Own things you want to use forever. That’s a line we live by here at Heddels, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why we want to own and use the things we do.
Of course there’s the practical side—going around without pants, shirts and shoes gets you all the wrong kinds of attention, so it’s a good idea to gear up appropriately. But then there’s the idea of exclusivity—owning and using things that none of your friends own and use—that can get you all the right kinds of attention, and let’s face it, you likely wouldn’t be were you not a bit of a peacock.
Hunting down those rare pieces is certainly part of the fun, but I say having somebody else hunt them down for you and stock them in a variety of colors and sizes is the smarter way to go. That’s where patronizing the right store, or in this case stockist, comes in.
So if they aren’t already, you should make sure Son of a Stag and sister store Soldier Blue are on your radar. They’re the UK’s premiere destinations for some of the most enviably exclusive pieces you can find anywhere in the world, and all you need is an internet connection to deck yourself out like nobody’s business.
Head Honcho Rudy Budhdeo gave me the lowdown on what his approach is all about, and sent me a couple pieces you likely won’t see anyplace else (except on me).
Heddels (John Bobey): What was the inspiration behind launching Son of a Stag and Soldier Blue?
Son of a Stag (Rudy Budhdeo): They both have their own story, but if I am honest it all stems from my fascination with denim from a very early age (around 12-13 years old), often experimenting with it in my spare time causing a mess in the family bathroom, much to my mother’s despair. The inspiration for launching Son of a Stag in 1993 came from my interest with denim and heritage clothing.
I have always been inspired by the way clothes were originally manufactured and wanted to bring the world’s finest brands from Japan, America and Europe to London. I don’t agree with mass production and throwaway fashion—the world is important and becoming more and more precious everyday—which leads me to sustainability. At SOAS we focus on working with brands where quality is at the forefront of the production process (this includes materials and labour source).
Soldier Blue London launched in 2017 and came from my rather large obsession with old vintage sewing machines. The first machine I bought was the Union 43200G, a super rare and incredible machine that was originally used to chain stitch Levis. We have it in-store to offer a free hemming service to any jeans purchased at SOAS.
At Soldier Blue we work with over 100 vintage machines dating from the 1800s to 1960s each with their own individual charm and purpose. By offering a leading denim restoration and customisation atelier we provide people with the choice of repair instead of replacement.
H: Thanks to this new-fangled Internet (to say nothing of the pandemic), it’s getting increasingly difficult for brick and mortar stores to remain viable. What strategies are you employing to stay ahead of the curve?
SOAS: Unlike other online retailers, we try to keep our online shopping experience as close to the in-store experience as possible. We offer the same service and access to brand knowledge, easily accessible from our dedicated team through emails, live web chat and social media channels.
At Son of a Stag we embrace digital routes—as more and more of our customers become friends, we like to keep things personal by conversing over text and phone calls… long story short, we’re here to meet your needs and ensure your shopping experience with us online is as good, if not better, than it is in person. If you’re new to selvedge denim or heritage attire, let us guide you through our archives to find the right brands for you.
H: What I found so exciting about Son of a Stag is that not only do you carry items that are exclusive to you in the UK, but exclusive worldwide…Full Count, Warehouse & Co., Oni to name but a few brands. How do you manage that, and just how many things can we only get through you?
SOAS: We work with the following brands exclusively: Freewheelers & Co—exclusive in Europe, Toys McCoy—exclusive in Europe, Spellbound—exclusive in Europe, ONI Denim—exclusive in the UK (with arguably the biggest choice internationally), Soldier Blue—exclusive Worldwide, Smith Sato Suzuki – exclusive worldwide, Denime—exclusive in Europe, Eternal—exclusive in Europe, and Heller’s Cafe—exclusive in the UK. We give our customers exclusive access to thousands of products across the denim and heritage wear spectrum.
It’s something that has taken many years, but by building up relationships with the brands I work with we are able to work not only with brands exclusively but also products that have been specially adapted for SOAS, making them distinctive and unique.
H: Beyond exclusivity, what is it about an item that makes it a natural fit for Stag?
SOAS: Firstly, it comes from the brand level. We work very closely with all the brands we stock, becoming very close friends…we’re more like a family than a business, all standing by the same principles ensuring products are sourced and manufactured ethically, which is something I value most. For an item to be a natural fit, it comes first and foremost from the heart—I buy visually from the heart and then thereafter from the mind.
When I go to Japan, America or Europe to buy new stock, sales reps will always tell you what you should and shouldn’t buy… I never listen to what I “should” buy because everyone else would have heard the same talk and therefore bought the same stock. I purchase irrespective of the price but always consider good value for money, ensuring quality is at the forefront of my decision making, whilst certifying it is the right fit for my customers.
H: I was lucky enough to snag an ONI Type III Secret Denim Jacket. Tell me more about it, and can you reveal the “secret” behind the denim?
SOAS: We recently launched a new editorial side to our website—which will be growing monthly—with insights to brands, products and interviews with brand owners to provide a wider insight into what makes them stand out. In August we released an interview with Mr. Osihi San (the owner of ONI), a good friend of mine and the business.
We of course asked him what the secret was behind his Secret Denim but he will never tell! I can tell you that for me what makes it so special is its versatility. Because the fabric is made on a low tension loom it is breathable and perfect to wear in the summer, however because it also carries a substance of weight behind it you can also wear in the winter, making it the ultimate jean for all seasons. It’s super comfortable, even the colour of each pair will be different based on the owner’s wear and habits, creating something truly unique in the world of denim. Many designers have come to the store to copy the fabric but I haven’t seen anyone come anywhere near it.
H: With your sister store Soldier Blue, you’ve established a, “denim restoration and customization atelier.” What exactly can I get done at Soldier Blue?
