up. When you have a bruiser of a cotton-twill, an intricately patterned natural linen, or a top-grade cashmere or mohair from Yorkshire, making the most of that cloth, designing something that showcases its qualities and characteristics, seems the sensible thing to do.

As for inspiration — with being in London, there’s no shortage of the interesting, the curious, unusual. The place teems with good inspiration. All that’s needed with all going on is a blank page, a clear mind, and a bunch of good cloths.

How do garments come about?

Design often beings with cloth. Because so much is dependent on the output of exclusively British mills, there is not always the freedom to design garments first and secondly pick fabric. Design starts on paper (with sketches) and then moves on to pattern-cutting with one of several local pattern-cutter in North London. Prototypes and samples then follow, at the relevant factory or workroom — sometimes as many as four of five prototypes are made before the garment is put into production.

What’s the story with the workshop?

The workshop is on Boundary Street in east London. It’s a small place. There’s an upper floor for design and cloth storage, and a lower one to display garments and welcome visitors. The Boundary Estate is a fascinating place: among Britain’s first council-housing estate, and in its own way very charming. The workshop’s location is itself interesting: Cleve Workshops was built in the late 1800s for craftspeople living on the Estate. It’s a good lineage be part of.

Why are you only stocked in Japan?

The stores in Japan seem to look at and think about garment-making in a way that’s similar to the one here. Quality and standards are paramount. Could not be taken more seriously. From the store owners to the staff in the store to the customers, there’s a forensic, all-seeing eye for quality, in terms of make and materials.

There’s also an educated appreciation that, often, long-standing mills and factories have slower, more careful, what many term “old-fashioned”, methods — but that the outcome of these will reward the cost and the patience. Proper scholars of the trade, many of them.

What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about buying one of your garments?

Have a think about it.

Better to work out for yourself if the garment is right. Loquacious sales talk works in the short term, but the hope is that customers value and repeatedly wear S.E.H Kelly garments over years and years. If they’re nudged into it by sales patter or because it’s half the price it was this time last week (see earlier answer about sales) then you undermine that.

Why do you never have sales or discounts?

The mills from whom cloth is bought never go on sale. A woollen mill doesn’t tell you a herringbone cashmere will cost you £70 per metre one month and £25 a few months later. The button-maker doesn’t tell you “buy one hundred of these, and we’ll throw in fifty of those.” What they make is as good today as the day it was made, and will be just as good a year from now. To pile it high and sell it cheap would be to devalue the product; devalue the raw materials, devalue the labour, the months and months of effort and expertise that has gone into making the finished article.

A fair price is set for every garment. In this way, as much value as possible is passed on to the customer. No fat is built in so prices can be slashed by half a few weeks later.