Robert Stanwyck created Mountain White Co., a premier outdoor apparel company with some hard work, inspiration and creativity. In this interview Robert describes the idea behind the design and colors of his duffles and backpacks:
Both backpacks and duffles are inspired by great people and achievements. The blue/red/blue is inspired by Jacques Cousteau and his incredible deep sea research, a true pioneer… and the yellow/blue/grey is inspired by the clothing worn by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of Everest… The bags are really bold to reflect not only the colours worn but the bold attitude required to achieve things as amazing as going to the bottom of the ocean, or to the top of the highest mountain in the world, before anyone else…
To me this says it all. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Can you tell us a little about your background and Mountain White Co.?
I’m a 36 year old (non-qualified) product designer originally from a small town just outside London. I now live in the Malvern Hills in Herefordshire, where I run Mountain White from a converted barn office and studio, next to a farm that trains horses… Mountain White is a fast growing designer and manufacturer of premium clothing and accessories in the UK.
What path led you to starting the company?
It was the culmination of skills learnt during other business ventures (some successful and some not so) and a drive to spend as much time as possible outside in the Mountains. Ironically I now spend most of my time in a studio looking at pictures of the mountains!
How would you describe Mountain White Co?
Creative, fast moving and design focused…starting a company in the clothing industry is very tough and forces a young brand to be very creative in the way they operate. We now make really great products that we sell to really interesting customers… it’s an exciting place.
What is the philosophy behind the company?
Well designed, premium quality, low impact products… We work towards filling the gap between fashion and function with products designed to last…
You specialize in outerwear and products for the outdoors. How did you develop this area of specialization?
Its actually came from a love of hardwearing products. I really enjoy products that get better with time. The kind of thing you pay a little more for and reluctantly retire years down the line with a satisfaction of money well spent.
I also wanted to straddle that gap between fashion and function, with products you could just as easily climb a mountain in, as you could wear on your way to work in the city. The brand just fell into its place naturally.
Your backpack and duffle designs are colorful and functional. Can you tell us about the process of developing the bags and where you want to go from here with this line?
Both backpacks and duffles are inspired by great people and achievements. The blue/red/blue is inspired by Jacques Cousteau and his incredible deep sea research, a true pioneer… and the yellow/blue/grey is inspired by the clothing worn by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of Everest… The bags are really bold to reflect not only the colours worn but the bold attitude required to achieve things as amazing as going to the bottom of the ocean, or to the top of the highest mountain in the world, before anyone else…They both are very popular products, so I have no designs on changing them a for a while. We are going to add two new versions as part of the winter16 range…These will be not so colourful, but still inspired along the same lines…
Harris Tweed is a very special fabric and not everyone can use it for their clothing. Why did you want to go with Harris Tweed rather than another lesser known fabric?
That’s a good question with a simple answer. Harris Tweed is a fabric born from the changeable weather of Scotland. It’s an incredibly well made product and very low impact in terms of a carbon footprint. It was my first choice to make the original sample and the resulting product is so amazing that there was never any reason to question it… Our Harris Tweed Outershirts are one of our best selling products to date.
Are there any great stories you can tell us?
Well I can share a lesson I learned in business that I’ve never forgotten about. Way before setting up Mountain White, I set up a small internet advising firm, I was in such a rush to get the business live, I worked 24/7 on it, planning every detail so when this business launched, Instant millions!…I was young. I concocted a promotional strategy and set about creating an information package to be sent to the top 1000 clients I was planning to sell to. I worked over many nights to produce a very slick package to send out and once ready, I posted them all out fully satisfied that the money was about to start rolling in. Well sure enough the phone did ring, and sure enough it was one of companies I had sent the information to… the issue was the person on the other end was really angry…Angry that some unknown company had sent a promotion package to them with the wrong postage attached – Which means that each one of the companies received a letter from the mail company saying they had a parcel to collect, and if they wanted it they would have to pay the postage to collect it… Can you image how they felt after paying to receive my promotional material… Well put it this way – My phone rang 1000 times over the next few days, with angry CEO’S… not a great start.
The lesson I learned? There’s a time to work fast and a time to slow right down, take a step back and really review what you’re doing… Making mistakes that waste your own time is part of business. Making mistakes that waste other people’s time is bad for business.
Can you describe your style? Your vision for Mountain White Co.?
My style is very simple and clean and I hope this is reflected across Mountain White. As the business moves and grows it becomes harder and harder to keep things simple. The best businesses make complicated products and deliver them in simple packages. This is very much the vision for Mountain White.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
Haha yes, not that anyone could learn anything useful from me… I work in a very haphazard way. I create lots of small ideas, plans, drawings, colours, fabrics and usages until its a very complicated mess of swirling ideas. I then start to refine them down until the idea is understandable but presented in the simplest form…I try to only take what is needed to deliver the product.
What do you think is the key aspect of your company?
Quality – When you are new in any marketplace, the first thing you have to prove to the customer is that what you’re selling is worth their investment. I make a big thing about material choice for this very reason. Once we know what we need, we then set about sourcing it in the UK. To be honest, we are spoilt of choice with amazing fabric producers in the UK.
What does a typical day at work entail?
