In conversation with Tim Roter of M.C. Overalls
On how the century-old London brand is faring right now
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Far Afield is a brand whose ethos is rooted in escapism. Throw on a patterned shirt or bright-coloured tee from its collection, and it's like you've instantly been transported to some sunny coastal town. And that's because the brand's co-founders, brothers Chris and Mark Scholes, not only work with independent, family-owned factories in places like Sri Lanka and Turkey, but they gather inspiration from destinations abroad too.
The world might be on a hiatus from travelling right now, but Far Afield's assortment will help to welcome a bit of paradise into your wardrobe – even if your next escape is just to the living room. We chatted with Chris over Skype about the importance of staying positive during this time, on working with his brother, and what he's wearing the day that the lockdown is lifted.
Initially my brother set up his own clothing business, Tuk Tuk, when he lived in Sri Lanka. He found the quality and working with these small independent factories worked really well, and he set up a small website, put £250 aside, and that was kind of the start of what’s going on now. I merged with him when I had the shop (an independent menswear store in Brighton) about five years ago now. We rebranded the name and took it in a similar but slightly more grownup angle. We were able to add more strings to our bow in terms of adding knitwear and swimwear, so it’s more of a rounded collection. We’re inspired by global travel, not just being in Sri Lanka, so it’s a natural progression.
I love it – I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s my best friend, of course. There’s four years difference, so he’s the big brother, and he’s the creative visionary. He does the majority of the designs, where I’m more commercially apt. I think it also works because we have a managing director, Anthony, and he’s very business savvy generally, so the three of us are all very good at what you do. There are times where there’s crossover and there’s conflict but being brothers, Mark and I can be brutally honest, which is a good thing I think. My brother lives in Porto, so I don’t get to see him that often, which probably helps matters.
Sustainability is something that’s really close to our hearts. I know it’s very much a buzzword at the moment, and it’s involved, but we’ve always wanted to go down the sustainability route, but we didn’t want to do it half heartedly. We introduced BCI cotton and some organic cotton pieces. We’re also phasing out all plastic for next season. When our customer buys a shirt, usually it comes in plastic packaging, has plastic buttons, or plastic tags, so we’ve phased all of that out.
We’re working really closely with our factory in Turkey that produces our knitwear, so we’re going down the organic cotton route for about 90% of our next collection. I don’t think we can say we’re fully sustainable, because I think it’s forever evolving, but we’ll just keep moving with that evolution, and we’re proud to be part of it.
My brother was generally inspired by vintage 60s and 70s music of Ibiza. We came up with some really interesting prints that go back through the archives – you’ll see that very subtly throughout the collection, but coinciding with that is this really nice subtle vintage colour palette, which we’ve introduced in lots of 60s, 70s, 80s knits and are becoming a bit more of a signature for us. It’s a real mix of the ages of Ibiza. There’s a lot to work on within the Ibiza theme, so it’s really progressed through the ages.
I’ve been doing a daily routine of 5-10K every other day or so. I’ve made a homemade gym with five-litre bottles of bleach. Thankfully, our office is in Brighton, so I’ve been going up there on my own, still packing orders and whatnot. I take it on a day-to-day basis, and it changes every day. I want to keep active, not just physically active by going for a run, but active on the business. But I don’t want it to become obsessive – I don’t want to be checking the orders every five minutes. Or checking the bank balance to see if anyone’s paid every five minutes. It’s a day-to-day thing: I wake up early, I have a nice breakfast, I check my emails, I liaise with my staff, and then I take it from there.
The knitwear is amazing for this season – a really strong part of our collection. We’ve got some lovely long-sleeved organic cotton polos, which sit really well next to some heavier gauge crewneck knits – perfect for relaxing. They come in nice colours and will put a smile on your face. We also do pattern and colour very well – that’s synonymous with our brand. All of our prints are made in house. My brother and I always come up with innovative prints, and I think that’s perfect for now. Why not get up, put a nice fun shirt on and have a spring in your step?
It’s tough. It’s obviously new for everyone. In terms of the day-to-day, our online is flourishing at the moment. We have a guy who does the orders who’s not working for us at the moment because he wants to stay away and keep safe, which is totally understandable. So I’ve actually been heavily involved in the day-to-day online orders. I’m interfacing with customers on email and telephone at the office, which is nice, because alongside that, I’m also dealing with the wholesale part of things, which unfortunately as everyone knows is taking a huge battering.
Bricks and mortar are struggling – they’re closed down. We have 150 stockists worldwide, so I’m dealing with those guys on a daily basis, and I’m trying to help out. It’s tough for us, but it’s tough for them and we’re in it together. We’re trying to come up with solutions and payments plans to help them out.
We’re having to really reassess our wholesale business in terms of the next season. The timing of coronavirus couldn’t be any worse. We have spring/summer 2020 launching – our best and most successful collection to date. That just arrived into stores and then the coronavirus hit. Prior to that, we just closed our books in terms of autumn/winter 2020, so we’re having to guess things like how many stores will survive and how much do we have to edit or shave down our production orders.
Now we’re looking at our spring/summer 2021 collection, which I think will be our strongest collection to date, and trying to plan what trade shows we do and which agents and stores we’re still going to be working with, so for us it’s the unknown. We’re planning for spring/summer 2021 as normal, but I don’t think it will be business as usual come that time because I think there’s going to be a lot of shifts in the industry itself. We’re just cracking on.
I think it’s important for people out there to keep safe, keep their loved ones safe, and to really go out there and make an effort to support independent businesses – not just brands – because I think it’s really important to support everything from bakeries to cafes and clothing stores. It’s really important to get the economy back up and running because small independents are the heartbeat of the UK – it’s what makes it great. I also think it’s really important for everyone to keep positive.
We will get out of this whenever it will be and hopefully we’ll come out stronger. We may be social distancing now, but I think there’s a real coming togetherness of friends and family with people Skyping and Zooming. There’s a lot more kindness out there I would say.
I’m hoping this weather will continue and maybe whenever it will be – a month or six week – it’ll be gorgeous outside and I’ll walk five minutes to Brighton Beach in a pair of our recycled plastic swim shorts and t-shirts and go for a dip in the sea.
Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Courtesy of Far Afield
On how the century-old London brand is faring right now
We’re talking to independent brands about how they’re adapting during this time