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Talking with Kestin about stories from Scotland, creative inspiration, and making clothes for a living
A conversation with designer Kestin Hare about his journey to launching his own brand.
I’ve looked forward to sharing this interview for a long time. A fun, open chat with Kestin Hare, founder of KESTIN, based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
But you know I had to wait for Fall+Winter to drop first because that’s their absolute best stuff.
Anyway, I’m pumped to share this interview where we talk about all kinds of good shit. I even had to remove some text because I couldn’t squeeze it all in.
Just so you know, we chatted for an hour, and this interview format is less curated “soundbites” and just me sharing the free-flowing conversation Kestin and I had together.
Let me know what you think about that versus previous interviews I’ve done.
Hope you dig it either way! And if you do, feel free to pass it along to someone else who would enjoy it.
Last, thanks so much Gemma, Tom, and Andy from the Kestin team for helping me bring this interview to life creatively. Top work.
On early memories from growing up in Scotland
I've been thinking it would be cool to learn about your earliest memories of Scotland. What was life like growing up in the Kestin Hare world?
So, a lot of design students come to us for experience when they’re looking to get into the scene, and everyone has a portfolio that's inspired by where they grew up.
I think as a designer, it's such a personal thing—your experiences and growing up there are what mold you.
For me, in the beginning, it was the same. My dad was an architect and my mum was an interior designer. They were lucky enough to do quite well later on in life, but when I was growing up, there wasn't much money.
So, our family holidays were spent in northern Scotland, mainly in Skye, which was really nice.
Whereabouts in Skye?
All over. In and around Portree mostly, also spent a lot of time around Aberfeldy, near Crieff, and Pershore. It’s all relatively close to Edinburgh, so it was fun.
The lochs are beautiful up there, I have a lot of great memories from those years. So it's quite interesting.
Early this year, we showed our SS24 collection in New York, and it the photos had this sepia-toned coloring to it. We shot it in sepia. It brought back memories for me (I was born in '78) of this earthy feel that the late 70s and 80s had to it, if you know what I mean.
The content reminded me of this memory I had as a kid where we were staying in Aberfeldy, and I had this knit jumper that I hated, but my parents made me wear it. It was really itchy, and it was probably like British wool. In fact, I'm sure it was British wool.
And British wool, as you know, is itchy.
Because it’s not really British if it's not itchy.
But I vividly remember wearing this jumper one day, and as I was exploring, I wandered into an old shed in the countryside and found these paint pots that had orange and other bright colors. I was with my cousin, who dared me to splat paint all over my jumper, so I did it.
I remember thinking how quite cool it looked in hindsight.
A star was born.
Well, that memory is a reflection of my early interest in creativity. Everything revolved around creativity for me. We’d go on these holidays and always packed our drawing pads, oil paints, and watercolors. It was routine.
I love that.
Yeah. It was good.
On Kestin’s early style influences
Would you consider your parents stylish? Or, do you look back now and remember drawing inspiration from your grandfather?
Oh yeah, definitely. They both had style. My mum is still an incredibly stylish woman, an avid vintage collector. She drew me into that. And as soon as I could walk, I would peruse vintage shops with her.
And my dad was incredibly stylish, but in a different kind of way. It was the eighties, so pinstripe suits, Saab 900s, and big Vodafone dial straights were the thing. Money on the tape deck and stuff. My dad always dressed extravagantly. He’d show up to a party with some daft red jacket on. In fact, both my parents would.
But my grandfather was quite a big kind of inspiration for me. He cared so much about quality, and was more of a purist with style. He would buy his belt from the best belt company at the time. He owned a nice pair of Grensons.
Everything was about quality, classics, and making your objects last. Given he was in the Royal Air Force of Scotland, where they ingrained in you to be meticulous with your clothing and taking care of what you owned, those were big influences.
And that philosophy rubbed off on me.
On going to boarding school growing up
At the same time, I went to boarding school when I was nine years old, and I went to quite a strict one, I suppose. Going into school at that age was a dog-eat-dog world for me, a “survival of the fittest” environment.
