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End Clothing: Interview with Cathal McAteer of Folk

In anticipation of Folk’s 2011 spring/summer collection, UK retailer End Clothing caught up with the label’s creator, Cathal McAteer. The chronologically ordered interview begins with a brief account of McAteer’s life, growing up in Cumbernauld, Scotland, before discussing how it was that McAteer got into fashion. Naturally, the interview moves on to detail Folk and some of its idiosyncrasies, including its now well-known restraint on branding. Key excerpts from the conversation have been attached below.

Interview: Sam Smith
Photography: Ben Benoliel

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, what influence did your parents have on you, in terms of mind set?

I’m from Cumbernauld, about 14 miles from Glasgow, it’s a new town. A little like Milton Keynes, built in the last 30-35 years for the overspill of Glasgow. When it was brand new it looked quite nice, because it was well thought through, and modern, there was some good architecture there actually.

My parents were pretty mellow, they basically let me do whatever I wanted to do. I wasn’t very studious, they just said “That’s right, that’s wrong”, I wasn’t a bad kid but I wasn’t a big studying kid either, I pretty much played football night and day. I was semi-pro up until I was 18 or 19. By the time I got dropped though, I was already working in a clothes shop so I just continued doing…

And this job, was it your introduction to fashion?

No, I was always into it, I took a job as a milk boy when I was 12. I used to save and go to my local (shopping) centre and buy new gear. I always had to have great shoes, I think that’s quite common though, ‘never skimp on your shoes’, I just seemed to be more into it than most around me.

I got a job in Glasgow, in the ‘coolest shop in town’. They stocked ‘Helmut Lang’, ‘Vivienne Westwood’ those sorts of things, probably what ‘End’ would be in yesterday’s terms. It was an independent; it wasn’t one of the big guys selling the mega brands. My bosses were good people that treated me really well. As time went on they made me store manager and then co-buyer with them, they gave me opportunities. They were just happy to stay back home and let me go buying with a partner. It was good, a really good introduction [to fashion].

So, the brand, we’ve stocked Folk for four or so years now. When Folk started, the branding, or lack of branding was a noticeable difference in comparison to other labels on the market. Was this ‘unbranded brand image’ intentional or did it come about naturally?

Well we find it very difficult to brand something, when you spend so much time choosing the; fabric, the buttons, the thread colours, even our own labels, just using Arial size 10, to stick a fucking name on the outside feels like we’re spoiling it.

Every single thing is thought through. We consider every single design option, all the thought processes are so pain staking and laborious that when you get to branding it feels so difficult. We came about in a time when clothing was very over branded, but we’ve been doing this for ages now; it’s become second nature. However, in a time where minimal branding is in trend we’ve got to be careful. We’re not pretending we’re insular people, we’re aware of trends because we want to be good at our jobs. I’m in business to sell clothes in a popular way.

Looking at the growth of the product, from when you initially started there seems to be a slightly more technical approach. You’ve always said you want to improve on current designs but do you think your becoming more technical with the brand?

There’s always been a desire to create a technical garment, the problem is when you’re small, no-one wants to work with you. The factories making technical garments are so hard, super specialist, they tend to work with the really big guys. For Winter ’11 we’ve knitted our own Polar-Fleece, in our own colours, so that’s exciting, we’re also trying to make an all in one bear suit for Bestival too.

I could produce a technical jacket, probably at the same price as a Visvim one but that wouldn’t be a very Folk thing to do. I’ve owned Patagonia technical jackets for years; it would be much nicer if I had my own Folk technical jacket, just to say, “I made that one”.

So, from being a Saturday boy up to now, has your initial view of the fashion industry been in any way dampened by a harsh reality or has your seemingly natural growth as a brand caused you too side step that cut throat nature of the industry?

I think I’ve been through all the stages. First all the birds were hot and all the guys hit on me, it was a really exciting industry. It’s like any industry though, first you’re young, going at it hammer and tongs then you get a few disappointments.

I realized that all that’s important is me my family and my pals, and actually I don’t have to be pals with everyone.I love dreaming, designing, getting product made and putting it on the market place. It’s very fulfilling, but to some people it would be so dry, such a boring job, I think I just got lucky.

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