An article by Calum Gordon
The task of explaining what Mamnick is exactly is not an easy one. For all intents and purposes, it is a clothing brand, sort of. But more accurately, it is a vehicle for Thom Barnett to make whatever he feels like making on any given day – and that could be a Japanese-made shirt, a cycling jersey that pays homage to the Tour de France, or a stainless steel chippie fork. All of these have been products released by Mamnick since its launch in 2012. Unconventional? Perhaps, but never dull.
“I studied fine art and played in a band, but none of it was really generating much of income, so I thought: ‘right I’ll do something creative that’s going to keep me interested as well as make ends meet,’” explains Barnett on what led him to start his Sheffield-based brand. It started out with a simple mantra: “One thing at a time, as beautiful as possible.” It is something which very much remains at Mamnick’s core today, as seasonal collections are eschewed for a steady release of product throughout the year.
Sat in his Sheffield studio, there is a frankness to Barnett that is hard not to find refreshing –and it translates into Mamnick.
For all its refined, brushed Japanese cotton or vegetable tanned leather, the label carries a distinctly northern, no-bullshit sensibility – what you see is generally what you get. “I didn’t just want to pull any old brand out me arse,” he chimes. “I wanted to do something that was close to what I was interested in. I suppose it is maybe an overused phrase – growing things organically – but it literally has grown from designing things like a money clip, a tie slide and a shirt.”
Fiercely proud of his hometown of Sheffield, Barnett’s output has regularly utilised stainless steal (Sheffield’s main export), while working with select British and Japanese manufacturers to produce his clothing. Throw in his love of cycling and former life as a vintage clothes dealer, and it makes for a heady aesthetic mix. “At the minute, I’m designing a 3 piece woman’s jewellery collection, which is probably going to throw a lot of people off considering I’ve been doing menswear the past few years,” he admits. “But a lot of it is just trusting my own instinct. That collection came about through a conversation with a close friend. She’s been designing jewellery and I said maybe we should do something.”
In the past year, he has worked with Clark Originals and ultra-stylish Rapha on bespoke steel pieces, bringing together his love of British manufacturing and cycling. Barnett’s collaborative efforts typically stem shared ideals and a simple conversation. The same can be said for the brand’s collaborative watch with Glasgow-based Instrmnt later this week.
“I saw the synergy between us being new start-ups and the sleekness to what they do,” he says. “I did a talk regarding Mamnick in Sheffield – something to do with the arts council. After, people stuck around and we went to the pub for a few drinks with these students who were product designers. They were talking to me about Kickstarter and someone mentioned Instrmnt. I made a note of it in my phone and about a week later noticed the note and went on their website. I thought it was great, so I reached out to them. It all went really smoothly.”
The watch itself riffs on a classic Instrmnt style and a navigation theme, owing to Barnett’s love of cycling and the outdoors. A brass second hand gives a subtle compass reference, while a pointed minute hand is a nod to the Peak District mountains from which the Mamnick logo is derived. In terms of collaborations, it is wonderfully subtle and fittingly minimal. It is not your typical collaboration, but neither is your typical British brand.
Part of the appeal of Mamnick has always been that it feels unencumbered by the whims of fashion or the suffocating pressures of a place like London – Barnett very much moves at his own pace. But even more impressive is how he has managed to turn this passion project into a successful business in such a short space of time, launching a flagship store in Tokyo last year, as well has producing a premium Black Label collection in Japan.
“That started right at the beginning when I was dealing in vintage,” he explains. “I had some private clients who were coming round to my house. I know it sounds a bit daft, I was literally just living in a flat with my girlfriend but people knew I could get my hands on interesting gear. I met these two Japanese guys and I was selling bits of UK vintage to them. So when I started Mamnick I said to them, ‘I’ve got this brand, all manufactured in the UK, do you think there’s an audience for it in Japan?’”
He would ship them half of the shirts he first produced to their shop in Shibuya, with them selling out in a matter of weeks. “After that, they asked me to do some more. So we rolled it out like that – every time I did a production, I’d send some out there,” he says.
“In Shibuya there’s loads of vintage, but it got to the point they were selling more of the new Mamnick stuff,” he explains. “So they then approached me and said why don’t we do a Mamnick store out here?”
Again, it was not a conventional first step for a fledgling brand, to set up a retail outlet on the other side of the globe, but it the world of Mamnick, you begin to expect the unexpected. And it seems to be working.
“It’s just instincts really, and dialogue,” he says modestly. This afternoon, Barnett is going to visit a manufacturer to enquire about producing a Mamnick knife, he tells me. Tomorrow, he’ll probably wake up with a new idea and begin work on that. It could be anything, but it will be distinctly Mamnick.