And there was quite a lot of military influence within that. There was a huge emphasis on discipline. We only got to leave school during holidays, which was nice, because I’d go up north with my family where I got to be creative again.
What a juxtaposition of your daily experience at school then your experience on holiday…
Did they try to squash your creativity?
Yeah. It was quite tough because I wasn't interested in military stuff, and I wasn't interested in academia. I liked sports, but I didn't excel there either. I loved art and drawing, but there weren’t any creative opportunities for that at school.
On deciding what to do after school
any kind of… So when I came out of school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew I was creative. People told me I should be an architect, but I was denied entry into any schools. One thing I always knew was that I loved clothing.
It’s funny looking back because our FW23 collection was inspired by cadet jumpers and trousers from growing up. We called that collection the Black Watch collection, which I actually found out my great-grandfather, Andrew, served in the Black Watch…
Wow. Do you have any old photos of him?
Yeah. I've only got one photograph of him in his uniform, and I've got a lot of photos from my grandfather, and he even handed me down his kit too, so I've got his RAF jacket.
He was a spitfire pilot, and as a kid, I remember him telling crazy stories, like getting shot at in a plane by Nazis. But I was mostly obsessed with his uniform, and I wanted to remake the stuff he wore.
Deconstructing garments and knowing a great fabric when you feel it
After school, I started meeting people,—you you, the kind who inspire you to really do something with life.
They take you under their wing and give you direction and inspiration and tell you it's going to be alright. and sort of, go right, if you do this and that might help.
I remember a lecture at Uni, when I wasn't great at pattern-cutting, and a professor told me,
“Why don't you just go and take some of these old vintage pieces apart and try putting them back together again, and then you'll get a better understanding of how garments are constructed and stuff”
That stuff helped me understand the full range of how garments are constructed.
I love that.
But for me, I've always been great with fabrics and knowing how they work together with others. It feels intuitive, but when someone shows me a great fabric, I immediately know what it will look like on a garment.
Which is an art form, in my opinion. It's hard to teach someone to know a good fabric when you feel it. Some people have it, others don’t.
Yeah. I'm so dyslexic and was terrible in academia. But, someone will ask me, “what would that look like in a garment?” And I’ll know straight away what that fabric would look like. Sometimes I forget that few people think like that.
On what it means to be a Scottish brand
Speaking of fabrics, I think it’s interesting the way in which you’ve positioned yourself as a Scottish brand. What does it mean to be a Scottish designer? Is there a distinction between made in Britain versus made in Scotland? Feels like there’s more to it than meets the eye…
I think, first of all, being a Scot, you're extremely patriotic; it’s how we’re brought up. You've seen Braveheart. From an early age, you’re aware of the historical ties between Scotland and England.
We’ve always been the smaller nation and have always had to fight for everything we have, so I think that’s where our toughness and patriotism comes from.
We’re extremely proud to be Scottish (although, we’re continually let down when it comes to sports!). But you know, we keep going.
In terms of Scottish textiles made in Scotland, it’s got a distinct look and style from other fabrics. Whether it's Harris Tweed or another mill in Scotland, and there are many of them, is the way that the yarns are used and the wool that's used, the washing, all that sort of stuff, it's quite a hard process.
The climate is difficult, which means that the fabrication is tough. The fabrics are designed to be durable and fit for utility purposes (like being thorn-proof and all those kind of things as well.
But historically, and because we've done things in a certain way for so long, it's very difficult to change because of the machinery, the skillset, all those kind of things.
On influences from around Scotland
We have a very distinct look. And that even translates into knitwear because we were talking about before, is like if you make a Shetland wool sweater, you can get softer versions of that now, or you can wash it in a certain way to try and soften it, but generally, it's pretty coarse stuff.
And that sets the tone, I suppose, for what’s uniquely Scottish. It's much more rugged and tough. There’s a deep connection to the landscape.
And as you move down the country and go into Yorkshire and some of the mills that Fox Brothers and Moon, and it's not quite as harsh.
By default, the fabrication and knitting have a different look and feel, no matter what country things are made in. And I think made in the UK—while it depends on the factory—has always been quite rough on the edges, in a good way.
