Updated: Feb 18
Words by John Marks (American Traditional)
I’ve been a fan of Jake’s work for a while, from his shirts and ties to his love of Jazz. His pieces are cut and crafted solely by him, each arriving just as unique as its owner. Somehow, he fuses a voluptuous collar roll with the overblown tones of Pharaoh Sanders. Wizardry. Wearing one of his shirts is like slipping into a mid-century realm of pure Ivy excellence. But what’s more impressive about Jake Wigham, which I came to discover during a recent Zoom chat, is that he’s a through-and-through maverick. Jake seems to have always gone his own way, pushing forward to shape his own world. From struggling through primary school as a child, to bricklaying, then flourishing at the London College of Fashion, where he began to hone his powers in Bespoke Tailoring, Jake found the craft with which he’d shape the sartorial world. Our conversation touches everything from education, style, and starting his MTO business during the height of the pandemic. Enjoy!
On Background & Upbringing I grew up in Carlisle, from a pretty normal sort of working-class family. I didn't really do too well at school. So at 16, my dad said, come work with me. He works in a cloth mill, so I was basically vacuuming and oiling the looms, and stuff like that, and I was working there for about three months. Then I ended up doing a full bricklaying apprenticeship and worked as a brickie for about five or six years. That's hard, respectable work. Did you enjoy it? Yeah, man. To be honest, I did enjoy it. Occasionally, I'll do the odd job for family and friends and stuff like that. But ultimately, it wasn't really for me. So I did a Foundations of Art and Design course, which is a year-long course where you get to try out all different types of design and crafts. At this time, I was 21-22 years old, and I was thinking it's a ‘now or never’ type of thing. I had some really good tutors. One of my tutors was the first person to introduce me to jazz and quite a lot of art. They were the first people to plant the seed of doing tailoring in my head. And they sort of said to me, why don't you apply for the London College of Fashion? I was thinking that I would never get in, to be honest. But I did, which I was pretty chuffed about! What was your experience like getting in? Basically, I spent the second part of the foundations course creating a portfolio for tailoring. A lot of getting in is about your personal statement as well, trying to get your ambitions and personality across. So I basically wrote an aggressive beat-poem and I'm so glad I don't have a copy of it because I imagine it would be a bit cringe. It would probably make my skin crawl! That’s hilarious! But that’s what’s special about those early personal statements. They have to be a little cringe-worthy and attention-grabbing. That’s the thing, and they work! When I came in for the interview, I turned up in a vintage three-piece tweed suit that I picked up, and they were like, “We've been waiting to meet you.” My statement made enough of an impact for them to have been waiting to see me. And I was so nervous about the lead-up going in there, but when I left, I just knew I was spot on. Obviously, they hold their cards quite close to their chest as it’s kind of a big deal. But I just knew. That’s great. That’s one of those times in life when you really nail something in the moment, and you know the outcome.
Now, I've noticed that you talked about not doing well in school early on, then there seems to be a drastic shift that occurred later. You mentioned not being a good student, but then you connect with teachers who totally change the trajectory. What do you think about that? When I was at school it felt a bit like if you don't show promise in academics, they just give up on you a bit. They kind of put you in a box. I was terrible in almost every subject. I just was not an academically inclined person. I'm not confident in anything like that. I was relatively good at art, and I was a bit of a joker. So I think that they should pick up on your strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. There are different kinds of intelligence, especially in kids. It was also a different time, 20 years ago or so. I hope things are better now. In your tailoring program, what was the workload like and what were you learning at that time? In the beginning, there wasn’t much practical hands-on tailoring as I would have liked. Let’s be honest, there's quite a lot of box-ticking like writing essays, cultural/historical studies (which I actually really enjoyed), and learning how to use the Adobe Suite. But, they had this area called Open Access where you do all of your practical work during off-hours, a lot of self-teaching. Being in that type of environment was amazing because everyone was together, creating all of the time. By the time you get into the second or third year, everyone is putting in the time and really showing promise. I made a lot of friends that I’m still in contact with, a few of whom have gone into the industry to be tailors. I've got a friend in Canada who's doing jeans that I would quite like to work with eventually. What was the first thing you found that you liked to make? Shirts, man! It made sense for my company to be a shirt-based company because the whole way through my Uni course, I was making shirts and I was basing projects around shirts. When I graduated, I didn't really have a lot of money. I really tried to find paid apprenticeships in London, but I just couldn't get one. So I ended up having to take a position in my hometown with Savile Row tailors ‘Steed Bespoke’, who are well respected. I was offered a trouser-making apprenticeship with them. It didn’t pay very much, but it paid, which was all that mattered at the time.
