Second only to doing what you love, watching or indeed listening to someone talk about what they love is surely (definitely) a salutary exercise. Talking to Jake Wigham of Jake’s, a bourgeoning menswear tailor artfully snipping through the scene with a big fat pair of scissors, left us smiling big goofy Monday-night grins with his talk of made to order Jazz & Ivy League inspired shirts, which are all cut and crafted in his East London workshop. An inspiring bloke with a good head on his shoulders, and dare we say it, an even better shirt on his back. Read on for an insight into how Jake’s came to be, and where it’s headed next.
Thanks so much for talking to us Jake. We’ve been watching from afar for a little while now and really admire what you’re doing from a made-to-order tailoring perspective. To kick us off, can you give us a bit of background on yourself, and how Jake’s came to be?
J: Haha, sure. Where should I start?
At the very beginning!
J: Ok cool. I grew up in Carlisle, Cumbria. When I Ieft school, I worked as a bricklayer for about six or seven years. After a while I was pretty sick of that, so ended up going to art college. After that I did a degree in Bespoke Tailoring at the London College of Fashion, then went on to do an apprenticeship with a company in my home town that are accredited Savile Row tailors. I then went freelance for a bit, specialising in bespoke Savile Row style trousers. I’d been doing that for a couple of years, having relocated back to London, then Covid hit. I kinda had to think on my feet, so I started making face masks and some other bits. I’d always made shirts the whole way through university, with a keen interest in button down collar shirts and what not, so it was sort of a ‘now or never’ moment, where I was like, I’ve been doing this anyway, so why not do it full-time? A photographer friend of mine was a big help and my girlfriend, who is a graphic designer and an illustrator, helped me with the logo. Since then a lot of different people have helped me out, which is great. I do all of the sewing and cutting myself, then have an apprentice that comes in 1 day a week and he’ll do a bit of pressing and buttoning for me, but he’s only really just starting out. I’ve just been really lucky, I mean, people have kinda taken to it and have wanted to help me out which is really nice. It’s all Instagram as well man, with its proper community spirit.
That’s great. And it’s so nice to know that something as considered as Jake’s was born amidst the almighty energy sap that was the Covid crisis. What you’re doing feels really purposeful.
J: Thank you. I didn’t really realise until a few years ago, that I’m quite anal in everything that I do. I’ve tried to refine a lot of my interests into the brand, like the references I’m making, which I would say aren’t super obscure, but are relatively niche. It’s nice because I’ve been posting loads about Jazz and I think that’s the thing that most people like. They like the affiliation between the music and the subcultural elements.
Your first shirt model has some beautiful, classic details; a three-button collar roll, five-pleat cuff, genuine mother of pearl buttons etc. Is it fair to say that your shirts are defined by the sum of these parts? Would you say these are the magic ingredients?
J: I think so. A couple of friends and I are absolute shirt nerds. We’ve got a Whatsapp group and both of the guys are really avid vintage shirt collectors. I am in some ways, though I guess I’d say I was a vintage shirt collector, as once I started making my own I was wearing them. I’ve now been making my own shirts for about 7 years. I just thought, if you’re going to actually do it, it has to be of the highest quality; mother of pearl buttons, decent quality cloth, the construction and so on. The details on my shirts are really particular as I wanted to do a very specific style of button down shirt and luckily that resonated with a lot of people. As soon as they see it they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m after!’.
Are there any contemporary brands that you think pair particularly well with your shirts and ties?
J: I would say that is all up for interpretation. Different people I’ve sold shirts to, and different friends that have got them, have their own personal touches and ways of styling. I think my shirts mix well with most things really. Personally speaking, I like to pair them with a bit of vintage.
What’s the latest item you’ve bought for yourself?
J: I just bought an Ebbets Field Flannels Cap. I’ve got a proper lockdown barnet, so I need to cover my hair. Probably the first baseball cap I’ve bought since I was thirteen/fourteen years old, which is weird. I don’t often wear them.
Love those caps. Sadly our heads are too big for them! Haha.
J: Haha, well the one I have is maxed out at the end of the band…and my heads not the largest, so you’re all good.
What’s next on the wish list?
J: My eBay watch list is ludicrous. It always has been. I got an email from them the other day saying ‘we’re extending your watch list’, since it’s so jam-packed. Then again, I’m searching for all kinds of things – vintage clothes, shoes, records, patterns, trimmings etc. There’s quite a lot of cloth on there too, though you’ve got to be pretty careful buying that on eBay. It’s a gamble with anything on there, but it pays off sometimes. I’ve had some serious eBay bargains when it comes to vintage suits. I’m really tall (6ft4) and all arms and legs, so sometimes it’s hard to get suits with enough sleeve & leg length, but I’ve struck gold a few times.
In terms of ‘trends’, what would you say is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to modern tailoring?
J: I find it really annoying when the button placement isn’t right on tailored jackets. There’s a really set place where the centre button should be. When it’s not on your natural waistline, it totally ruins the suit.
It’s clear that you have a big passion for vintage menswear. In terms of buying vintage, are there any brands that you have a particular fondness for?
J: I used to buy a lot of old Brooks Brothers. Though I do like a lot of the lesser-known brands, which might just be a menswear store of a bygone era. In the states for example, there were only so many tailoring factories at the time – Southwick, Deansgate etc. Though there will often be a second label that says ‘made expressly for so-and-so’s menswear store in New England’, or whatever. I love that they did that back in the 50s & 60s. If you take a look at some vintage ties for example, some of them have three labels on them – the maker, the shop it was sold at, then a composition label. That’s something I keep in mind with my products. I actually have some new labels coming for another project I’ll be launching soon.