On the philosophy of building your brand for utility
There's something analogous, I think, to designing that way that you forget about in the modern or postmodern era of brand building. You've got brands popping up every week that are just making stuff because it's fashion or cool or whatever it is, and it's on trend.
But the idea that you think about your brand in terms of building to help people dress for the weather, it makes sense. And it's why people originally designed clothing for that matter in the first place.
And we very much think like that now. I think when you first start out, you're kind of like I want to be a designer and it's fashion or it's a bit more trendy, that kind of thing.
Whereas now we very much think about like, what does the customer need and what's the best possible, whatever that product is that we can do, and do it as sustainably as we possibly can and make the right choices when we're making it. And I think that kind of it really.
And also we get a lot of tourists coming to Edinburgh as well, and you've got great support from the local people, which is great.
And when the tourists come to Edinburgh, they kind of either want to buy something from Scotland that's made in Scotland, which we do a lot of, and particularly in knitwear and accessories, or they want to buy something that's going to protect them against that the weather, because a lot of them haven't seen anything like it. It's like, I'm going up north and I haven't got a walker jacket or that type.
Are there pieces that you think about or specific products that you look at and you're like, there's already brands out there that make a product this good, there's no reason for me to try and add this to the collection.
And I would think about that because I was chatting with Peter from Wythe in New York, and he did the collection with 3sixteen where they launched some denim recently, and he was like, yeah, I probably will just never make denim.
“Why would I try to make denim when 3sixteen is doing it as good as they do it?"And so I'm curious if you have things like that or products like that.
I totally get that. It's stuff like if you're not good at it or you're not trained in it, trying to play around with it, it is not advisable. It's like shoes. We don't make our own shoes because we're not shoe designers or shoe people.
And same with jeans. We don't make jeans. If you wanted to do jeans, we probably collab with people. Don't get me wrong; we do a carpenter pant and a lightweight chambray or that type of thing.
We don't make proper jeans because that in itself is an art and a skillset and it's not something that I'm experienced in.
I know a good bit about it, but it's not something that I would pretend to sort of dabble in because everything that I do, it needs to be the best it possibly can be. And I know if we went down that route, it wouldn't be.
So I totally understand and I totally get that. I'm trying to think of another example of something like that, but I mean, footwear's a good example of that, and jeans is a good example of that as well.
You're not going to go design your own version of a pair of boots or try to find a factory… right?
Right. In that case, you collab. The difficulty with stuff like that is it's always difficult with a collab because it's like a brand wholesaling to another brand. And those kind of things, you're doing it for the love of doing it together, which is the why you should do it together, and not a financial gain.
Because in my experience, there isn't really a financial gain in those kind of situations. Particularly if you're trying to wholesale something, that doesn't make sense because you’ve then got three people plus a factory, trying to all get a piece of the pie.
Yeah. Where do you see Kestin wedged in the future as a brand? Is this something you consider your life's work?
Do you think it's just a piece to your long life that you hope to contribute the other products with? You're 10 years in now.
I'm sure you've learned quite a lot and a lot of things have changed; where you’re at now.
I don't really think too much about the future.
I’m so involved in the collection that we're doing at the time and making sure that is as good as it possibly can be, and making sure that all the products within that collection are as good as it can be and pushing myself each season to make them better.
I'm the worst critic like; I'm pretty hard on myself. I’m pretty like, is that the best it can be? And if I've got a slight inkling that that's not good enough, then it doesn't go forward.
So, I'm very focused on making things better all the time. We're tweaking it and refining core products that are carried over, driving forward to come up with new styles, vintage research to kind of inspire all of that, pushing myself in terms of fabrication, all that kind of thing. In comparison to a lot of brands, 10 years, we're just a baby, really.
I'm 45, and hopefully, I can get another two decades out of doing this. So we're only a third of the way through what we can do if we're lucky enough to have the support of the customers and to keep going.
And so I'm incredibly lucky to be doing what I'm doing. I'm incredibly lucky to have gotten to where I am today. It's not been without hard work and dedication and all those kinds of things.
But I love doing what we're doing.