Fi Cotter Craig, a British television producer, was scrolling through Instagram one day when she was struck by a photo. “I saw my friend wearing a jacket that I thought I would kill her for,” Ms Cotter Craig said. “Rather than kill her, I called her and said, ‘Where did you find that jacket?’ »
Chloe Speed, who lives in Amsterdam and works in marketing for Nike, envied her husband’s new blue coat and stole it for herself. “The color was so iconic and so beautiful,” Ms Speed said. “Every time you wear it, it gets a little softer in places and fits better.”
Ethan Cannon, a theology student from St. Louis, was parking in a restaurant parking lot one rainy night when he was stopped by the attendant. “He stood in the rain and blocked traffic,” Mr. Cannon recalled. “The first thing he said was, ‘Where did you get that jacket?'”
The creator of the three coats is Paynter Jacket Co.., a small British brand run by Becky Okell and Huw Thomas, a married couple who take an unusual approach to their business.
Four times a year, they announce which garment they will produce next. Subscribers to their newsletter have about a week to order it in the desired sizes and colors, and the brand only manufactures this number, in “batches” numbered 1, 2, 3 and so on. After the call to subscribers, Paynter will offer each bundle to the general public as part of an announced drop, which often sells out in about two minutes.
The “drop” model is common among streetwear brands, which often use it to increase demand. But as Ms Okell, 30, and Mr Thomas, 31, explained in a video call from their studio in London, they use drops in a bid to reduce waste.
“It’s a very wasteful industry,” Mr. Thomas said. “OK, how can we do things differently? What if we only made what we needed?
Paynter has none of the inventory management problems that plague other fashion brands, Ms. Okell added, because it doesn’t carry inventory. The brand orders enough fabric to make the coats it has orders for – and no more.
Before starting Paynter in 2019, Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas spent time in the corporate fashion industry. She worked in the branding department at Nike; he did marketing and product design for Hiut Denim Co., in Wales. In 2018, they attended an industrial workshop in London, where, for some reason, Ms Okell greeted Mr Thomas, a stranger at the time, with a hug. Within weeks, they were inseparable.
Mr. Thomas had long collected vintage workwear, including a blue jacket from France that was better fitted and in a softer fabric than a typical work jacket. As the couple began to decode how the jacket was made, they decided to create a brand around it.
Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas work within a narrow range of styles. Most of the 16 bundles released so far have been variations on a traditional chore coat, as well as classic denim, gabardine overcoats and military jackets.
They start by selecting fabrics from factories in Italy, Japan and elsewhere. The jackets – and occasional shirts – they make with these fabrics are notable for their simplicity. That is, until you notice the attention to detail.
Each limited edition jacket has a hidden label inside, designed by a different artist. The jackets are also hand-numbered, and the care tags feature whimsical instructions, including: “Wake up early. Exercise first. Inhale. Exhale. Grab a bowl of Coco Pops. The jackets are mailed with a small gift; Lot #16, an Italian wool and cashmere winter coat, included a Tony’s chocolate bar with custom Paynter packaging.
Planned releases for 2024 include a waxed barn coat with a corduroy collar, followed by a chore jacket intended to commemorate the company’s five years in business. This one will “distill all of our learning and all of our favorite details from every work jacket we’ve ever made,” Mr. Thomas said. The newest release, a corduroy flap pocket work shirt in four colors, is set to go on sale to the general public on February 10. Subscribers to the newsletter, as usual, will have early access to ordering.
The fashion writer W. David Marx has a Paynter military jacket in olive green. When asked to describe the construction of the coat, he wrote in an email: “The emphasis is on fit and silhouette. No bells and whistles or details that will age poorly. The jackets are just made to make everyone look good.
Mrs Cotter Craig, the television producer, was of the same opinion. “I have six or seven Paynter jackets and they have never disappointed, not once,” she said.
Mr. Cannon, the theology student, said he liked to buy new jackets, in part to track Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas’s improvement over time. “I don’t feel like anyone is selling me something,” he said. “I almost feel like I’m participating in some kind of art project.” Last fall, he flew to London to attend one of the brand’s “Paynter at the Pub” events and meet the designers.
Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas do almost everything themselves. And their low overhead allows them to sell a wool and cashmere coat for around $335 – an unheard of price for a luxury product, a category their coats arguably fall into. The brand’s shirts cost around $150.
The couple said they often heard from friends, customers and industry colleagues that Paynter should expand and make two or three times as many jackets.
“Some waiting lists can be as long as 3,000 people,” Mr Thomas said. “And you think, ‘We should have done more.'”
However, he and Ms. Okell aren’t losing sleep over missed sales.
“When we started Paynter, we both wanted a similar business,” Ms Okell said. “We were both absolutely determined that it would be independent. We didn’t want investors. We didn’t want big teams. We wanted to work on every step of the process ourselves.
“We make clothes,” Mr. Thomas said. “We don’t do fashion.”