We’ve long been fans of Dodd. They’ve managed to manufacture in England while avoiding the workwear heritage clothes-for-a-flea-market look that a lot of British made brands tend to get caught up in. We spoke with founder George Hudson at his studio to talk about what he did before he launched his own label, growing pains and what he wants Dodd to be about.
Here’s what we already knew about George Hudson: He played tennis until he was 19 and thought that’d be his career of choice. He even got a scholarship, which ended up with him in Chicago. And it was here that he did a design course and decided that tennis wasn’t for him and fashion was. What we didn’t know: How he made that transition from near professional tennis player to founder of a fashion brand. “Before Dodd, I was at another menswear brand called Percival” says George. “I got back from university and got interested in this industry. I saw them on Selectism, of all things, and emailed them. I interned for them for about six months and then worked for them for a while.”
Before he got involved with Percival, he went through a very different experience interning for Diesel’s PR team. “It was awful,” he says. On the advice of his middle brother, who works at It’s Nice That, he took on any fashion job he could, including the aforementioned Diesel job and Reiss. But his aim was always to start his own label. “In my mind I knew what I wanted to do, it was just a case of how to get to that end point.”
And that end point was Dodd, the brand Hudson launched with a Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Dodd’s wearable (and we don’t mean that as a negative) but still forward-thinking clothes reminds us of, say, Patrik Ervell and it’s been the brand’s aim to be as modern as possible. “Gradually we’ll push things but it’s not bloody ‘classic with a twist’ rubbish. We’re using modern techniques, shapes and fabrics.” So far this has meant overcoats, flecked overshirts, casual suiting and trousers, all with a focus on quality fabrics. They went to Premiere Vision, the well known fabric show held seasonally in Paris, last September but are giving it a miss this year, mainly due to PV’s focus on large scale brands. “It’s always good to go and see new things but [we’re] so small. I think there’s one page in the [PV] book for small stockists, so there’s no point yet.”
Over the years we’ve seen a lot of brands live or die because of their stockist list. One good store and all the other ‘right’ stores want to be involved. One bad store and you’ll have trouble attracting others, regardless of how good your clothes are. So have Dodd had to turn any potentially bad stockists down?
“Yeah. It wasn’t an easy conversation but it was the right thing to do. We wholesaled for the first time in January because I naively assumed you can just filter product online but you need to have so much weight behind you before doing that. Sales weren’t terrible but not being on the fashion timeline really hindered us for the first year.” But the brand has since picked up reputable stockists like Shop at Bluebird and 3939 Shop. “When I first moved down I used to go into Bluebird all the time because my brother was in Battersea. So to see the clothes in there physically was really nice It felt like some kind of achievement.” Another future stockist is English expat Sweetu Patel’s CHCM store in New York.
Although they’re building a stockist list of respected retailers, the brand has had issues with the buying process and, specifically, sale or return terms (SoR for short). SoR means that the store takes on the garments and doesn’t make any payment unless the garments have been sold. And if they haven’t been sold, the items get returned to the brand, potentially leaving the brand with stock sitting in their showroom at the end of a season.
“People can’t buy on SoR. You can’t physically do that. You can’t do the outlay of money. Even last week, we had a buyer from a prominent store in. There’s this constant argument that the British buyers don’t back the British brands enough because so many brands seem reliant on the far east. He’s completely agreeing with me, then turns round and says, ‘Well, first season’s gonna be SOR.’ It’s difficult,” says George. “They ask you to jump through hoops and then you get 20 garments back at the end of the season. So that’s one issue I have. I think it’s a shared issue by everyone. But if no one says anything then it won’t change.” So, forthrightness isn’t an issue at Dodd. The discussion was, to us, feeling like something that’d usually only be discussed under anonymity. “It’s not even heavy, it’s just honesty. There’s so many people who feel the same way. It’s not being bitchy, this is how it is.”
As their varied stockist list shows, Dodd’s wearable but forward-thinking clothes do have a market. And this market is a relatively odd place for a British brand to fit into, where clothing tends to sit in either tailoring, workwear, sportswear or fashion camps. Being England, the styles get mixed in interesting ways, but the brands tend not to. Most made in England brands have a distinct, somewhat same aesthetic. Think tweed blazers, striped shirts, chore jackets and sensible chinos. We’re not knocking any of this but how many of the aforementioned items do you really need? All of this can leave Dodd looking like a square peg trying to fit into a circular hole, like when they showed at Jacket Required. “We didn’t quite fit in. But, in a weird way, that helped us more. The people that looked around saw 50 brands that if you put on a rail would look the same.”
This helped in a big way. “We met the British Fashion Council guys which has led us to, in Autumn/Winter 2014 at least, the showrooms at LC:M. So that’s the next thing we’re working on, which is massively exciting. It’s the first time that the clothes will be reviewed on that level.” And for Dodd, taking part in London Collections: Men is the next step for the brand. “That’s where we have to be and that’s where I want to be.”
One thing we noticed was the lack of an overarching theme for Dodd, so we asked George if there was one. “Not really. Purple’s going to be used in the collection and obviously it’s associated with royalty and wealth but it’s not like there’s a story behind why we’re using it. It’s just a colour that I’ve chosen to use for the season. It’s interesting to work with and it’s a notoriously difficult colour for men to pull off at times so why not challenge it and take it on? All the rest are just press excuses, like architecture and fashion.”
Speaking of architecture, we’d noticed that Hudson was interested in talking about the link, or lack thereof, between architecture and fashion, especially with the work of John Pawson influencing him. “Last season was extremely linear and we used these horizontal lines. He was just an influence on the design process [rather] than the clothes being pieces of architecture. I think you can be influenced by these things but I don’t think fashion and architecture do mix. [Pawson] writes that when fashion designers talk about architecture it tends to mean that they have nothing to say.”
But while Hudson doesn’t feel that he needs a theme for Dodd, he is planning on embodying the brand. “This sounds massively pretentious but I have this person in mind and who it’s based on, what they’ll do, wear, where they’ll go and just their whole lifestyle. So, in a way, I’m gonna try and become this person. It’s more of an aggressive persona. I want them to be men, it’s menswear. It’s not hooligans and tattoos and aggressive. It’s just the way they dress.”
And what’s the aim for Dodd? “What happened to just making really attractive silhouettes and nice clothes for men? I do feel self conscious that there isn’t more weight in terms of a story behind it. But then, if it is going to be modern, then why reference the past so much to make the clothes?”
Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.