Interview Glenn Kitson
Photography Sylvain Homo (store)
Photography Glenn Kitson (portrait)

For the people

Sometime in the early years of this millennium, Nigel Lawson and Steve Sanderson went for a curry somewhere in the north of England. When the meal was over they had decided to open a menswear store in Manchester and call it Oi Polloi. Sometime in 2014, Nigel and Steve had another chat and concluded that they wanted to take their menswear-store concept and export it down south, because, as Nigel once put it, “we’ve got nothing else to do”. So in May 2015 Oi Polloi opened in Soho, in the heart of the capital. We caught up with Steve who gave us the lowdown on his bipolar store empire.

(This piece was featured in our AW16 magazine - January 2016)
What is the purpose of Oi Polloi and what makes it different from any other stores?

The purpose of Oi Polloi is to keep men’s clothing-lifestyle-fashion-whatever-label-you-want-to-give-it on its toes. What make us different is the way we do things, how we see things, how it all fits into our own world.

What was the driving force for its creation in 2002? What was the gap in the market?

There wasn’t a shop like Oi Polloi at the time – that was the gap. Nigel and I had talked about putting something together, something that would fill the void we felt had been left to fill. There was no big plan, we just got on with it and opened a shop.

Why did you feel the need to open a new space in London as well as the original Manchester store? Is it a different clientele?

Again, this was something that had been niggling us for a while, and then an opportunity presented itself, the stars aligned and we opened our second shop in the middle of Soho. The clientele is maybe a little older – they appreciate the finer things Oi Polloi has to offer. But basically, it’s the same but different. There are pockets of people all over the world sharing the same information on a fuckfest called the Internet. 

Could you tell us more about the new store in London? How did you select the neighborhood?

We come to London quite a lot on buying trips. We’ve always liked Soho; it feels like proper London to us. Rightly or wrongly, we don’t care. We like the area and we always have. Design-wise the brief was to create an interesting space, like a storeroom that’s open to be shopped. We found some interesting materials – I’m a big fan of cork, for example. I didn’t want anything too fussy or fancy. 

Is there a buying team at Oi Polloi or do you handle it all by yourself?

We have a very good buying team; it’s not a two-man job anymore. We’ve recently brought in people with more industry experience – and it’s made a big difference to the way we operate. 

Which part of your job do you prefer?

Well, the product is key, and finding new labels or brands that aren’t already in our market sector is what Oi Polloi’s about. Creating stories and marketing brands or products – I love that bit of what I do.

What are your criteria for selecting a brand?

It needs to be good; it needs to have a good backstory; it needs to be real. 

Please tell us more about your ’zine, Pica~Post.

It’s something we’ve always been into. I love fanzines and we always wanted our own, a physical thing. It was a reaction against all the digital throw-away content floating around the web. It keeps things interesting for us and our customers. We don’t want to talk about clothes all the time.

What’s coming up next? How about opening another store somewhere?

We’ve got a few projects on the go. Opening more stores? You never know, maybe not right now. 

How would you define your personal style?

Postmodern. 

What trends do you forecast for the upcoming seasons?

Still SOCKS AND SANDALS. Comfy is king! 

Menswear seems to have become more creative than womenswear nowadays. Discuss.

Is it? Something to do with them looking down to us for inspiration as opposed to us looking up to them? Them being the big fashion houses. They’re always creative; they’re always inspiring in some way. I wouldn’t wear most of it, but neither do most other people. We’re not weird, you take from it what you take. I get loads of ideas from them, so big thanks for that! Are socks and sandals now a thing in womenswear? Who knows? Who cares? Does it matter? 

How do you see the future of menswear?

Oi Polloi will rule the world by 2020. Everybody will be wearing socks and sandals, and we’ll be using the Internet to teleport around the world, making it super-easy to go to all the trade shows. 

Talking of which, what do you expect from a trade show?

For the trend side of our business, you see what’s happening across our sector and you can pick up some interesting stuff. A well-curated show simplifies some of the process, but it also puts the same products in front of all of our competitors. MAN is very good at curating. There’s a good taste level and a chilled atmosphere. It’s relaxed – and we like it. 

What does a brand need to do to earn your respect?

They need to know who they are and what their strengths are. We don’t want copycat labels; we like originality and knowing that a brand is committed to what it’s about. 

How has the fashion market changed since you started working?

Pre Oi Polloi was great – you had to dig around and go traveling to find interesting things. Now everything is available to everyone everywhere in the world. If we hadn’t set up our first website 10 years ago, this could be a different story. We’ve only been open since 2002 and the world of men’s clothing is so different. You have to work hard at keeping yourself relevant and look at how you can make it work for you as a business. It’s not easy, but I love every day of it. 

Any tips for upcoming brands looking to survive in the fashion business?

Make sure you have a good idea and that you believe in what you do, then find people with skills so you don’t have fill the gaps.

oipolloi.com

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