“It’s just something I like to do” — Thom Barnett, fashion designer
BY Jennifer Lee O'Brien
On a Wednesday we called Thom Barnett, founder of Mamnick, the clothing and accessories label in Sheffield and Japan.
The last time we spoke to Thom was in his studio in a mill. We were in the south end of Sheffield and it was cold. In the adjacent room, where his friend’s band rehearses, there was a drum kit. The studio was stuffed with shoe boxes and jewellery boxes; jackets, t-shirts and heavy coats hung neatly along racks. We could see our breath, indoors. Thom was wearing a Berghaus hat and he talked about cycling.
Thom loves cycling. If you have heard of Mamnick before, you will know that Thom loves cycling and that Mamnick is named after a road that climbs to the top of Mam Tor, a hill in the Peak District. If you haven’t heard of Mamnick, now you know.
One of Thom’s favourite factories is in Derbyshire, just outside the Peak District, where some of Mamnick’s shoes are made by a woman called Pat Helliwell. During the conversation we had with Thom on a Wednesday, he tells us about cycling to the factory through the Peak District to pick up an order of shoes, handmade and 100% leather, for a customer. Pat will show him the shoes, and he will strap them to his bike and take them back to Sheffield, where he will package and post them for the customer. After Thom tells us this story, he says, “That’s a nice little story,” like he’s only just realised himself.
If the you reading this is an entrepreneur, or if the you is a label-owner, or even if the you is just a logical-type person, the you might be wondering:
1. Why the founder of Mamnick, a clothing and accessories label in Sheffield and Japan, would choose to make clothing in a factory in the Peak District when everyone else in fashion is chasing dolla all over the map, but mostly not England
2. Why the founder of Mamnick, a clothing and accessories label in Sheffield and Japan, would cycle through mountains just to pick up a single pair of shoes, handmade, and 100% leather
And the answer is: because Thom loves cycling. Thom would rather cycle all over England picking up shoes and shirts and chip forks made from steel, and carry history and stories and fabric on the back of his bicycle, than sit in an office and watch the funds come in, any day.
“I didn’t start a brand to make money. I wanted to get a decent lifestyle out of it as well,” says Thom, during the conversation we had with him on a Wednesday. Then he adds: “It’s quite nice.”
See, Thom doesn’t really mind those big ol’ companies down there in London with their equities and their shareholders and all their outsourcing to places like China so people can buy a shirt for a tenner and a boss can kick his feet up onto his desk in an office in Knightsbridge and think of his Lamborghini. No, Thom doesn’t mind.
“That’s not something I mind at all,” he says.
Because Thom can cycle through the mountainside wearing a Berghaus hat, peddling, peddling, peddling as the sun rises, and chat with Pat about the shoes she just made for him, handmade and 100% leather. And then, when it’s afternoon and the sun is propped in the sky like a giant glowing lollipop, he can cycle back to his studio and send those lovely shoes, handmade and 100% leather, to someone halfway around the world, or maybe down the road. That’s a nice little story.
Another thing we spoke to Thom about on a Wednesday was the Mamnick shop in Tokyo, on the outskirts of Shibuya. Thom opened the shop last year with the help of a friend, with the assurance of a gentleman’s handshake. The shop’s interior has dark hardwood floors and white panelled walls. There is a bike suspended in the front window and photographs — of Mam Tor, cycle paths and Pat — hang at the reception desk.
The shop sells items from the Mamnick collection, as well as vintage pieces from English and American brands. In Japan, Mamnick produces a limited selection of items that are sold in the UK as the Black Label collection. Most of his items, in Japan or otherwise, are produced in limited quantities.
“To me it’s a really special thing for a customer to buy a jacket and think: only fifteen of these will ever be made,” says Thom. “It’s just something I like to do.”
Thom would like to visit the shop in Tokyo more, but there’s so much going on in Sheffield, where he has a studio in a mill and he can pedal through the mountains to pick up a pair of shoes or chat with Sheffield’s steel workers.
“Unfortunately, one idea triggers the next idea and before you know it all your time is taken up,” he says.
Now, he’s producing a line of women’s jewellery. Last night, a Tuesday, he was struck with an idea to start making rulers out of Sheffield steel. He might make ten of them or so, and see if anyone likes them.
“It’s been just over four years now,” he says. “It’s growing nice and steadily but I do think it’s still a very underground brand. I think if you’re in London and you have investors it may happen a bit quicker.
“But that’s not something
I mind at all.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion