At Work With: Becky Okell, Paynter Jacket Co.
A serendipitous meeting between Becky Okell and Huw Thomas very quickly spawned a new relationship and a new clothing brand, Paynter Jacket Co., centred around perfecting the classic worker jacket. Now, this cult clothing brand is quietly revolutionising how we buy our clothes.
We caught-up with co-founder Becky to talk solving fast fashion, selling-out (in a good way) and Coco Pops.
You worked in marketing and communications before you founded Paynter. How have you found the shift from promoting other people’s businesses to promoting your own?
Huw and I have been very lucky to work for, and learn from, some really interesting people in previous roles, but it has been an incredible shift to go full-time on Paynter. Setting our own boundaries and being able to run with an idea without seeking anyone else’s approval is a huge weight off our shoulders. I think it means we can make decisions quicker and be completely honest with each other, because we’re a couple and we know each other very well.
Your communications feel very personal and often read like a diary entry or letter to a friend. Is this a style you’ve always used, or was it a natural fit for the Paynter brand?
Thank you! It’s definitely a natural fit for Paynter because when we started making our very first jacket, we shared all the ins and outs, ups and downs of jacket-making via our Instagram page, even though we weren’t sure if anyone would be reading! Those early updates really set the tone of what has followed, which is a very honest experiment into another way of running a clothing brand, sharing what we learn as we go.
It definitely wasn’t a strategic decision, it’s the only way either of us could communicate for something that’s so personal to both of us.
At what point do you think you will have cracked the ultimate jacket design?
Ha! Can I say never? Design is an on-going process and we design our customer experience as much as the jacket itself, so constant tweaks means we’re always changing and improving…
Paynter is defined by its small-batch releases. At what stage did you decide to base the business model around limited editions?
We decided to launch in Batches because of the intention to be as close to zero waste as possible. Our factory’s minimum order was 300 jackets, so that set the quantity for our first ever launch, and to make those jackets, we had fabric made to order (just enough for production) by an Italian denim mill. To celebrate the first jacket we’d ever made, we commissioned the artist Chris DeLorenzo to illustrate our first patch and since each jacket has a limited edition label to tell the story of that jacket in particular.
Making in Batches is key to our idea of producing no waste. Our fabric is made to order so we make no more than what we use, and our jackets are made to order, so we only make what we’ve already sold. Off-cuts are recycled into new thread, or used for collaborations like the one we did with Greater Good.
How satisfying was it to see your first (and subsequent) Batches sell out so quickly? Did it make the risk that much more rewarding?
It was wild. It wasn’t actually the plan either! We intended to open orders for a week, then make what we had sold. We thought if we hadn’t sold 300 jackets which was our factory’s minimum order, then at least we’d have a good gauge of sizes and colour choices to be able to order… but our first Batch of jackets sold out in 14 minutes!
In a sense, our first 300 customers decided right then how our business would run. Batch No.2 was a real test because we weren’t sure if anyone would turn up at 9am on our website when our second jacket launched, but that one was even quicker and sold out in 3 minutes. Since then we keep iterating to learn from past launches and try to make the customer experience as good as it can be. For example, we now offer fabric deposits for newsletter subscribers to guarantee themselves a jacket ahead of the launch while helping us gauge demand before we start making our fabric.
Have you always been interested in sustainability or was the need for responsible design and production a result of your research?
I’d say my serious interest in sustainability came from experiencing the wastefulness of the industry from previous jobs, as well as a lot of reading. When I heard that billions of items hit landfill every year, often totally unworn and sometimes directly from the factory when brands cancel orders, that’s when I thought ‘I want nothing to do with that’.
While starting Paynter and sampling our first jacket, we talked a lot about the kinds of things we wanted to see more of in the world like clothing that was well made, respected and repaired. All of those discussions (while coincidentally being in the early stages of our relationship!) fed into the decisions we made and still make for Paynter.
Consumers are starting to wake up to the impact of fast fashion on the environment, which is why brands like Paynter resonate with a growing number of conscious shoppers. How do you see the fashion industry evolving over the next 10-20 years?
We are collectively waking up to the stark reality of the fashion industry’s contribution to the climate crisis, so it’s uplifting to hear from customers everyday who are loving an alternative way of buying – by seeing their jacket being made with our week by week updates from the factory, learning about it’s journey as it happens. That plays into the fact that we all want experiences as much as we want ‘stuff’, which is why we want to create quality products that last a long, long time, while sharing an experience that connects you to that product more intimately than anything else in your wardrobe.
Luckily, despite living in the era of Amazon prime, customers are very patient, especially when communication is strong, which is why made-to-order brands are thriving. Just in womenswear alone brands like Faith Rowan-Leeves and Maison Cleo are setting a new precedent that other brands will no doubt catch on to, which is only a good thing.
I think the big question is about accessibility, because the fear is that good quality clothing or insightful experiences are not available to everyone, which is something we want to focus on in the year ahead and will be looking out for brands who innovate in that area.
Our favourite feature of your newsletters is the Lucky Links section. Where did this idea come from?
Ha! Lucky Links for anyone who doesn’t get our newsletters is a monthly feature where we list out great finds from across the web, in hyperlinked numbers, with no photos or sub-copy to explain the links. The idea came from the fact that we all judge a book by it’s cover: we click on things we’re naturally drawn to, but if we have nothing to base those decisions on then we’re more likely to discover something new and interesting that will broaden our perspectives.
Beyond your next batch, what can we expect to see from Paynter in future?
We only make four Batches of jackets a year and we have two left for the year: Batch No.8, which is our Italian Chino Field Jacket, is comes out on the 4th of September (9am UK time), and Batch No.9 will follow in October.
Beyond jackets, we’ve been working on a re-brand and redesigning our logo which has been very insightful and a great process to work on. We have ideas for plenty of Paynter Experiments too, but our challenge at the moment is finding the time.
Finally, your care labels sign off by suggesting we have a bowl of Coco Pops. Is this your favourite cereal, or short hand for a satisfying treat?
It’s just a nod to suggest we don’t take things too seriously 🙂
A big thank you to Becky for answering our questions. To find out more about Paynter Jacket Co., visit paynterjacket.com