SOAS: Soldier Blue offers the highest premium service in alteration, restoration, repairs and customizations, uniquely using an amazing collection of original vintage sewing machines. We can do almost anything and everything. Alterations and repairs include: crotch repairs, tapering, pocket repairs, waist adjustments, fastenings and button holes. For customization, the sky’s the limit! Our very talented tailoring team are available to discuss ideas and options with you, just email us at [email protected].
H: You’re also offering some on-off items from the Soldier Blue workshop like the boro-ish bucket hat I’m in love with—will there be more items like that to follow?
SOAS: Of course! We currently have a vast range of bucket and booner hats alongside bespoke utility vests and masks, which combine quality vintage materials with a modern take on traditional design. Each item has been expertly sewn on a collection of vintage sewing machines dating as far back as the 1890s. Going forward this range will be expanded—our head tailor, David (who was an ambassador for Levi’s tailoring for many years, mentored by the brilliant Elizabeth Radcliffe—Levi’s master tailor) is always working on new products for the SB line and we will be launching a new range of bespoke garments in the near future, so stay tuned!
We are currently working on combining vintage textiles with European workwear, using fabrics we have sourced from all around the world. For example, we have a workwear jacket with a pictorial back patch cut from vintage kimono fabric.
H: I know for some of our readers, the idea of ordering from another country can be daunting…currency conversion, shipping, return concerns. What would you say to make them feel more at ease and take a shot at becoming customers?
SOAS: We have a fantastic shipping service, using UPS for international parcels, which have been known to arrive in New York the next working day (not guaranteed). Our return policy is the same for all our worldwide customers, offering a 14 day return policy. We are always available on live chat, email and phone for any concerns and constantly do our utmost to provide the best possible service and answer any queries pre-sale to put you at ease when making a purchase. 63% of our loyal customers are from outside of the UK and with a very low returns rate—we know that when you shop at Son of a Stag you will not be disappointed.
H: How much of your business is online/mail order as opposed to folks stopping by in person?
SOSAS: We used to see a split of around 70/30 for in-store versus online shoppers. However, since COVID the company split is around 50/50, which obviously fluctuates depending on lockdown. The Brick Lane store has always had a loyal following with most of our customers stopping by after work or whilst out and about on a weekend.
But due to the current climate we are seeing a huge increase online, and because we can offer the same level of service as we do in-store, it hasn’t affected how our customers shop—they can get the latest collections delivered to their door the very next day.
H: Can you share what other exclusives may be coming from SOAS and SB?
SOAS: We have a huge range of limited edition and archive stock, including Lee Archives (made in Japan), holding one of the biggest collections in the world internationally, and also Tellason Cone Mills White Oak denim which went out of production in 2017. Everything produced by Soldier Blue is bespoke and exclusive to Son of a Stag Worldwide. We are also expecting new merchandise from the upcoming brand Smith Sato Suzuki in 2021, a brand that is exclusive to us worldwide.
H: When they visit your site, what’s the one thing you hope our readers take away from their experience?
SOAS: I hope they will take away the experience of exclusive access to premium denim brands, heritage brands and leather accessories from Japan, America and Europe. We pride ourselves in providing high quality garments and footwear, valuing honesty, product knowledge and outstanding customer service as our key traits!
Even from my lofty perch as industry “insider,” I was truly amazed and delighted to see so much stuff available at SOAS that I hadn’t seen anywhere else (to say nothing of the range of sizes—don’t you hate finally finding the jean you’ve been looking for only to discover it’s only available in two waist sizes that would only fit a Japanese toddler?).
We’ve written about navigating Japanese websites but you’ll need no such primer to deal with SOAS or SB—they were incredibly responsive online even before they knew I was a Heddels big shot. There is zero learning curve with this UK goldmine—just browse and buy.
As I said, a Stag exclusive ONI Secret Denim Type III jacket is now mine all mine, and it’s perfect. Here’s what the SOAS site has to say about it…
Much like their jeans, ONI’s range of denim jackets is something to behold. This 02527ZR model is based on the most famous jacket shape of them all, the glorious Type III. Constructed from their mysterious ‘secret denim’, this jacket has a few tricks up its sleeve. The 20 oz. slubby denim is woven at a low tension and matched with a beige dyed weft which peppers the surface of the fabric, creating a wild heritage feel.
What really drew me to this piece (besides the fact that you can’t get it domestically) was the slightly longer length—for a guy my size (6’3), that makes a huge fit difference. (I went for the biggest size, a 46.) As Rudy mentioned, the denim weight is in that four-season sweet spot, and the construction details are classy and flawless…you know, Japanese through and through. The price tag—blimey!—comes to just over $550, but damn if it don’t feel worth it.
Soldier Blue’s offerings are constantly changing, depending on what those mad alchemists feel like concocting and the materials they happen to have on hand.
As I like to shade my alabaster skin from the aging effects of the sun, I was fortunate to find a bucket/boonie hat (with a 3″ brim) available in a drool-worthy denim patchwork construction. There’s no size (as it’s a one-off), but to fit me makes it a S/M. With a piece like this, half the fun is in thinking about where all the pieces came from…I absolutely love it.
SB has made all kinds of things, including the utility vests above, so it’s a good idea to check in often, and be sure to drop them a line to make a suggestion on something you may want. If they can make it (and you got the scratch—this stuff ain’t cheap) I bet they will. The Internet is making the world a pretty small place (at least as far as retail is concerned), and that makes getting what you want easier than ever.
But to paraphrase Joe Jackson, you can’t get what you want until you know what you want and who has it. So while I encourage you to patronize all the usual suspects when it comes to buying things you want to own and use forever, I say don’t hesitate to look overseas to invaluable resources like Son of a Stag and Soldier Blue. After all, you’re one of a kind—why should your wardrobe be any different?