Pioneering
Ways

Written by Giles Mountford

Enduring workwear fighting the world of fast fashion

The story of the & Sons founder, Phil James

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What’s your approach to online shopping? Click on an ad? Scroll through your IG feed? Check out your favourite influencers? Three clicks, sit back with a coffee and grab a quick Tik Tok fix?

And how does that ease of purchase affect your choice of clothes? Click, wear, delete? After all, when it’s so easy to buy the latest, newest fashion so easily, quickly and cheaply – why wouldn’t you just keep clicking?

For many of us, compulsive online shopping for fast fashion goes hand 

in hand with a lack of appreciation for the source of such purchases and the impact our three clicks make on the world. But big business loves it. Make, sell, repeat. It’s a classic fucked-up butterfly effect: our finger waggles and deforestation, pollution and the conditions of workers in far flung corners (to us at least) of the world all take a catastrophic backward step.

So, when you come across someone who is genuinely pushing back against the fast fashion, fast lane it’s worth hearing them out.

“The World needs pioneers, people willing to try something new, break new ground, set out on new paths”

Phil James is the founder of &Sons, the creators of workwear clothing designed “by and for creative pioneers”. Phil is an art college graduate who found his trade in photography. But frustrations of life as a photographer began to shape the way for something different, and the idea to build something different was born.

“I was getting up in the morning thinking I don’t want to be doing this, what else can I do? It came about from a need to be happier, and not go to work thinking ‘I’m dreading this’”.

“When I was about 15 I used to cut up clothes and make something that looked different to what everyone else had. I thought back to that and knew that I enjoyed that. That combined with the fact that as a photographer, I had to order from ten different websites to get both the look and practicality I wanted in terms of clothing. I think my demographic had been a bit forgotten on the fashion side as well. It was almost like a lever goes over when you’re 40 and you have to dress really sensibly.”

Phil’s change in path originated from a need to be happier and unrestricted by the demands of working life, rather than a burning desire for money or success.

He tested his early ideas with a Kickstarter campaign, using a ‘cap to boot’ layered outfit, and found that there were indeed many people who this appealed to. Thus &SONS was born in 2015.  

“It’s been a hard slog. We always knew it would be hard juggling it with Shadowplay (his photography and film business) and we’ve had some dark times where Kelly (Phil’s wife) said, ‘I wish you hadn’t started it’ and I thought shit, maybe I shouldn’t. I knew we wouldn’t make any money for the first four years and I was right.. I think I only realised it was a good decision at the end of summer 2019. At that point it changed, from having to get traction with hard advertising and putting loads of money in, to there being enough people buying it, wearing it and talking about it that it was starting to work by itself. Now I realise how successful it could be, because it’s happened so quickly.”

 

Phil James is the founder of &Sons, the creators of workwear clothing designed “by and for creative pioneers”. Phil is an art college graduate who found his trade in photography. But frustrations of life as a photographer began to shape the way for something different, and the idea to build something different was born.

“I was getting up in the morning thinking I don’t want to be doing this, what else can I do? It came about from a need to be happier, and not go to work thinking ‘I’m dreading this’”.

“When I was about 15 I used to cut up clothes and make something that looked different to what everyone else had. I thought back to that and knew that I enjoyed that. That combined with the fact that as a photographer, I had to order from ten different websites to get both the look and practicality I wanted in terms of clothing. I think my demographic had been a bit forgotten on the fashion side as well. It was almost like a lever goes over when you’re 40 and you have to dress really sensibly.”

Phil’s change in path originated from a need to be happier and unrestricted by the demands of working life, rather than a burning desire for money or success.

He tested his early ideas with a Kickstarter campaign, using a ‘cap to boot’ layered outfit, and found that there were indeed many people who this appealed to. Thus &SONS was born in 2015.  

“It’s been a hard slog. We always knew it would be hard juggling it with Shadowplay (his photography and film business) and we’ve had some dark times where Kelly (Phil’s wife) said, ‘I wish you hadn’t started it’ and I thought shit, maybe I shouldn’t. I knew we wouldn’t make any money for the first four years and I was right.. I think I only realised it was a good decision at the end of summer 2019. At that point it changed, from having to get traction with hard advertising and putting loads of money in, to there being enough people buying it, wearing it and talking about it that it was starting to work by itself. Now I realise how successful it could be, because it’s happened so quickly.”

