When we talk about clothes we’re often talking about design: shape, color, materials, details. But how do all these elements come together? And how do they interact with commercial questions? I sat down with Dav Sehra, founder of new British outerwear label Acre and Row, to talk about his design process and the challenges and joys of taking an idea from outline sketch to finished garment.
As with any creative project, there was plenty of methodical hard work. While working as a sales account manager, Dav learned pattern cutting and sewing at night school. These skills are the fundamentals of clothing. How the garment sits on the body, how it moves, the visual language of the design: all these things begin in the drafting of patterns, the cutting of cloth, and the stitching of two-dimensional pieces into a three-dimensional form.
Influenced by the confidence, formality, and precision of tailoring, but also the relaxed and fluid shapes of streetwear, Dav had long wanted to make clothes with both natural comfort and a degree of formality, he tells me. When he found himself between jobs in the middle of the UK’s lockdown, he decided to take the leap.
The first step in designing the brand’s first design, a utility jacket, was to sketch the pattern. Drafting a good pattern is a question of shape, proportion, and balance, Dav explains. You want it to be distinctive without being difficult to wear, flattering without being uncomfortable. Most menswear is fairly conservative in shape (and the best sort tends to make up for it in color and texture). It’s a question of taking a time-tested idea and giving it a little direction. Even in the early Acre and Row sketches you can see the emphasis on clean edges and a generous, slightly draping body.
After drafting, Dav cut and sewed a series of prototypes by himself, first in light cotton toile and then using “real” cloths. He wore each sample, adjusted the pattern, re-cut, and tested again. As any customer knows, it’s good to try things on before you buy, but it can take days to really understand how something fits. A tight armhole might bother you by the end of a long day; a placket might start to crumple only after a few hours. The same problem occurs in design, and this slow, iterative design process made drafting and testing parts two of the same task. The result was a classic field jacket design with a touch of verve: generous in length, with a button front, strong, square flapped pockets, and a lapel rolling to a bold, angular collar.
The prototypes were made slowly and individually, without specialized equipment. To step up to making a commercial product, Dav found a small 4-machinist workshop close to his home in Bedford, in the south of England. As well as the ecological and ethical benefits of working with a factory that requires no air miles to visit or supply, a local partnership has other benefits for a new business. A small workshop allows short runs rather than continuous or mass production. A close relationship with the owner and cutter avoids misunderstanding and waste. Most simply, personal connections go a long way: rather than trying to explain precise details over the phone, you can have an idea in the morning and take a sample or a swatch to the factory to discuss the same afternoon.
After pattern comes fabric. Dav says he’s always liked working with cotton for its aging properties. In denim jeans or heavy canvas, cotton mottles and breaks in over months and years. In finer cloths and in blends, cotton brings versatility and comfort. For the utility jacket, he settled on a medium weight cotton/linen blend, combining the crispness and heathered appearance of linen with cotton’s promise of graceful aging. Future models might take the same pattern but introduce heavy linen or wool flannel.
What are the challenges of taking a design from a single prototype to part of a sustainable business? There are practical, economic, and environmental questions (size grading, production quantities, distribution, packaging). One big issue that menswear enthusiasts often overlook is communication: beyond the guys who already appreciate high-twist wool, or the mysteries of “sharp casual,” how do you communicate the value of locally-made, small-batch clothing, or specialist fabrics?
In the UK, small brands compete with the “high street” norms of design-forward but disposable fast fashion on the one hand and the familiar but unremarkable offerings of the old department stores on the other. They can’t match the bargain-basement prices of the first, and they require a bit more effort than the second, but if given the chance, they might prove more satisfying than either. For established luxury players (I think of E. Marinella in Naples or Anderson and Sheppard in London) one of their most valuable assets is an established and informed customer base. For new brands to flourish (and if we are to see new and accessible products in a sector that’s sometimes over-reliant on a small number of very big spenders) these ideas need to percolate further. The Acre and Row strategy is to take a familiar form (the work jacket, the overcoat) and make it a little bolder, a little more confident, and give it good quality natural fabrics and trims. These things, like the small production run and local factory labor, obviously add to the cost, but they also add longevity and charm. Hopefully, as the “buy less, buy better” ethos spreads from enthusiasts to consumers at large, more people will see the wisdom in paying a higher upfront cost for low-waste, thoughtful pieces that are built to last in terms of styling and materials.
The finished product, christened UJ001, is elevated casualwear. It’s cut fairly generously, and sits easily over knitwear for cooler days, but comes with a drawstring waist that can be tightened for a bit more shape. Unstructured but fully lined, it’s intended to be wearable year-round. As a clear descendent of workwear, it is naturally at home with jeans, boots, and tees. Thanks to its strong lines, natural materials, and generous length, it also sits comfortably with tailored trousers, quality knitwear, and button-down shirts. Dav sent a sample for me to try, and I’ve worn it both at the weekend with denim and at the office in place of a cotton sports jacket. Of everything in my wardrobe, it’s closest to an old Gieves and Hawkes overshirt in wool flannel that I wore continuously last winter: classic in DNA, distinctive in design, and equally useful indoors or out.
This content is not sponsored but the writer received a free sample for the purpose of this article. You can read Styleforum’s review policy here.
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