Last week, I met up with Alexander Dobb and Joe Winstanley, two young creatives that have just launched ‘District’, a clothing company with an unusual focus on the community that it’s born from. They have a passion for quality, a steely determination to spread the word that taking pride in the environment can be as stylish as it is sustainable, and want to help you discover a natural space that you can call your own. We talked about the ethos of the brand, the inspirations behind it, and what lies in store for the future…
Right, so first off, I think you should introduce yourselves…
J – Well, I’ll start then: I’m Joe Winstanley, and I’m 20 years old, and live in the village of Hathersage.
A – I’m Alexander Dobb, I’m 21 years old, and I live in Matlock.
So how did District come into this world? Tell me a little bit about the process that led up to the unveiling.
J – So, we both left to attend university, which meant moving to city life for the first time in 20 years, which we settled into but always had this feeling that it wasn’t what we expected. That quickly turned to the realisation that we were both yearning to be back in the Peak District, and at the same time I was messing around trying to make a t-shirt company but had no real niche or direction for it. I came home for a bit, and then it instantly hit me that I could draw inspiration from the landscape, and I put a tweet out, as a joke, asking if anyone wanted to invest in a business. Alex replied, and I sent him a few mock-ups of the topography, and we started to refine it into the business, as that’s something I’d say is Alex’s strength.
That leads nicely into my next question, actually. How is the workload split between you guys? Are designs done by one, and the business by the other, or is it more of a joint effort?
J – Well, I guess the District designs were halfway to being there in my mind, they just hadn’t gone through that process of refinery.
A – Yeah, you started the whole idea and set the direction, and then I became really interested because I saw it as an opportunity to get involved in something that reflected how I felt about the Peak District. From there, that’s when we started developing things, so we have sort of collaborative conversations where we use inspiration boards, and just bounce ideas off each other and speak about what is actually good and bad about one process or another. So in a way it’s all a joint effort, where we play to each of our strengths.
J – Each component is a 70/30 split really; design leans more into my skillset, and I do a lot of the website, whilst the running of the business, marketing and managing the social aspect is all more Alex, but we always vocalise our opinions and remain extremely honest and open about everything.
What would you say is the defining ethos of the District? What’s the message that you want to put out there.
J – The defining ethos is simply: Find your own space, and do what you love.
A – It’s all about showing off that what people do and how they act in the Peak District, is relevant anywhere in the world. Appreciate your local area, and demonstrate that pride with your actions.
On that note, what are we to expect from the future? Are you particularly excited about anything to come?
A – Getting a funny looking van so we can reach remote photo opportunities without breaking my car is a dream, but to be honest I’m just excited about making clothes based on what we would like to wear, and seeing other people share that vision.
J – Yeah, I suppose I’d add to that with getting excited about putting the Peak District out there as somewhere that isn’t a stagnating place of natural beauty, but an area that’s brimming with creativity and energy that I think a lot of people don’t know about.
A – The creativity that’s here is actually crazy, and to be a part of that, and pull together some of that ability to actually create is something we’re both eager to strive towards.
Have there been any unexpected challenges so far?
J & A – (laughing)
A – Loads; packaging, design, in fact pretty much everything. You send something away knowing it looks amazing on screen, then get it back and suddenly its awful. So many times we both look at each and just can’t believe we didn’t spot that mistake, or this mistake, but that’s just how it is.
J – To some extent though, it’s a positive process. We learn so much from the things that go wrong, or don’t live up to our expectations.
A – That’s what it’s about! Another huge one is that we both need to get to know exactly how physical designs and ideas will transfer to textiles, and if it will meet our expectations, but we’re getting so, so much better at that every time we look at creating new products. It’s just about removing the guesswork, and relying on intuition.
It’s all a learning curve! Have you found the response so far to be surpassing all expectations, or did you predict the people’s positivity toward the brand?
J – It’s been absolutely amazing; honestly amazing. We’re basing it on local pride, so obviously, we knew that most people, even if they didn’t like everything about us, would respect that message as something they believe in, but it’s just been overwhelming as far as support goes.
A – I just want to take this opportunity to thank those people that have actually taken the time to visit our website, buy a piece from our collection, and help spread the word, because that’s what is driving District forward, and without that we wouldn’t be able to do what we love. The fact that people have invested their time, energy, and money in us is incredible.
J – I think people realise that we’re not just a t-shirt company. We love the community, and that’s our focus, and the clothes and products we sell are really a bi-product of what we stand for.
Who or what have you turned to for inspiration for District?
A – It has to be, for me anyway, between a company like Patagonia, and a company like Olive. That hybrid of appreciating the landscape, whilst retaining the fashionable aspect; rugged, durable, but still something you’d love to wear. We want motives from the outdoors to create the fashion.
J – We mostly go on what we would wear ourselves. If we don’t wear it, we don’t make it, and that’s an achievement in itself. It’s a company for us that other people recognise that personal aspect in and want to be involved in.
A – As well as that, someone who resonates a lot with me is somebody called David Hiut, who runs Hiut Denim; his company is so tight, community based, and shares the reason behind why I want to get into business. He wants to help people, so do I; if we wanted just a way to get rich quick, we wouldn’t be making a clothing brand.
So, do you see District’s future as community based?
J – Absolutely, I can see us helping out community groups, running events, and trying to return some of that love and passion back to those that have helped us.
A – The processes right now are done in Sheffield and elsewhere in England, but we want to get to a point where we can pull everything back to the Peak District and Sheffield. There’s this tiny chance we have of becoming a big business, and if that happens we want to begin by ensuring that all the jobs we can give people are in this area, and that we can sponsor events; because it’s a lifestyle brand, it doesn’t limit us to who we can and can’t help.
J – It’s the people that are driving production at the moment anyway. We’ll drum up a conversation with someone, and they’ll turn around and go: “When are you doing Curbar?” or “When are you doing Ladybower?” and you quickly realise that everything we do is community based anyway. Without their love of the places we focus on, we wouldn’t be able to exist.
It’s good to see something so based on people and not money, it’s unusual in this day and age. Finally, I just wanted to see how you’re both finding the actual work itself, if it’s harder than you thought it would be, or easier?
A – It’s definitely not easy. But that challenge is what’s getting us up in the morning, and also because it’s our own ideas and we’re in control, it’s hard work that we actually enjoy doing.
J – It’s pleasantly uncomfortable. Almost some liminal state that inspires our creativity – in between complete comfort and the unknown, so it’s a strange and wonderful position.
Fantastic; it’s been a pleasure to speak to you both, and I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on what District are doing in the coming months. Merry Christmas.
A – Thanks for having us!
J – Yeah, it’s been awesome. I hope you get one of our t-shirts under the tree.