Sartorial excellence right under our noses
It seems remarkable that for thirty years Walker Slater has been delivering the truest form of sartorial excellence right under our noses but to no great fanfare, instead focussing on the importance of customer service and delivery of the best in functional tweed tailoring.
Quite simply, Walker Slater can be described as a ‘discovery’, where people experience something a little bit different – and they’re more than happy with that.
With its heart firmly cemented north of the border, Walker Slater first set up shop on the postcard-worthy cobbled back streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town – namely Victoria Street – where it remains today with both its Mens and Womenswear flagship offerings.
Today, it has additional shops in London – Fulham and Covent Garden – as well as a large retail space in Glasgow, which has shifted that small ‘nook n’ cranny’ local feel into a brand with serious intentions.
The very best in handpicked fabrics
Using the very best in hand-picked fabrics from the Hebrides right across to the Scottish Borders, Walker Slater’s Swing Jacket marked the first product under the label’s name, with the real shift in fortune coming in 1997 when the brand started to make tweed suits to sit alongside shirting, knitwear and casual pieces.
“I think that was the ‘key’ shift in momentum for us and really captured who we are,” says owner Paul Walker. “We are a Scottish brand and we have developed our sartorial expertise and knowledge over the years to create beautiful, bold garments fit for a versatile market and continue to strive to do that.”
Working and developing excellence in fabrics, Walker Slater has a close relationship with the prestigious Harris Tweed brand, and holds a long-standing collaboration with the establishment across seasonal collections carried across its expansion of stores.
The mark of outstanding quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail has also led Walker Slater into exciting collaborations which includes the Scottish Football Association (SFA), The Ryder Cup, Scottish Rugby Union and Tartan Week Parade in New York as well as smaller, more independent projects which are evolving. Walker Slater also won Scottish Fashion Retailer of the Year in 2015.
Collections feature a versatile array of fabrics across suiting, separates and casual-wear including tweed and linen as well as the more recent release of Japanese inspired denim. Rich in accessory offerings, customers can enjoy a vast choice of products ranging from ties, through to jacket pins, silk scarves, handbags, hats and a newly released footwear range.
In Conversation with Paul Walker, founder of Walker Slater
What inspired you to create a brand that specialises in tweed and tailoring fundamentally?
Living in the Scottish Highlands was hugely formative and inspiring for me – clearly a beautiful place, but with a sometimes harsh environment which calls for practical and warm clothing.
Tweed is an amazing fabric as the wool content keeps you warm in a natural way, it is also shower proof and recovers well from being exposed to weather conditions. I saw local people, including game-keepers wearing tweed and knew it could be reinterpreted for more general use.
You are quite the entrepreneur and there is some back story to Walker Slater, is it something you ever look back on and think wow?
I really enjoy what I do, everyday there are many tasks to work on and think about – its busy. Fashion and style are constantly changing and at Walker Slater we don’t move so quickly with the seasons but we do introduce new fabrics, and make subtle changes to our classic blocks.
To me it’s a gradual nurturing of the brand, curating things which I believe people will really engage with and treasure. Looking back it is incredible how far we have come, I’m really proud and lucky to be surrounded by some great people.
What does Walker Slater mean to you. What does it stand for?
Walker Slater is about quality, sustainability and affordable luxury, which maintains a closeness to the source of manufacture. Whether that be the weavers on Harris making cloth or the artisans we work with on garment construction in Portugal. I like to know what is going on, and have a story which is part of the journey with our clients.
I believe that people today want to learn about things. Our customers don’t just want to consume anything, they want to know it has been thought about and that design and manufacturing is done in a considered way. We also have very good customer loyalty due to our service in store and product quality.
What do you want it to mean to others – customers and friends of the brand?
I’d hope people enjoy the brand, wearing the clothing and that they have a memorable in-store experience.
Walker Slater should feel completely natural. Customers should feel comfortable in our clothes and they should become a part of the wearer’s life. We offer such a wide range of fits, cloths and styles and literally have something for every occasion.
Suiting is really varied from our Francis suit, which features peak lapels and often in fancy fabrics – popular with wedding parties – whereas some of our more muted and subtle Edward blocks are great for work. Of course we also have Harris Tweeds and cloths from the Scottish Borders – great for relaxing or spending time in the country.
Our knitwear and denim also offer a casual more bohemian/rock n’ roll look and I hope people see this and relate to the brand in a modern sense.
You are growing as a brand and have a plan to open more stores, you must believe that people still want to interact?
Walker Slater has always been about discovery, people really enjoy that feeling, finding something beautiful and unique which is delivered with excellent customer service and tailored to fit.
Our store in Covent Garden has been really great, it’s a little small and we now feel that to show the clothing to its fullest we would like to give back and invest so that people can enjoy our full experience. Internationally, we have a lot of interest due to the heritage of the brand and interest in the wildness and innovation that Scotland is known for.