How was your time there? Was it a good experience? I absolutely loved it. What I really enjoyed doing was learning. I learned quite a lot at Uni, so I got to build on that. Then the apprenticeship was pretty short, so I was quickly working, which was nice. I was actually working as a trouser maker up until about six months ago before I started my company. Why did you decide to create your own company? The main reason I started my company is because the work just dwindled off, due to the pandemic. The industry is not doing well at the moment. I think with the premium you’re paying for a Savile Row suit, five grand or so, people want the full experience. They don't want to do a zoom fitting - they want to meet the cutter. They want to share a whiskey with them or a cigar and whatever else they do. You know, they want all of that. That’s a huge part of the experience. And when is that going to happen again? Nobody knows. So when the pandemic hit, it was a now or never type of moment. I thought, if I'm ever going to give it a go, now's the time. It kind of forced me into it, which is good. I probably needed the kick-up-the-arse, you know? That's the biggest ‘kick-up-the-arse’ that could happen for sure. So in the beginning, was it just you? It's still just me, man! I have my apprentice, who comes in one day a week. He helps with pressing, buttoning, and packing the orders. He really helps take a lot off the plate. He's such a good kid, 19 years old, and really keen to learn. He really wants to get into this industry and he totally understands where I am in my business, so he wants to help me grow. I love him, to be honest. These opportunities are so scarce, and I think he knows that. That’s great to have someone who believes in what you’re doing and is a mutually beneficial relationship. So, who are those super stylish old guys on your page? The most recent photo one is a guy named Ian Hingle, who’s really really cool. He's a bit famous around London. A lot of people know him. Pre-COVID times, you’d often see him at soul and reggae music events and all that kinds of things. I’d see him around, and he was always immaculately dressed. He's a proper old-school London working-class guy. He was into Ivy League style back in the 60s when it first came into London.
What do you wear on a typical day? And how do you get dressed in the morning? I don’t plan my clothes too much in the morning. I usually wear a button-down shirt and a pair of high-rise trousers or chinos. And I do buy quite a lot. I used to buy quite a lot of vintage. So I always kind of mix stuff I’ve made with pieces that I've bought. I tend to gravitate to pieces of knitwear, some 70s Shetland sweaters. Sometimes I’ll wear a suit. I have a few nice 60s suits. I'm quite tall, so it can be hard to find my size. There's quite a bit of trial and error, especially when you're buying vintage online. The vintage shops in London are great. The really really good ones are obviously more expensive. But then there are the places you can go to buy vintage by the kilo. There, you might find something really good for really cheap, like diamonds in the rough. When you go to those types of places, you have to go through rails and rails and rails, and then you might find one great piece! For shoes, I like loafers, derbys, and boots for winter. I just bought a really nice pair of loafers from a London-based company called Horatio. I finally bit the bullet and I'm really glad because the guys who run the company live around the corner from me. I bumped into one of them the other day, and I was like, I just bought a pair of your shoes! We got to chatting and he knew about my company, now I think we're planning to do a shoot together at some point, which would be sick. Do you have your closet super organized, or are you a grab-and-go guy? Honestly, if people only saw how badly I treat my clothes. I never iron any of my shirts, and rarely press my trousers. I do polish my shoes a lot and treat them right. But overall, my closet is not organized at all. I think people can be too precious with their wardrobe. I take care of some pieces more than others, like knitwear and suits. But with cotton trousers and oxford shirts, they're probably better if you mistreat them a bit, they get more worn in and good looking. If you're wearing good things, they can stand the wear and the daily toll that you put on them. Thoughts on today’s standards of dress? It's weird. These days, wearing an oxford shirt and cotton chinos, and loafers, people think that's dressed up. I get it all the time, people react like I’m overdressed. If dress standards were like they used to be, people wouldn't bat an eye when you do dress up, or when you do wear those pieces. Does that ever stop you from dressing up? Sometimes. I very rarely wear a tie, but I would like to wear a tie a lot more. But when you put it on, the culture makes you feel like it’s a bit too much. Same with wearing a blazer. It's hard because I do want to wear those things, often for no apparent occasion, but because I just feel like it. I have a few friends who live out of town, and whenever they come through London, we all wear suits and go out. They're all into Ivy style, too, so it's nice to have a community like that. It falls on deaf ears when I'm talking about it to my girlfriend.
Exactly. My wife always says, go talk to your menswear friends about that. This brings me to Social Media. How has that played a role in your business? It definitely has its flaws, but when I launched my business, it was almost all through Instagram! That's how people have found me initially. I've had some press also, so people have read about me there. I get a lot of questions leading up to orders, but sometimes they just come through and you have no idea who that person is. And they just, yeah, it's just a random order, which is always nice. Do you see value in the engagement without the purchase? I don’t mind too much. The only time I mind is if a lot of my time is taken up, which takes me away from my work. I had a guy recently who was being quite rude. I'd spent all of this time going through measurements, cloth choices, and everything with him. Then he just said, “Eh, I'll pass”. That's really inconsiderate. Do you have any ambitions to have a storefront one day? I don’t think so. I quite like just having my workshop. Eventually, I would like to expand a bit and have a sort of atelier type thing, with a few others working with me. This would mean I’d be able to expand my product range, as it’s quite difficult doing everything on my own! What other things do you have planned down the road? I have plans for a jacket and trousers, which I’m in the process of really fine-tuning. I want to make sure that these products are the best they can be. A lot of people have been asking about trousers and jackets, and I want to give the people what they want, but as a one-man show, it may take a bit of time!