Introduction To Oxford Lads

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We feel in love with Oxford Lads when we first came across it last year.   We were so excited to finally get it in the store we asked Alan who designs (and I think does just about everything else for the brand as well) to answer a few questions for us.
Josh: “Oxford Lads” brings to mind some pretty strong images for me.  Guys with cropped haircuts, sporting grey wool blazers over grey shirts with grey pants.  I like that look a lot too, but your stuff is daringly colorful for menswear.  What’s the story behind your name?
Alan: You’re right that “Oxford” might be associated with a very conservative nice clean-cut smartly dressed guy.  But I am talking about a “Generation Y” interpretation of that: I’m targeting guys who are smart, educated and rebellious in a sort of way.
 
They are the sophisticated hipster kind of guys of which I know quite a few. These guys’ families may have money and they can afford expensive clothes, but they’re not interested in spending over $150 for a shirt. They do dress preppy in their way, but they have their own great individual style.  There’s also a sense of being “classic” — looking for well made clothes that last for years with great fabrics and interesting details.
 
These guys are not dressed by their girlfriends, boyfriends, or moms — they dress themselves and they are  interested in how they look.  They mix their preppiness together with with a street style look, and that’s what Oxford Ladsis about.
 
Notice I am using the keyword “Lads” to describe this group of rebellious guys.  Maybe in the US they shop at Urban Outfitters or Topman, but they are interested in better quality and fit, and they don’t mind paying a little more than $100 for what they’re looking for.  
 
I find it amusing that you describe my line as “daringly colorful for menswear”  — in fact,  I disagree.   Each season, when I finalize the collection I want to present to the buyers, I ask my friends what they would not wear in this collection, and these guys do embrace most of the prints and colors I offer.  I find that men love color in their wardrobes when they can mix and match the right prints and colors that are easy or soothing to their eyes. I feel I’ve been  successful in achieving that look of tasteful colors for my line — at the right price points too.  
 
I try to offer something new and  different but yet at the same time the look is based on the familiar.  That’s how I dress.
 
When I traveled to London and Sydney, I came across Oxford streets in both these cities, and I sat down at Starbucks to enjoy my frappucino and people watch — and I could see that these guys do exist.  I saw the many preppy/hipster ways that guys used to create very interesting mix and  match looks — preppy but at the same time incorporating skateboard/street styles.  Their looks were effortless, interesting and didn’t scream expensive. These guys are my audience and that’s how the name “Oxford Lads” came about.
Josh:  And while we’re at it, what’s the story behind your brand?  How long have you been around and what did you do before it?  You seem like a fairly young guy but you have a impressive list of stores and a great brand to back it up
Alan: I launched my company with the  Spring/Summer 2010 line, and just a few buyers responded to the line.  But I went forward, and after tradeshows and buyers’ meetings I always felt encouraged.  And the company has been growing steadily from season to season, especially among international buyers since then.  Still, though, I feel that only a few people really understand what I’m trying to do.  
 
I’ve really been a window shopaholic since I used to go shopping with my sister when I was in eighth grade!  I’ve worked in costume design as a cutter, in womenswear production, and in retail before launching my own menswear line.
Josh: I know from buying {for the store} menswear for almost a decade now, how rare it is to find a menswear brand that is able to stand out while remaining true to the basic tenets of mens apparel.  Aside from the amazing prints, your details are tastefully subtle.  Where do find your inspiration?
Alan: Wow, thank you for the great compliment — it’s gratifying that  you can spot what makes my line different among the others at the show.   For me there’s no point in creating a line that you can find anywhere at the show.  I find at the tradeshows that most of the brands are doing the same basic boring solid color shirts or over-the-top prints that look a bit scary!  At Project this winter,  I was a bit worried that my line looked very different compared to other vendors. And yet I find a majority of buyers shop the trade show with closed eyes — they seem so afraid to be a little fashion forward and different.  
 
About inspiration,  I travel a lot.  I get most of my inspiration from people watching, window shopping, weekend markets, vintage stores, and objects that I see and use in foreign countries. Then there are the fabrics.  They are actually my starting point.  My first stop in beginning to work on a new season is always the fabric markets, whether in Hong Kong, Japan or China.  I really love fabrics and relish their subtleties.  They’re a major source of inspiration. Then, I get inspired by considering my market and how I can work within it.  Men are creatures of habit., so there has to be some element that’s predictable.  So I always look for something classic and familiar, which I can then add my own twist to it — that’s how I approach my designs
Josh:  We started out as an accessories brand before we ventured into retail, and folks ask us for advice about getting started all the time.  Any standard advice you give to someone wanting to get a line off the ground?
 
Alan: Be ready to commit and work really hard.  Do market research first. ask yourself why does my line has to exist and what is its relevance — whether in terms of is look, price point, or quality?   Don’t be afraid to be different, and be really disciplined and realistic about your budgets. And most important, be patient and believe in yourself
 
Josh:  We are so excited to have Oxford Lads on our floor, feel like sharing anything else with us?  Brand developments or products you’ll be rolling out soon?
Thank you for carrying my line in your store.   The U.S. needs more retailers like you to sell inventive men’s clothing and at an affordable, right price point —  that’s very important to me!
 
In terms of brand development, I’m thinking of a Made in the USA Line… this is something important to big retailers, I know.  Also on the horizon for me is the Esquire-sponsored Sharp Event May — a 3-day curated pop-up opportunity in Soho, New York, where I can meet actual customers and get their responses to give me more feedback and validation.  If  I ever do open a retail store, it would be in New York first (my hometown) — but with the current high rents, that’s a bit of a pipe dream.  
 
Right now I just hope to make the line better and sell to better stores worldwide. On the global front I’m selling to Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Singapore.  Trade shows like Project and Liberty have been very helpful in connecting me with these markets — and also of course, with Tigertree!
Be sure to stop in the store and check out the goods in person or check out Oxford Lads on ShopTigertree.com!
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