We catch up with Hermen to discuss custom tailoring, creative processes and one bad ass peacoat.
Monday morning and we’re piccoloing it out at Kettle Black with Kyall Walker – Co-founder of Hermen Menswear. Offering a made to measure service with a Neapolitan inspired aesthetic, Hermen doesn’t have a fitted out retail space like most other M2M players. Instead, the boys at Hermen prefer meeting at a mutually agreed location to initiate the creative design process with their clients. Navigating through their website, you’re greeted with classic and elegant looks like a soft blazer over a black cashmere turtleneck sweater and a bold white windowpane navy suit. Sitting down with Kyall, we uncover that Hermen is the product of latent creative energies. However, for Kyall, satisfying his passions doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
M: So how’d you lose your menswear virginity? (We should really come up with a new name for that.)
K: I guess a lot like most people. You’re kind of always participating in fashion whether you know it or not, and I’ve always liked to dress well. I actually studied science and worked in a lab wearing lab gowns every day. I graduated knowing that I liked solving problems, [but] it wasn’t really for me. So I got into some project work and moved into doing some analytics in the supply chain for the blood service, then got into corporate work, so my interest started to shift a little towards fashion and suiting.
M: So with Hermen?
K: I was in Thailand and I wanted to get a suit made, and I like the idea of it fitting me better. But this thing was a piece of junk and I wasn’t really happy with it. I guess the problem then that I was trying to solve was how can I get affordable tailoring. The thing about these suits that are made in places like Thailand when you’re on your holiday is that they’re fused and they don’t last very long either, despite the incredibly accessible price point.
M: I’ve had a similar experience in Vietnam. I feel your pain. Is this full-time for you?
K: Nah, just like yourselves we do this part-time on the side. For a good portion of the week I’m the national performance manager for the Australian Blood Service.
M: Mate. Totally wouldn’t have expected that!
K: It’s actually just up the road. But going back to your question, we probably spent a lot more money than we needed to, but Nick – my business partner – and I are soon to be tied down with two kids each. Three years ago we didn’t have kids and we were on a single income. So the usual was, “what do we want to do this week?” And so we’d decide to throw more money at it. [laughs] It was fun.
But now, we have to be more careful. We’re in a position now where if we wanted to give it a serious crack, we’ll go and seek capital. There are a few things when we do our modelling and forecasting. I think we’ve projected well, but we’ve got a few assumptions around how many sales per week the team can do and how quickly we can build our team. I think we need to prove that first before we’re confident that the business will grow faster the more we invest into it.
M: Seems as though you’re partnering up with people who are also very serious about it all. We’ve seen your work with Jared of A.P. Millions for Pitti. It looks amazing!
K: I’m glad to hear that it was well received! I think he was going to wear it on day two but it was a bit hotter than he anticipated at the time. But this is another version of it without the belt. The belt seems to be the biggest differentiator.
M: Collabs are always tricky because there are two minds at work. Was it hard agreeing on the choice of belt? You normally don’t see peacoats that short with one.
K: Well, when we were looking at belt designs we were throwing up whether we should do a half belt with a back belt across the back. Then we were like, ‘How about a rogue belt?’ and I kind of liked a more casual look. Jared, I think, was more keen than I was about the whole thing. I said ‘I like the idea of it and you’re wearing it,’ so he was really excited to do it. So it was definitely a true collaboration in terms of product design.
Hopefully I can do more things like that. We like to find people with lots of flare and people like Melbourne designers in the art scene so we like work with those guys to try and be more creative.
M: Yeah it’s rare to find stuff like that. It reminds me a little of a vintage Comme Des Garcons jacket I saw on a bloke at Harrolds once.
K: Yeah we weren’t sure if our tailors could do exactly what we wanted. We started playing around with it last July and I actually went to New York in October so I thought it might be around 15 – 20 degrees. So I thought I’d make the sample for myself. I did it without the belt but then I had it and I thought: man I’d love a belt now [laughs].
M: But hey, that lapel on Jared though. Any bigger and you’d be ready for take-off.
K: [laughs] We stopped at 14cm for the notch lapel because it would lose its structure a little bit if it were wider. It’s just a single layer canvas as well, so we took out the other two layers. Everything is really soft with no lining, so it’s meant to be an all year-round windbreaker.
So we want to do a lot more of that. We do predominantly sell suits because in the minds of the consumer, it’s naturally what you would get tailored. But from Monday to Sunday, you can wear more than just suits.
M: So that’s all Hermen you’re wearing. What about the tie?
K: We work with Henry Carter for the ties. This is my favourite tie, made out of shantung silk, but yeah, the shirt jacket, chinos are all ours.
M: And this is the usual get-up for you?
K: Yeah a lot of the time, because I’m in mostly suiting for work, I tend to wear more of a casual Friday look. This is a wool silk linen. I really like it because it’s a summer tweed where it gets little rubbings coming off it and silk busting out of it – but it’s still very soft.
Personally, I like mixing and matching and playing with textures. My favourite suit is a navy double breasted, and the pants have a five centimetre waist band and large pleats. In winter we’ve introduced more corduroy cotton and also cargo pants in a hopsack cotton.
M: Mate put my name down for one of those cargo pants.
K: For sure!
M: So how do guys keep this up with only just Nick and yourself? Do you hope to bring on more people?
K: There’s actually three of us. Besides Nick, we have Mitch who’s from Queensland and he’s really into it. He’s been involved since June last year helping us with training guides and other processes. We hope to bring on two more people. We’ve got training apps, measuring guides and a sales process around how to talk customers through it. The measuring part – it’s easy to get ninety percent of it right. But it’s the ten percent in how we can construct our clothing that’s really important to get right. We feel like most of the hard work is done, which is the proof of concept in training someone up and working with them. Luckily, he’s been really flexible so we’ve grown the training model with his help. I’m really confident that part’s going to be easy.
M: Knowledgeable staff are hard to come by.
K: Yeah, that’s true. That’s why the main thing is that the support is there as well. We have to provide the right training, a lot of the technical work, and we have them take a lot of things home. The stage now is where we can start to analyse what about the [customer] experience doesn’t look right, so that’s an extra quality step being input by them.
We know we can give our look in [the customer’s] measurements. We can dress them how we cut it, and a lot of it is managing their expectations as well; making sure they know what they’re going to get. We offer two structures. We have a corporate block which is still a soft half canvas, it’s a softer shoulder it’s a got a little padding. Our corporate silhouette is still very relaxed and deconstructed.
M: What if they wanted something different?
K: We’re not trying to be a business for everyone and understanding that we’ll lose some here when the customer starts to deviate from what we know we do well. Sometimes it’s okay to say we can’t give them what they want, because by trying to, we’ll naturally create some uncertainty. So yeah, if someone asked for a boxed leg or padded shoulder or a strong shoulder, then that’s not us.
How it looks on our models is how we’ll make it. At the end of the day this is a passion project for me so we can afford to take our time and get it right for the customer.
Phone: +613 9015 9800