This spring, we’ve introduced two new lines to MORTAR that we’re super excited about: United Stock Dry Goods and Kin. The first is a collection composed of classic and affordable shirting and denim; the latter a sophisticated, detail oriented line that’s focused on tailored pieces. Both are designed by Sydney Mamane, who also owns and runs his own store – Sydney’s – in Toronto. To get a better idea of what United and Kin are all about, we caught up with Sydney this week and had a great deal of knowledge about the design and retailing processes imparted on us. Check it out below.So we’re now stocking both of your lines, Kin and United, at MORTAR. Can you tell us about the two lines and what your objective is with each of them?
With United, the primary purpose is really working with a lot of my roots. It’s collaboration that also includes Michael (my business partner) the stores, and the consumer – the idea is for all of us to build a really cool product. One of the biggest problems in this industry is that, more than anything else, there’s a lack of communication between the suppliers and the final consumer. The idea behind United is to stay to away from the pretention and elitism that exists within the denim market while providing a high quality product that is a still a good value.
It’s not about redefining the wheel; it’s just that many stores are lacking an accessible, affordable denim and shirting line. It’s not supposed to cost a fortune to buy a decent quality pair of jeans and a good shirt. But at the same time, we use Japanese yarn-dyed cotton and produce everything in North America, so it’s a really high quality product – but it’s still accessible. Anyone can create a $500 pair of jeans without a budget, it’s not as difficult as one would think. But it is difficult to pull in the reigns and bring it back to its roots. While we may be wearing these jeans in an urban environment – we’re not going down into mines or anything – they should still be of great quality and built to last.
I started Kin about four years ago, and it’s more of a research and development line. It’s a fuller, more tailored and more developed line. It’s a modern perspective on workwear and historic clothing. A lot of research goes into the details. For the most part it’s seasonless except for shorts and heavy outerwear. It’s a little bit more process oriented as opposed to overt themes – it’s not like “I’m inspired by a green apple, so here’s my collection.” It’s a continuous idea. It’s a steady progression from where we started – you see development in specific details and in the cut. It’s all process.
The color palate is always dark for two reasons – first of all, it’s seasonless. But the line is also very true to an urban lifestyle – it’s dressier yet casual, and it’s clothes that you can wear from work to dinner or to the theatre while looking sophisticated and never over or under dressed. It’s a very quiet, understated beauty that the owner or wearer picks up on in terms of textures, details, cut – they’re the ones that know more than anyone else what the garments are about.
It’s very sensual – we’ve developed unique details like buffalo tack buttons, but the attention that has gone into these details can only be noticed when the user engages the garment. People have said it’s too quiet and not fashionable; but it’s not supposed to be fashionable, it’s supposed to be quiet. It’s about the user and the owner understanding it. It’s never going to be a big fashion line that makes millions, but it’s a personal project that we’re going to continue with indefinitely. I don’t really need Kin to depend on my living, so it’s a passion project.How has your background working in both the movie industry and as a formally trained tailor informed your design and retailing career?
I didn’t go to school for fashion, and most of my experience is in the film industry. I worked as a stylist for a bit and then a wardrobe technician in many capacities of the film industry. I did period stuff but also sci-fi – so I got the antique component but also the futuristic, technical ideal. That combination really helped define the style that I was after. And with film, you’re always trying to specific details through the clothing. It very much informed my approach to dealing with fashion. It’s my craft, I appreciate the garments and develop them without take it to a “holier than thou” level.Tell us a bit about your store, Sydney’s.
The aesthetic is very much informed by the film industry and working on film features – it has a period aesthetic but there’s always a modern element. The type of music I listen to and culture I live in also informs that aesthetic as well. It really does have this steampunk, turn of the century aesthetic. Book on saloons and bars from the turn of the century also really helped inform the aesthetic.
As far as product mix, we were working with a lot of contemporary brands at the time we opened and I felt like everyone else had the same stuff, and it was so expensive that I was like I might as well buy designer – it’s only a $50 to $100 difference. Expensive is expensive. It really comes back to United where the motto is honesty, quality, integrity. You often don’t see those virtues in this industry, so I work with brands that are honest and that respect my loyalty to them and vice versa – a symbiotic relationship between retailers and collections is key.
All of the brands are intertwined and the ideas are intertwined, Sydney’s is part of that – the way we communicate with our clients, the environment we set etc. Kin and United are a part of that. Kin is expensive but not pretentious – when people come into Sydney’s I don’t want it to feel pretentious. We’re providing a high quality and expensive product, it may not be for everyone but there’ a certain process involved that I want to communicate.What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?
I’m reading Choke by Chuck Palahniuk – it’s very entertaining. From a reference book perspective, I’m reading Jeans of the old West, it’s an amazing book that came about a year or so ago that goes into the history of workwear in the early ages. It’s really the most comprehensive book on these early stages of denim (1870s – 1910s). Also Game of Thrones – I love wizards and medieval craziness and all that. Particularly wizards. I haven’t really watched much lately.Both United and KIN are now available in store; you can also check out United in our web store.