Are you one of the men up and down the country who has been badgering Toast to bring back its menswear? If you are, then your persistence has paid off. The craft-core brand famed for its beautiful fabrics and functional cuts is adding its first menswear collection in six years to its womenswear and homeware offering this month – and it has been worth the wait.
“It was always on the cards,” reveals Nikki Sher, head of menswear and buying, who has packed the tightly edited collection with a rich mix of wear-forever knits and workwear silhouettes. “Toast has really found its groove and it was a natural transition for us. A Toast man is just like a Toast woman: they share the same creative confidence.”
The launch of menswear is the final piece of CEO Suzie de Rohan Willner’s puzzle. When she arrived as CEO in January 2015, she found that the brand – which started as a mail-order catalogue selling nightwear in 1997 by husband-and-wife duo James and Jessica Seaton – needed a reset. Pressing pause on the existing menswear and homewares lines, she took everything back to the drawing board to examine who it wanted to be and how that would resonate with a new era of customers.
“We needed to refocus,” says de Rohan Willner. “We knew at the time the womenswear collection had slightly lost its way and we needed to put our love and attention into [that]. Each time we re-introduced a category, we wanted to make sure it was outstanding; you can’t just scatter your attention. Menswear is the last category we are reintroducing because it’s the right time – also, customers have been asking us ever since we sent him off on his sabbatical to bring him back!”
Despite Toast menswear relaunching at a time when menswear is booming and there are considerably more competitors on the market than six years ago, Sher believes they still have a USP. “There are some really strong brands out there [that] are relevant in our area,” she says, nodding to Nigel Cabourn and the two Olivers, Sweeney and Spencer, “but I still [believe] there is something we could give that was a riff off our womenswear, which is very artisanally creative and confident.”
Toast’s guy is someone “with a very strong sense of personal style that loves an unexpected colour combination and textural layers”, continues Sher. Cue a denim-blue wool jumper with a dry-hand feel and cotton-corduroy single-pleat trousers in an oil green; an organic cotton-twill jacket with a lightly brushed finish and a wool-cashmere single-breasted donkey jacket in a peat-brown. Fair Isle, cable-knit and Donegal wool sweaters sit alongside organic-cotton T-shirts which arrive in lavender and a colour they’ve coined ‘ginger nut’, while outerwear is taken care of with a quilted cotton-twill jacket with recycled polyester wadding and a heavy wool coat in houndstooth. Relaxed yet considered, it’s artist-meets-off-duty-actor chic at its best.
The collection, which they both agree is a world away from the “earnest” menswear of old, has been finely tuned down to a deliberate 27 styles by Sher. “It’s about finding the perfect fabrics, putting them into the perfect silhouettes and having the confidence to re-present them each season,” she says. “When you over-develop, over-deliver and give too much choice, that’s when you find issues.”
The key to any successful collection and especially a new one, says de Rohan Willner, is to minimise waste. “If you plan well and forecast well, you are actually producing for demand and not producing waste. We’d all make a huge difference to the planet if companies forecasted properly for the true-price demand of a range,” she says, noting that seven years ago, 50% of Toast’s womenswear collection went into sale at the end of a collection’s shelf-life, a figure she has reduced down to 15%. “We’ve done that through focusing as a team across all areas and a passionate desire to reduce waste within the industry.”
It’s also down to keeping the customer informed. Working closely with communities of artisans from Ireland to India to preserve traditional craft methods and produce the organic, low-environmental-impact fabrics that Toast does is not a cheap endeavour; on a par with womenswear, the menswear collection will retail from between £24 for a pair of socks to £495 for that houndstooth wool coat.
“The amount of work that goes into sourcing product in a way that has as negative impact on the planet as possible is an artform,” says de Rohan Willner, who scrutinises everything from fibres to zips. “We do a lot of work to remain accessible. A lot of people would look at our prices and say [we’re] expensive, but for the quality of the fabric we are creating, it’s as accessible as we can make it. The end-goal is “to foster a thoughtful approach to producing product… if you explain that there is a reason behind the price, people are absolutely prepared to honour people’s work.”
Plus, she adds, “there are men out there who are looking for something different, who want a brand to have integrity, who are driving change and who are doing that in a thoughtful manner.” Gentleman, you have met your match.
Timeless menswear: five other brands creating seasonless pieces
French brand A.P.C. is your brand for Left-Bank nonchalance. Always to be counted on for an organic cotton T-shirt or vintage fleece sweatshirt, it delivers seasonless style alongside candles and books, as well as the quilts it has been making in collaboration with the artist Jessica Sogden since 2011. Its recent recycling programme encourages customers to return their old A.P.C. clothing to any store worldwide in exchange for a credit note; the clothes are then donated to charity shops (apcstore.co.uk).
Based in Copenhagen, Another Aspect creates seasonless clothes that support craft communities around the world and looks at the creation of clothes through a fresh lens. Its recent collaboration with Gramparents – the popular Instagram account which celebrates the style of senior citizens – reinforced their belief in taste over trends. Its ongoing collections are all made from recycled fibres and surplus fabrics such deadstock from the furniture maker Kvadrat, which would have been disposed of otherwise (anotheraspect.org).
What you see is what you get
Taking its name from the Swedish for a person “who lives without extravagance or abundance”, Swedish brand Asket encapsulates essentialness. It also goes the extra mile to ensure its customers’ trust. On each garment, the composition tag breaks down every single element so its origin is 100% transparent. It also breaks down the cost of pieces in its permanent collection and publishes the figures – including its mark-up – on its website, taking transparency the extra mile (asket.com).
The long-term go-to for everyday basics, Folk finds its niche somewhere between streetwear and architect-chic, no better observed than through its collaborations with End, Daniel Johnston and the popular digital design magazine, The Modern House. Its All Good By Folk collection concentrates its attention on organic cottons that are approved by the non-profit Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world, while recent collections have mined the archive to bring back designs and fabrics (folkclothing.com).
If lived-in classics designed to be worn forever is your MO, MHL can be relied upon to deliver. Timeless in an always-relevant way, MHL’s menswear has been famed for its discretion since it started back in 1970. It’s a philosophy which extends to its homewares, too. The brand partners with independent ceramicists on its tableware; sources timber from Dorset to make its chopping boards; collaborates with Anglepoise on limited-edition lamps; and reissues rugs which were presented at the 1951 La Triennale di Milano. Authentic is an understatement.