We touched on it briefly earlier, but we’ve been really appreciating your music recommendations and insight into the world of Jazz. How intrinsically linked would you say music is to your craftsmanship?
J: I have music on in my workshop all day, every day. I’m no expert on Jazz, but I’m definitely on a bit of a journey with it. Music, generally, is pretty intrinsic to my work. It’s what drives me to do it. In order for me to make say, 5 shirts in a day, I need some really hectic background noise! When I first launched the brand I was listening to Hard Bop era Jazz all the time because it almost makes you sort of anxious. It’s pumping and funky, and gets you going. But by no means do I only listen to Jazz. I listen to all sorts. I’m a big fan of 60s West Coast Garage bands, who were wearing all the same gear as the Jazz musicians, but obviously they were playing that sort of hybrid Beatles-meets-American-Soul stuff.
Yeah totally, the sort of bands that Sam Knee of Scene In Between documents?
J: Yeah Sam Knee’s the king. Proper bona fide legend. I don’t know him personally but I’ve followed him for a long time. I used to work at The Social when I was in West London for university and he used to be there quite often. He seems a really cool guy.
It’s clear that 50s and 60s Ivy-League style influences your work. Are there any other subcultures that you look towards for inspiration?
J: Growing up I was kind of involved in the skinhead/suede head/northern soul kind of scene, so those influences are definitely a part of me since I got into that stuff as a teenager through my dad. When it comes to the clothes though, I’m trying to do a sort of purist Ivy thing. There’s a hell of a lot of people who really want that really refined Ivy look and if I keep building, there may be a point somewhere in the future where I could actually offer all of those things – shirts, suiting etc. Though it’s just me, so there’s only so much I can achieve as a maker. However, I’m learning all the time so we will see what happens.
So it’s fair to say that shirts are just the start of the story?
J: Absolutely. I’m in this for the long game. It’s my only option at the moment, so I just have to keep working on it and hope that I can keep what I do fresh and exciting for people. There are times where I have to be really quiet on social media as I’m busy actually making orders. It’s pretty intense work, but I really enjoy it.
So your workshop is based in East London and you’ve been doing a bit of work on it recently. We’d love to hear more about that!
J: I’m trying to find the right balance between having it as a functioning tailors workshop but also being able to have people in there. I’ve refreshed the walls and floors, have had some old storage taken out and a new workbench built. The next phase it to have some shelving, a desk, a good mirror and a fitting room area done. It’s relatively small but I think I can make it all work within the space. I wouldn’t be taking appointments all the time though, as the work needs to be done as a priority. My size guide on the website is how the vast majority of customers have been ordering their shirts. Essentially, it advises comparing the measurements to a shirt you have and like, but bearing in mind that my shirt has a much fuller fit. I offer customisable sleeve length too, and what not. Most people seem happy with the end product.
Choice of footwear can sometimes make or break an outfit, we find. What shoes would you say you wear most often, and why?
J: At the moment, it’s my Paraboot Avignons. I’ve got two different pairs and they’re just the best. Proper, solid rubber soles and really decent leather uppers. You can kind of get away with wearing them with anything. They’re good with tailored looks, casual looks. I just got a pair of pebble grain ones in café brown.
Ahhh a fine choice, we love Paraboot. Much like footwear, a watch says a lot about a man. Can you tell us a bit about one of yours?
J: I’m a vintage Timex guy. I never spend more than £50 on a watch. And almost always wear them with a Nato strap.
To help the uninitiated get a picture of the man behind the needle & thread, what book/film would you say sums up your personality?
J: It would probably need to be a record! I’m gonna say Hank Mobley With Donald Byrd And Lee Morgan. I listened to that record so much when I was birthing the brand. It’s fucking excellent. Three of the top guys, that would go on to be. Hank Mobley is already there and Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan are just coming into the game. A great, great record.
We always ask this question, and it feels more pertinent than ever whilst we’re waiting for them to re-open once again. What’s your favourite pub in London?
J: Mmmm. That’s a bit of a hard one man…
[Sizeable pause in conversation. We wait with baited breath].
J: That’s really hard! Haha. I love them all for different reasons. I’d probably say The Camel just round the corner from me, in E2. Oh and The Cock Tavern on Mare Street. They’ve got the best stout collection going and I am a stout man. On a Sunday, it’s all I ever want. I usually work 7 days a week, but sometimes I clock off a bit earlier and have a few stouts with a roast. Perfect. I’m a man of simple pleasures.
We’ve heard rumour of other products in the pipeline. Anything you’re able to divulge at this stage?
J: Next to come are oxford shirts in pale blue, pink and green. Wardrobe staples. I’m also planning to launch a trouser model soon. Really high-waisted, classic 50s/60s style campus chinos complete with a cinch back. They’ll definitely pair well with my shirts, which being generously sized, will drape really nicely over them.
Sounds great. Can’t wait to see all of that. Lastly, but by no means least, do you want to give a shout-out to any friends doing cool stuff?
J: My mate Craig Simpson is making some really cool paintings at the moment of the Jazz greats. Definitely check him out. My girlfriend, who designed my logo, Kate Costigan, definitely check her stuff out too. Oh and my mate Fin, who runs True Grit Vintage.
For more information on Jake’s and to place your order, visit www.jakesldn.com