In the inaugural interview for our new series of conversations with inspiring people, we chatted with Becky Okell, co-founder of Paynter Jacket Co. Becky and partner Huw started Paynter in 2018, making short-run batches of jackets with a focus on quality over quantity – the antithesis of the modern fashion industry.
Paynter Jackets follow classic designs, updating centuries-old and incredibly iconic styles that have stood the test of time. Each jacket is made to order, with customers being able to follow the creation process through all the making steps – from design and testing to fabric selection and assembly. So far, each batch of jackets has sold out in a matter of minutes, with Becky and Huw cultivating an ethos of transparency within the community that has grown up around the brand.
Becky shares with us how she uses fragrance within her business, what a Paynter candle might smell like, and what it’s been like building a brand during a pandemic.
Could you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?
We’re both full-time now, but it hasn’t always been that way. When we started the design process and even throughout launching Batch No.1, we both had other full-time jobs.
Huw was working at Hiut Denim and I was working for Anyways Creative. We worked on Paynter in every spare minute we had. Oh and not only were we working full time, but we were long-distance too. Huw lived in West Wales and I lived in London. So we spent a lot of time working on trains in the earliest days of Paynter.
After selling out of Batch No.1 much faster than we ever anticipated, I felt a sudden responsibility to our customers and the experience we needed to give them. Overnight it became real, and a month or so later, I went full time.
Still long distance, we navigated everything between the two of us until we both went all-in on the 1st of Jan 2020 and Huw moved in with me in London too. It’s been an amazing year so far, even with the Pandemic to teach us a lesson or two…
Prior to starting Paynter, our experience was…
Becky – studied at Central St Martins while working at the British Fashion Council. Graduated into a role at Nike in their London-based marketing team. After 2 years wanted to work for a smaller company to understand how business really worked, and to be more closely connected to customers, joined Caravan Coffee Roasters & Restaurants as Head of Marketing. Went on to work in Marketing for Anyways Creative, the agency within the It’s Nice That group while starting Paynter as a side project.
Huw – spent 4 years working at Hiut Denim Co. in West Wales, working on everything from product to marketing and photography.
You met each other and pretty quickly decided to start the project that developed into Paynter - what drew you to each other and creating jackets?
While Huw was working for Hiut Denim who make jeans in West Wales, he’d collect the scraps of beautiful denims from underneath the cutting table and make things with them.
One of those things was jackets. He bought jackets from all over the world to take them apart and learn how they were constructed so he could learn to make his own. He got quite good but then life got busy and put it all to one side.
That was before we met. On our first date (a four day long date in North Wales) he wore an incredible vintage blue chore jacket and I asked all about it – it was the only one he hadn’t taken apart, because it fit so much better than the others and it was made so well.
That’s when he told me all about what he’d been making, and we started thinking about trying to make our own. The 9 months that followed taught us everything about making our own, meanwhile getting to know each other and trying to impress each other with the best possible ideas we could come up with!
So, those many hours of conversations turned into Paynter – our side project has now grown into our full-time thing.
Can you tell us a bit about the ethos behind Paynter and why you’ve decided to only create a limited number of each jacket you make?
We make limited-edition jackets, in batches, four times a year.
For us, Paynter is an experiment into an alternative way of running a clothing business, trying to change the perception of what a sustainable company looks like and ultimately getting people excited to buy a more ‘sustainable’ product.
To limit the amount of waste we produce, every jacket we release is made to order, and there’s a wait of 8-10 weeks once the order is placed. That’s a lifetime in today’s Amazon Prime world, so it’s pretty incredible to see how excited people get over slow, honest, well-made clothing.
Since then, we’ve increased the quantities slightly with every release, but the sell-out times are still quick. In our first year of business, our store was open for 17 minutes, and under an hour (56 minutes) in year two. Whilst the jackets are made to order, we educate our customers on the process, with week by week updates.
We physically couldn’t be closer to our clothes. But right now we’re so disconnected with our wardrobe. We have no idea where the majority of our clothes come from, where they were made, by whom, with what materials, in what conditions, how they were designed, how to look after them, and even what to do with them once their time is up.
What we’re trying to do is close that gap. One jacket at a time.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of building the brand and business?
Definitely when Covid struck! We were about to launch a jacket and then our Italian fabric mill stopped production, shortly followed by our factory and buttonmakers.
Everything ground to a quick halt and we couldn’t make anything. We’d both just gone full time and Huw had moved to London after a year and a half of long-distance…!
We just knuckled down, focused on getting to know our customers and community, and when our factory reopened we brought out Batch No.3.5 – a jacket that wasn’t ever supposed to happen but was brought onto our calendar to support our factory and raise money for the Red Cross.
We’re beyond grateful for the support we had. The first jacket we released during lockdown was a remake of our first, in Bill’s Blue – a shade not too far from the NHS blue Pantone, which gave us the idea to collaborate with Carl Godfrey on our NH-YES jacket which raised over £10k for the Red Cross Coronavirus Appeal and sold out in 86 seconds.
What’s next for Paynter?
It’s still really early days for us as a brand, it’s our second year in business and our primary focus is always making sure we stay in business!
We’ve just moved Paynter out of our house and into a studio for the first time which is incredibly exciting and means we can do a lot more.
We’re looking forward to bringing out our next Batch of tees in the coming weeks, plus some very special micro Batches of more bold designs and some collaborations too!
If you were going to make a Paynter Jacket scented candle, what would it smell like?
