In one of our latest interviews we speak with Paul Walker, the affable English gent who resides north of the border and the man behind the ever-alluring Walker Slater brand. Specialising in tweed and wool based garments as a core offer, Walker Slater merges, quite effortlessly, the worlds of the contemporary and the classic for an offer that is gaining attention across the UK and further afield. In April last year, Walker Slater launched its latest London-based menswear store in Great Queens Street, Covent Garden, to go with the brilliant bricks and mortar spaces in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Hi Paul, can you tell us a little about what motivates and inspires the Walker Slater brand?
Hi, lovely to be speaking with you. Walker Slater is a heritage brand first and foremost. Based in Scotland we are inspired by our surroundings, the natural outstanding colours around us and the wild outdoors. Sustainability and an interest in wool and tweed is very much key to the brand values. Our customers are always pleased to learn that the fabric is almost fully biodegradable and can be utilised in so many different ways. In the same breath, we have a contemporary approach and classic elements too, but fundamentally, Walker Slater is a brand for both men and women, without exclusion and one that can be worn by many different age groups. We enjoy seeing how people wear our garments in different ways and have a keen interest in other brands and their products too.
What are the brand values and its DNA?
The core of Walker Slater is very much focused on great design, quality cloth and manufacturing and fair affordable pricing to our customers. The is the first part of our outstanding devotion to our customer service which is then fully delivered across our network of stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. We have many long standing and repeat customers both from the local market and also people who make dedicated trips to visit us to buy for their personal style collections. Therefore our retention is good and we enjoy watching people evolve and mature with the brand.
You started with wool knitwear I believe? How did the brand then evolve into the two offers of tweed and then the Messrs label. What is the purpose?
The knitwear came from excess wool that was left over on a farm I lived on some time ago in the Scottish Highlands and I would make pieces, partly as a favour to the landlord. It was a fun experience. The brand had also been making psychedelic printed T-shirts at one point too. Walker Slater emerged from that really, as a brand that focuses on wool and tweed knitwear and jackets. Then, as often happens over time, the web and in-store offering evolved. The Messrs side of the business was introduced to me by a Swedish friend who I was sailing with a few years ago and brings a slightly more ‘modern and fitted’ aesthetic side to what we do, and it’s very popular. It still maintains the WS DNA but has bolder colours and slimed down silhouettes.
In terms of ethical sourcing and sustainability, how does this play a part within the brand from the product right through to packaging?
We are keen to use brand-free packaging – recent feedback tells us that customers are happy if items can arrive discretely, especially in lockdown when it comes to surprise gifts – the cardboard can be re-used or recycled, with plastic-free eco-tape and a few sheets of acid-free tissue paper as our preferred option. The only other additions are the postcard and returns card which can be recycled and we opt for less paper and plastic where we can. In some cases, especially with remote locations, extra packaging may be necessary, but we are constantly looking into waste reducing options.
Where are your products made and what is the purpose of working with these partners?
We have a various partners in different parts of the world including Portugal, Turkey, Mauritius and of course the UK. We source and work alongside skilled teams with the very best in working environments which is important to us. This includes fair pay and hours of work as well as the health and safety of their workforces. Some locations also use solar power for their processes as they have much nicer weather than the UK – this is obviously more environmentally friendly.
We have heard so much about buying better and buying less, has this always been a focus of providing quality over quantity?
It’s very important that this discussion has now been brought into the mainstream. For Walker Slater, making product that stands the test of time and ages well is part of the brands DNA, naturally due to our high quality materials we have this built into the brand. We are not advocates of quick fixes, but a more considered approach, where customers can interact and find out more about our story and garments to make their own thought-through choices. We aim to be as sustainable as can be and are not a wasteful brand and have always looked at fabrics, their performance and how they function to best suit the wearer. A lot of our smaller items are made with off cuts from our tailoring fabrics and also some linings come from our shirt maker.
We associate innovation with modern garments, but there must be methods that are used across more ‘traditional’ products that remain because of their performance?
Absolutely, using Shetland knitwear as an example, this is traditional design and style, made from Scottish wool on the Isles. It creates a ‘vintage’ look, but lasts forever, incredibly warm and hardwearing owing to wool’s natural qualities.
Who is the target market for Walker Slater – we see a lot of refined images and full looks from imagery, but do you also align to a wider appeal, where people wear products in a different way?
Walker Slater intrinsically has a very diverse audience. We have a lot of people discover us when looking for a wedding outfit or people being gifted a jacket for their graduation. Due to our skilful service and good quality, we often have customers for life, buying for themselves and as gifts. Our photography and imagery is very much about setting the scene, the brand and showing our customer our surroundings to help tell our story. We are always on hand in store, and via phone or email to assist with personal styling and questions. We enjoy receiving customer images and it gives us great pleasure to see all of our customers utilising our garments in an independent way.
We often hear Walker Slater described as a contemporary brand. Is this fair, is this the purpose?
I would say that we try to breathe life into traditional styles. Revive classic looks with modern fabrics or adjustments to appeal to current tastes, but still celebrating the original design elements.
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