 

Now that they are experiencing success, not only is Phil staying grounded, but he is adamant to maintain the same authenticity &SONS started with

“When you get to a certain size, it does make you think “I can’t fuck up anymore”. Going back to the beginning, I had no reason to make these things other than because I wanted to and I was creative, now I need to make them because there’s a demand. And I’m very aware that it would be very easy to become commercial in design and do what everyone else is doing. I used to get GQ every month and I tend not to look anymore because you end up being influenced by what you see other brands doing. I am trying not to lose the essence of why I started it and what the look was. That’s the most worrying thing is – to kind of sell out and just do it because I know I can sell t shirts with anything on them. I don’t want to do that. I want to sell the t shirts that I believe are the nicest designs and best quality possible.

“Clearly it is not with a click of the fingers that anyone can make their dreams a reality (well, for most of us). There is a great deal of hard work, setbacks and investment that precedes the moment those ideas are realised. But when that finally does happen, the process becomes addictive.

“I love that feeling. In making clothes especially, as you can sketch something out and then see a tangible, wearable thing at the other end. I think that result, if it’s a good one, drives you on to the next idea. You get addicted to the feeling of making something a reality.”

It’s easy to understand why it’s such a rewarding process – seeing your ideas come to life and then see a complete stranger wearing something that was once just some drawings in a sketch book.

“Seeing someone walk past wearing &SONS clothing. Something that was once in my sketchbook being worn by someone who wanted to buy it… I was in Spain just before lockdown, sitting in a coffee shop and someone walked past wearing one of our Sunday shirts. To see everything you’ve worked towards in that moment, that definitely put a smile on my face.”

&Sons marketing blurb talks about clothing created for pioneers – individuals who stray away from convention and choose their own path. &SONS themselves are pioneers in what they do. But for the world to have pioneers in the first place, people need inspiration from somewhere. So where does a Pioneer like Phil get his inspiration from?

Now that they are experiencing success, not only is Phil staying grounded, but he is adamant to maintain the same authenticity &SONS started with

Now that they are experiencing success, not only is Phil staying grounded, but he is adamant to maintain the same authenticity &SONS started with

“When you get to a certain size, it does make you think “I can’t fuck up anymore”. Going back to the beginning, I had no reason to make these things other than because I wanted to and I was creative, now I need to make them because there’s a demand. And I’m very aware that it would be very easy to become commercial in design and do what everyone else is doing. I used to get GQ every month and I tend not to look anymore because you end up being influenced by what you see other brands doing. I am trying not to lose the essence of why I started it and what the look was. That’s the most worrying thing is not to kind of sell out and just do it because I know I can sell t shirts with anything on them. I don’t want to do that. I want to sell the t shirts that I believe are the nicest designs and best quality possible.

” Clearly it is not with a click of the fingers that anyone can make their dreams a reality (well, for most of us). There is a great deal of hard work, setbacks and investment that precedes the moment those ideas are realised. But when that finally does happen, the process becomes addictive.

“I love that feeling. In making clothes especially, as you can sketch something out and then see a tangible, wearable thing at the other end. I think that result, if it’s a good one, drives you on to the next idea. You get addicted to the feeling of making something a reality.”

It’s easy to understand why it’s such a rewarding process – seeing your ideas come to life – and then see a complete stranger wearing something that was once just some drawings in a sketch book, has to bring a smile to your face.

“Seeing someone walk past wearing &SONS clothing. Something that was once in my sketchbook being worn by someone who wanted to buy it… I was in Spain just before lockdown, sitting in a coffee shop and someone walked past wearing one of our Sunday shirts. To see everything you’ve worked towards in that moment, that definitely put a smile on my face.”

&Sons marketing blurb talks about clothing created for pioneers – individuals who stray away from convention and choose their own path. &SONS themselves are pioneers in what they do. But for the world to have pioneers in the first place, people need inspiration from somewhere. So where does a Pioneer like Phil get his inspiration from?

“When you get to a certain size, it does make you think “I can’t fuck up anymore”. Going back to the beginning, I had no reason to make these things other than because I wanted to and I was creative, now I need to make them because there’s a demand. And I’m very aware that it would be very easy to become commercial in design and do what everyone else is doing. I used to get GQ every month and I tend not to look anymore because you end up being influenced by what you see other brands doing. I am trying not to lose the essence of why I started it and what the look was. That’s the most worrying thing is not to kind of sell out and just do it because I know I can sell t shirts with anything on them. I don’t want to do that. I want to sell the t shirts that I believe are the nicest designs and best quality possible.