Ok so nobody would want this candle, but I think it would have to be the scent of Bill Cunningham after a long day of cycling around New York fashion week snapping street style photography.
That already sounds grim but we owe a lot to Bill, he inspired our first jacket and the colourway aptly named Bill’s Blue in his memory.
If you’ve not seen the documentary about him, it’s a brilliant watch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkQklk_cfVs.
What are your rituals for getting the best out of your day?
I always try to start the day with exercise, just a 20 minute YouTube workout or a run with my friend Katie along the canal. It’s such a positive way to begin the day and get some fresh air!
I’m not a stickler for an evening ritual, we just let the evening happen and it often depends on how the day has gone. If we’ve had a relatively straightforward day then sitting in the park with a book would be a dream scenario. Otherwise, the evening will revolve around cooking and a game of Rummikub or a documentary.
How do you use fragrance within your day?
I use fragrance every day – 90% of the time I use the same scent ( Pegwell Bay by Haeckles ) but I’ve got a couple of others I’ll keep for different occasions because I find the new-ness of a scent can really change my mood.
We actually use fragrance at Paynter too – when packing up jackets to send to their new home it’s so much more exciting if the jacket smells fantastic when a customer takes it out of it’s bag, a little spritz goes a long way to a lasting memory.
Which smells remind you of…
Home: Washing powder – the catering-sized Persil non-bio powder!
Holiday: The combined scent of a plate of roast chicken sandwiches with salt & vinegar pringles… it reminds me of every holiday in North Wales growing up!
Childhood: My mum’s Dior pure poison perfume!
Friendship: The scent of a BBQ
Spring/Summer: There’s a particular type of wood that smells incredible on a firepit… yum.
Autumn/Winter: A familiar, nostalgic musty pub.
Candles, Incense or Diffusers - and why?
ARGH so hard to decide. I’m sitting in our Hackney studio now and can see all three.
We have a tiny diffuser by the door that gives a fresh scent whenever anybody arrives and is the undertone to our studio.
Then incense is for when someone’s coming and we need it to smell fantastic within 20 minutes.
Then candles are lit when I need to concentrate, I find the slow dance of the flame very relaxing to write to. If I absolutely had to choose one, it would be the candle.
(sorry, that wasn’t a great quickfire answer was it!)
Three things you do to relax…
Light a candle with a book
Lie in the park in the sun
Quilting or patchworking
How often do you light scented candles and do you have any favourites?
I’d say about three times a week and more during the winter.
We love the ‘Forest Fire’ scent by Good Candles – it’s just like that burning woody smell that sticks in your hair after an amazing weekend camping.
It’s a heavy scent and lingers for days, which we love as it fills a room with a certain energy. We live in a flat in London without a garden to light a fire, or an inside fireplace, so lighting that candle in the winter feels like having a fireplace of our own!
Then there’s Earl of East’s Onsen which is very light in comparison, it’s fresh and minty and I love to light it for a few hours in the morning once the flat is clean.
Our friend and excellent chef Anja Dunk recommended lighting a candle in the morning and that’s when I started lighting one while trying to concentrate on chunky pieces of work. Candles are so often reserved for the evening but I find the morning glow incredibly relaxing.
Next on my list to try is P.F Candle Co’s Tobacco & Teakwood scent and Hinoki Fantôme by Boy Smells – I went to India about 6 years ago and completely fell in love with the place, one of the scents that always takes me back is Jasmine, so I think I’d love that one or the P.F Moonrise scent with Indian Jasmine.
How do you reuse your candle jars?
After washing them out I’ll use them for storage of toiletries or take them to our local re-use store on Shacklewell lane (https://finandearth.com/) to fill them up with whatever we need for the bathroom or kitchen.
Read: Quiet by Susan Cane
Watch: This Eames Documentary –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRElKUXH4VU
Listen: I actually put this list together of my favorite podcasts, hopefully, you’ll find something in there! https://paynterjacket.com/recommended-podcasts
Do: Take advantage of the wonderful free exhibitions in London at the moment, like the Tom Sachs exhibition, Bob Dylan’s paintings, or James Barnor at the Serpentine
Eat: at Joelene in Stoke Newington Green
Learn: I’m learning to patchwork – I took this class and have been addicted ever since! https://workingcloth.com/work-shops
If you like the look of Paynter and want to find out what they’re making next, it’s best to sign up for their newsletter either on their website or here – https://linktr.ee/paynterjacket
Check Out These Scents...
We’ve selected a few candles that we think Becky would enjoy based on the answers given in this interview.
Based on Becky’s love of smoky scents, we think this fragrance by Tatine would be right up her street. It features the aroma of an autumnal fire burning as smoke gently drifts across the room – a sweet, woody perfume of cedarwood, fir balsam, and fragrant forest resins with kindling and natural clove oils.
Combining a blend of smokey oakwood and musky, sweet tobacco, this candle by small British candle brand Hobo & Co. is one of our favourite fragrance for creating a cosy home. We think it would be the perfect accompaniment to any evening spent watching documentaries and playing Rummikub.
Becky mentioned that she fell in love with the fragrance of Jasmine while travelling in India so it would be hard not to mention Cire Trudon’s Maduraï Candle. The scent is an unabashed love letter to the heady, beguiling scent of fresh jasmine.
We have a number of candles inspired by New York, and while non of them quite match the notes Becky mentioned in her fantasy Paynter candle, we think this one by 42Pressed would be a good place to start. It features notes of santal, night jasmine, hemlock and vermouth.