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‘Sales are up 70’- we chat to one of Scotland’s most exciting fashion designers

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44-year-old Hare grew up near Haddington, East Lothian, in a household where “creativity was encouraged” (his mother was an interior designer and his father was an architect). He initially also wanted to study architecture, but after being “rejected from every course in Scotland” Hare settled for a foundation degree at Leith School of Art. It was while studying there that he met a friend doing fashion design at university in Newcastle, who he used to go and visit regularly.

“I had a bit of a lightbulb moment,” he explains. “I realised I was interested in clothes, in brands, in seeing what people were wearing, and I knew I wanted to get out of Edinburgh and go and experience more of the world. Plus, the Newcastle nightlife led me astray,” he laughs.

Hare ended up studying for a BA in Fashion Design and Marketing at Northumbria University, doing a year’s placement with high street retailer Reiss who offered him a job upon graduation. While it was tricky being one of the few men on a female-dominated degree programme – he admits the Geordie seamstresses “took pity” on him during sewing machine training – Hare knew he had found his calling.

After Reiss, Hare worked for menswear designer Nigel Cabourn, then for Burberry, all while living in England. There was, he acknowledges, “a lack of options in Scotland”.

“If I wanted to work for a big brand name,” he explains, “I needed to be down in London. But when my daughter was born 13 years ago, my wife and I made the decision to come back to Scotland to be closer to family and friends. That’s when I decided to start working for myself and start my own brand. It was terrifying going out on my own, I was used to getting paid quite a big salary down in London. But I think we all have a homing mechanism to Scotland. We go away for work, but I think we maintain a dream in the back of our mind to come back.”

Hare initially started KESTIN as a wholesale brand, being stocked in some of the UK’s top independent stores, before eventually establishing their own website to sell directly to customers. Next came the opening of a store in Stockbridge in Edinburgh, which was later joined by a further three KESTIN shops across Glasgow and London.

The Herald:

But it hasn’t been an easy time to be in high street fashion. Giants like Topshop, once the darling of fashionistas, is now only available online after its physical stores were closed in 2020, with other casualties of the high street well documented. Yet being an online-only brand means missing out on certain shoppers, leaving Hare convinced that a mixture of wholesale, online and retail channels is the best route to success.

“We have pulled back a little from physical retail. I decided I would rather have one store, do it really well, and focus my efforts on the online shopping experience. I now have one physical shop in the heart of Stockbridge and I try to make that the best customer experience that I can.

“Online sales rocketed during Covid but they have come down a bit. For us, quality and craftmanship is harder to display online. We used to be 70% wholesale and 30% direct, but that’s now 40% wholesale and 60% direct. As the cost of raw materials has risen, it can be difficult to make really good quality products and share that margin with a wholesaler, because the wholesale margin affects the retail price.”

This multi-channel approach is clearly working, with KESTIN sales “up dramatically” on last year.

“We are selling more now internationally, selling more to the US, where things are bouncing back after Covid. The pandemic made it difficult to sell internationally, but where other people may have paused for a period we tried very much to push ourselves forward.”

Having a classic, rather than trend-led style, certainly helps to provide international appeal. Hare is clear that he wants KESTIN garments to be bought by both “20 year olds and 70 year olds.”

“It’s not about ‘fashion’, it’s classic pieces. We not only take inspiration from Scottish heritage, we try to offer products that will perform in the Scottish climate. A lot of our garments are waterproof, or water repellent, they embrace the climate that we live in. We are producing functional clothing that is very high-quality.”

A focus on quality means more than just design. Hare strives to ensure he upholds a standard of ‘responsible manufacturing’, a holistic approach to production that ensures things are made responsibly.

The Herald:

“I visit every single factory we work with, make sure I am happy with the standard of how the workers are being treated. We also use industry-standard vetting for suppliers. We are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, sourcing biodegradable nylon or organic cotton, doing our bit.”

“Doing his bit” also includes providing local employment opportunities. Having struggled to find design roles in Scotland in the early stages of his career, Hare has now come full-circle, employing a team of 13 out of his HQ in Leith.

“It’s great that I can now provide employment opportunities within menswear in Scotland for other people. There aren’t many menswear brands within Scotland, we are incredibly proud to be flying the flag for Scotland both nationally and internationally. Our plans for the brand are to push ourselves forward and become a real international brand, based in Leith and creating jobs and opportunities. The support of our Scottish customers will really help us to do that.”

Kestin Hare has recently collaborated with Kimpton Charlotte Square to design a new unisex look for front of house staff.

A versatile workwear-inspired overshirt epitomises the label’s utilitarian aesthetic, cut from a mixture of herringbone and twill, and garment-dyed to this custom colour to complement the interior design features of the Hotel’s inner courtyard Garden and lobby areas.

Kieran Quinn, general manager of Kimpton Charlotte Square, added: “We wanted to create a more modern and inclusive look for our team with sustainable, quality pieces that suit all staff and reflect our brand. We’re delighted to unveil this new, more inclusive and relevant look for 2023.”

For more information, visit www.kimptoncharlottesquare.com/kestin and www.kestin.co

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