” Clearly it is not with a click of the fingers that anyone can make their dreams a reality (well, for most of us). There is a great deal of hard work, setbacks and investment that precedes the moment those ideas are realised. But when that finally does happen, the process becomes addictive.

“I love that feeling. In making clothes especially, as you can sketch something out and then see a tangible, wearable thing at the other end. I think that result, if it’s a good one, drives you on to the next idea. You get addicted to the feeling of making something a reality.”

It’s easy to understand why it’s such a rewarding process – seeing your ideas come to life – and then see a complete stranger wearing something that was once just some drawings in a sketch book, has to bring a smile to your face.

“Seeing someone walk past wearing &SONS clothing. Something that was once in my sketchbook being worn by someone who wanted to buy it… I was in Spain just before lockdown, sitting in a coffee shop and someone walked past wearing one of our Sunday shirts. To see everything you’ve worked towards in that moment, that definitely put a smile on my face.”

&Sons marketing blurb talks about clothing created for pioneers – individuals who stray away from convention and choose their own path. &SONS themselves are pioneers in what they do. But for the world to have pioneers in the first place, people need inspiration from somewhere. So where does a Pioneer like Phil get his inspiration from?

“My environment is always an inspiration. I like a sense of space and eclectic things around me: words, pictures, films and music.”

“And I think from my past really. I was majorly into art and loved fashion. I was into The Jam, so I was a bit of a Mod for a while, and then I got into having long hair and being a bit of a hippie. Completely different styles, but somehow I feel like they all kind of work. Inspiration wise, I go to those things that I consider to be classics: not really of any time.”

“I’m hoping we’re not following fashion, and that we’re making things that are timeless. It’s not something like a bootcut jean that now looks terrible. It’s all based on classic things, like in the 50s and 60s when things were cut to be practical, but also extremely stylish looking.”

“Everything back then (40s, 50s, 60s) was hard wearing and bloody uncomfortable to wear. Whereas I’ve taken the aesthetic hopefully and made them actually really comfortable to wear, with a little bit of elastane in them and things that help you move and do your job.”

“We’re proud to support innovation while valuing the skills of artisans where hard-won expertise is passed on from one generation to the next. That’s why we take such care over the design and manufacture of our clothing, using only the finest natural materials combined with the greatest craftsmanship. These are garments built to stand the test of time. We take the best from the past to create powerful ideas for the here and now.”

And they aren’t pulling any wool over anyone’s eyes. It’s all UK-made clothing. Timeless, enduring and meticulously sourced, they are taking no shortcuts.

Phil is eager to inform people of the authentic reasons for which &SONS came about and operates.

“I personally think the future of the fashion industry is the investment purchase and things that are made with love, are sustainable and people are being responsible about what they're making”

“We are shifting things much more that way. And it’s hard to do because to begin with because you have to make money. We’re doing it for the right reasons, and the future is about being responsible in this industry and giving the right people the right jobs as well.”

When addressing the thinking behind the use of ‘pioneers’ with the &SONS brand, Phil explains that it came very early on as he was sketching out his initial clothing designs, keen for something that could describe who it was for,

“It was aimed at creatives: but people who can be creative in anything, go their own way and chose a different path from everyone else. People who may be a little bit quirky and not the norm. The definition of pioneering is to do something that’s different and new in your own way”.

Phil is no baby entrepreneur upstart either. His ideas are not born from a position of privilege and inherited wealth. He’s a family man who, side by side with Kelly, knows what real life, with real responsibilities, is like.

“It’s a shame it took until I was nudging 50 to realise that if you put your mind to it you can do anything. Whereas back then I was just thinking I need to get a job and do what everyone else does. When really I should have done what I’m doing now.”

That’s not to say there aren’t advantages in starting on a new path when you’ve got a few miles under your belt,

“Once you get to a certain age, you kind of get more comfortable in your own skin and not really bothered about what everyone thinks of you so much. You’re not reactive to what people say about you. You just go your own way with it. That’s the beauty of getting older. I really hope I never do the slippers and pipe thing”, Phil says. “But if I do, they’ll be really, really nice slippers!”

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