PRESS / Kit Neale Interview on Fashion United
Interview by Danielle Wightman-Stone
Ahead of Mountain Warehouse’s first ever fashion collaboration launching in its Covent Garden store, as well as online, FashionUnited chatted with London-based designer Kit Neale on his 26-piece Karabiner Collection of clothes and accessories for the outdoor retailer.
Inspired by the great outdoors, Neale’s collection features exclusive prints, the ‘Bustling Boundaries’ print that takes inspiration from Neale’s travels around the world with a vintage style travel sticker print on a bright orange base with contrasting khaki green details, and the ‘Summer Breeze’ print, which is an abstract mountain scene in vibrant and clashing colours which celebrates the world’s natural beauty.
The affordable collection, which ranges from 19.99 pounds for bum bags, 29.99 pounds for a fleece to 49.99 pounds for a two-man tent, is part of Mountain Warehouse’s strategy to target a younger demographic and has been designed with travelling to festivals across the globe and includes T-shirts, pakka jackets, wellies, a 20L backpack, a two-man tent and a sleeping bag.
FashionUnited spoke with Neale over e-mail about his collaboration with Mountain Warehouse, stepping away from the catwalk, as well as what we can expect to see next from the London-based designer.
You’ve done collaborations in the past with Ikea and Dune, what inspired you to work with Mountain Warehouse?
Kit Neale: “As the inspiring Helen Keller said - “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. It might sound a bit pretentious, but I believe collaboration is an important function for businesses to thrive. Internally, of course, teams need to see a value in working together. Having external influences helps produce new ideas and different voices.
“For me, the opportunity with Mountain Warehouse was obvious. There is an immediate interest in the practicality of their product range. The brand is a fascinating business with immense growth that is bucking the negative outlook on the high street. Yet, outside their core customer base there is some anonymity. I was interested to work with the team strategically to raise awareness of the brand and develop its reach to a new audience.”
The collection looks incredible! Can you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind it?
“Festivals are joyous occasions of feasting and celebration. Gathering or travelling to festivals and celebratory occasions is a ritual experience that helps us come together and connect. Everyone experiences this universally for different reasons. I think it’s important to highlight these times of fun; encourage us to lose our inhibitions, dress up, dance and play. After all we all deserve it having survived this bleak winter and all the Brexit b***ocks! This collection is to encourage us to celebrate and treasure these moments.”
How involved were you in the design process? Did you have free rein or were you asked to design specific outdoor products?
“Gratefully, the team installed a lot of trust in me to go for it. Of course, there is always compromise, but we quickly found our shared values and vision for the project. As much as I had to make small adjustments, the Mountain Warehouse team had to adapt their thinking to something new. There was a great mutual understanding and appreciation which made the process smooth in developing initial concepts and finalising products.”
You’re known for your eclectic, statement prints - how do you think Mountain Warehouse’s audience will react to the collection?
“The collection isn't necessarily targeted at the primary Mountain Warehouse audience, which is why we’ve given it a separate collection title; the Karabiner collection. However, it is important to approach the project with sensitivity as to not alienate an existing customer base. The project is not to reinvent the existing offering but rather add to it for a wider audience. With that in mind, I hope existing Mountain Warehouse customers appreciate the project even if it is not to their style.”
There is a definite festival appeal - are there any festivals you are looking forward to wearing your favourite pieces at?
“I’m planning a big road trip this year, so festivals are off the cards this year unfortunately - but I will be bringing some bits along for my travels. Although, when I’m back, there is always Barbara Streisand at Hyde Park …… with our British summertime climate the pakka will no doubt come in handy!”
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
“I love the T-shirts with their Hockney-esque mountain scene and tongue-in-cheek slogans. Staples but fun.”
This is a mainly menswear collection - can we expect any womenswear in future collaborations?
“Most styles do fit both sexes, so I wouldn't say women can't get involved! We’ve styled the collection predominantly on boys, but we tested on female models too, and the pakka outfits and tees looked great on them.”
You’ve stepped away from showing at fashion week - why is this? Can we expect to see you back on the catwalk soon?
“Fashion Week just didn't suit me. In some ways I think the whole event is a dated formula. I still believe it has its place and acknowledge that it is incredibly important for designers, and the economic impact is still positive. However, there is a lot of debate for its relevance, especially with London Fashion Week Men’s.
“For me, I would like to see it evolve, diversify and transform before I contemplate a return. In my opinion it needs to be less elitist and more inclusive, offering a variety of ways to showcase and engage with the public more. I think there needs to be a revolutionary review at what we are as an industry and what the aims and objectives, and purpose for fashion week is. The traditional blueprint to show new collections to buyers and press is dead, and London can't compete with Milan or Paris. Historically, London was about new talent, but due to rent costs and business rates, that ideal is slowing. For me, at the moment, I’m more interested in what events like Design Week and Frieze are doing, though I’m sure fashion week will adapt.”
Mountain Warehouse is the largest outdoor retailer in the UK with over 300 stores nationwide, and 40 more worldwide. The brand was first established in 1997 by founder Mark Neale, and now serves over 4 million customers a year, catering for an extensive range of outdoor activities, including walking, running, cycling, camping and skiing. In January, the outdoor retailer posted record festive trading, with sales rising by nearly 12 percent to 84.7 million pounds in the 13 weeks to January 6.