It really depends on where we are in the year – right now coming into the UK winter, I am fully focused on delivering our new winter line, which means dealing with suppliers, making sure the production is running smoothly, and solving any problems quickly. Once we launch, I will move my focus to promoting the line, keeping our visual content strong (trips to the mountains) and designing the summer line.
Can you list five resources across any media that you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?
I check in on Hypebeast from time to time just to keep an eye on street fashion styles, and thats about it…I tend to look at history more frequently for inspiration, original styles, hardwearing products. In most cases its all been done before. It’s a case of reinventing and updating those principals with your own spin.
Are there are local or other athletes, artists, designers or creative people that inspire you?
I am constantly inspired by people doing it for themselves, your Elon Musk’s, Richard Branson’s and Steve Jobs’ of the world, who are just people like the rest of us who made really great things… I am also fortunate to have some great friends that run some incredible businesses, they are a constant supplier of inspiration.
Are there any particular milestones in the history of the company that you are most proud of?
Not in the history but we are working towards opening our first Flagship store in the UK, in the first part of next year. So that is a really exciting milestone… I’m looking forward to see the Mountain White sign go up!
Your designs represent quality. Do you have any new lines that you are developing?
Yes, our new winter line includes, jackets, jumpers, trousers updated bags and holdalls and a host of other accessories. Keep an eye on MountainWhite.co.uk for updates.
Can you tell us about how you take an a product from inspiration to a marketable product line?
The marketing strategy for each garment is born with the garment, once that design is finalised, we are already discussing a strong visual for it, we have our own studio in house and spend a lot of time working on photographs to represent the products… Having this process in house gives us flexibility and freedom to experiment with concepts without having to spend thousands on photographers… Once we have a strong idea of where we are going, we can roll it straight out on the net as we also build and manage our own website in house, again we are free to move on exposing products without delay or financial impact.
What do you like about being in the outdoor apparel field?
The freedom to create basically anything we want. Outdoor clothing can be many things to many people. Most people aren’t climbing mountains to snowboard back down. They just want a decent jacket to wear out. We have the scope to cater for all kinds of adventure from the everyday to the extreme.
What would you say to those who look to you for inspiration in the sports and outdoor recreation industry?
It’s a really tough business to start. Be prepared to sell products at a total loss as you simply will not be able to make small runs of anything in the early days with any margin. Don’t over complicate your products, it makes it: A, expensive to manufacture and B, difficult to communicate.
Do as much as you can yourself, don’t pay people to do jobs that with a little effort you an do yourself… don’t get me wrong, outsourcing is great thing. But if your business is too reliant on others you’re slowing your progress by waiting on people. If you control the basics of your business, you can move as fast as like. It’s important for a new business to be fast on its feet.
What kind of feedback are you getting from people who use your outerwear and bags?
Amazing of course!! Haha No, I am genuinely humbled by the responses we get to our products. We’re not a cheap company and to think someone would work really hard to spend their money on our products is great feeling. It’s so important for us to listen to the customer, it’s often too easy for design firms to impose their creativity on the customer with the intent of selling something they don’t need. I feel its better to create great products with obvious benefits. If the quality is unquestionable and you like the product, you will buy it and love it as you know in time it won’t let you down.
What do you think about eco-friendly products, sustainability and the impact on the environment of your products?
I think about it a lot. We source in the UK and vet all our suppliers. We work with the best quality yarns and use only recycled packaging, which is kept to a minimum. This is not fast fashion.
This is the model we will use going forward as well. We have already launched Mountain White America – which is exactly is the same principle for the American Market. Sourced and manufactured entirely in the US to keep the impact small. We haven’t done a lot with MWA yet – but if your reading this in the States, keep an eye out for it during 2016!
How is Mountain White different than other companies that produce outdoor apparel and gear?
I wouldn’t like to comment on how specific firms do their thing as there are lots of really great companies making really great things. There are also some companies who fail to consider that buying cut price product from developing countries, rebranding it, and kicking it out for a premium price, comes at a cost to someone.
I don’t want my goals to be achieved by impacting others.
Where do you see Mountain White Co. going from here. What is in the future for the company?
As mentioned, opening the first store is the next big step, once up and running I would like to take it overseas, Europe, America, Australia, Japan – What’s to stop Mountain White making different lines in different countries that source locally from their own economy… Nothing!
Can you tell us your favorite Malvern Hills neighborhood and why?
I live now in the Malvern Hills, which is an 8 mile long range of very beautiful hills. It’s a great place to escape the office and walk the dog! I also get to spend a fair bit of time in the French Alps which is truly amazing winter or summer!
Where do you shop for the tools of your trade?
Apple… Most of my work comes from a laptop, albeit I still do lots with pencil and paper. In fact, I am one of those people with post-it notes stuck all over my laptop.. which doesn’t really make any sense..
Where and what was the last great meal you had in Malvern Hills?
Verzion House is this great restaurant just down the road from my house. Hereford is famous for its beef, and this place knows how to cook a steak… they also sell a local beer called bobbys which is amazing…
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
More than likely in the car driving somewhere…
Where do you go to have fun?
To the mountains … whenever possible!
Malvern Hills’ best kept secret?
Mountain White Co!… In fact its probably Verzion house!
More Information about Robert and Mountain White Co.:
Facebook: Mountain White Co