The world has changed; people are really interested in discovering and learning about what they are buying. We aim to make clients feel really happy and our online store is growing, which is also great to see.
This element is important for Walker Slater right?
Walker Slater needs people to engage with the brand, keep discovering and have a desire to come back. Online can be trickier, we need to have excellent quality and relevant images on all our media platforms to interest people to take a look around the site.
What do you think is the USP for Walker Slater, especially with plans to grow in London?
Walker Slater is unique as we offer a wide range of modern tweeds in contemporary and traditional cuts. Our closeness to our supply chain ensures our price point is accessible. When people begin to browse our collection they are often pleasantly surprised by value and the quality they see. Walker Slater has been inventive and creative with a traditional fabric, which excites people and makes them really connect with the brand.
Do you think there is still a fear in people that prevents them entering shops, especially considering bespoke boutiques?
At Walker Slater we like to have an open door (weather depending) and welcome people properly. Customers may come to Walker Slater through friend’s recommendations or online, which possibly makes us more accessible. In the global market I think people are exploring more and in that, Walker Slater has been a leader in breaking down the “stuffy” attitude towards tweed. So if there is a “fear” or uncertainty I hope we are doing our best to change it.
Can you broadly explain your collections?
Walker Slater mainline men’s collection is about lifestyle, featuring high quality tweed tailoring with the three-piece tweed suit at the core.
We offer five main styles, Edward, Martin, James, Francis and William, which I believe allows us to cater for every shape and size comfortably. Walker Slater incorporates vintage style casual wear with denim, brushed cotton shirts and both heavy and finer knitwear. The idea is that a man can shop for all of his clothing needs in our stores and always be sure of the high quality and fit.
And Messrs/Ladies Wear?
Messrs was the creation of myself and my friend, Swedish designer, Kjell Klangenberg, and born on a sailing trip from Portugal to Turkey.
Messrs aims to appeal to a younger audience, and is a seasonal collection with more changes occurring in-line with the fashion calendar. Messrs uses Italian cloths, which wouldn’t necessarily feature in our mainline Walker Slater collection. Since Kjell’s passing in January we have decided to keep this area of Messrs but add to it with a vintage Messrs collection this winter.
Walker Slater Ladies have had their own dedication store in Victoria St, Edinburgh since 2012. The collection features some show-stopping Harris Tweeds, cloths from the Scottish Borders and mixed fibres such as wool/cashmere.
Over the years we have diversified our ladies range and attracted many new and repeat customers. Ladies features alongside Menswear in Glasgow, Covent Garden and Fulham Road stores.
Walker Slater has a real eclectic mix in terms of offer, from Japanese inspired denim pieces, through military jackets and of course tailoring. Is the aim to be seen as a brand for everyone?
Walker Slater has enjoyed creating a diverse collection, which has explored a range of styles of clothing. We always strive to maintain a high level of quality, craftsmanship and wearability for the customer. We hope to offer a range which is interesting to a cross-section of the market and versatile enough to appeal to every customer who comes into our stores or visits us online.
You collaborate a lot, how important is this elements of the business?
Partnerships are really enjoyable, Walker Slater loves working with like-minded businesses to appeal to a wider audience and also to develop the lifestyle aspect of our brand. We really want people to feel an emotional connection to our clothing and for it to become part of their life.
Collections Walker Slater has developed for sports partners have been retailed in our stores, online and at various events and based on the expertise we have developed over the years in tailoring and the crafting of small items such as wallets, hip-flasks and caps – accessories, which also make for great gifts
Drinks brands are another strong area for us. We like to have a selection of whisky to offer clients who choose our made-to-measure service. We have worked with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on this offering as well as The MacAllan, Ardbeg, Glen Scotia and The Glen Dronoch.
For our parties and events we have maintained a strong friendship with Edinburgh Gin, another anchor brand displaying the quality of product available in our home city of Edinburgh.
In addition, the University of Edinburgh partnership has been great at introducing the brand to a new audience with a focus on graduations and the university’s retail store.
And your partnership with Harris Tweed remains hugely important?
Harris Tweed Hebrides (HTH) and Walker Slater have helped with the public’s re-interpretation of tweed. Over ten years or so HTH has really invested and grown the industry on the island – they have reached a global audience and had their cloth bought by top-end designer brands.
This idea tweed is versatile and can be very wearable is great for us. The name Harris Tweed attracts people to come into our stores and search for WS online. HTH have a great ethos and story with heritage and provenance. Visiting the weavers in their homes reminds us at WS were the story begins, with nature and the landscape of Scotland at its heart.
Lastly, can you explain the astonishingly reasonable price points
Fair and accessible pricing has always been key to WS. Our quality is never compromised and we always look to offer the very best to our customers. All of our garments are made in the EU with artisan makers, we look for strong partnerships with factories and build relationships to ensure good value is carried through.