Shop visit: The SEH Kelly workshop

One of the places I was most keen to visit in London was the SEH Kelly workshop on saturday morning, as they’re usually only open at weekends. I’d never been to the Shoreditch area before (or so I thought, as it turned out I’d actually been quite close the year before, when I visited the interesting Boxpark trading area), and going by maps I’d printed out before flying over, I started out by walking for 20 minutes in exactly the opposite direction of where I ought to have gone (#protip: although it’s not totally obvious, when alighting from Old Street tube station, Old Street itself goes in 2 directions, the least obvious is the right one in this case).

So, a little later and sweatier than I’d hoped, I found myself in Boundary Street. Not a very long street, but I still walked up and down it twice looking for Cleve Workshops. I found some likely looking gates, but no sign of SEH Kelly anywhere. So I tried calling. Twice. Answerphone. Ok, so I tweeted them. And got an almost immediate reply. This was just so 2013. Turns out I was at the right place, but Paul, the business manager of the 2-person company, hadn’t got the sign out yet.

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So, SEH Kelly, workshops, what’s up?For starters, the workshop has to be the smallest workshop you could possibly do any work in. It’s in a row of workshops built in bygone times, typically occupied by creative and unusual businesses, like a wonderfully expressive florist and a Japanese hairdresser. The SEH Kelly workshop has a mezzanine level that adds about 50% floor space, with they would be lost without. Compact, yet cosy, could describe it. And full of nice details.

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Now, some of us have been following Sarah and Paul for a while and liking what we see, and for those that are impatient (and I don’t blame you, after the prolongued intro), I can confidently reveal that we have even better things to look forward to! Having mailed and tweeted Paul quite a bit over the past year, I had a fair impression of what he’d be like, and I was not disappointed. Super-enthusiastic, very friendly, totally dedicated and great company. 2 hours flew by, and even though there were a few other people that stopped by, I wasn’t bored for a second.

What did I see there? Well, I lucked out, as they had almost all their AW13 collection being readied for shipping to Japan early this week and what a collection it is. They are sold in roughly 20 shops in Japan, where a slightly different collection to what is available on the website is available. The collection I saw included new coats, trousers, knitwear, caps and a waistcoat (ok, so I have a thing for waistcoats, and this one will be mine…).

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Some details: A new Tour-jacket in ventile, with a large corduroy collar. Perfect for the gentleman cyclist. Put up the collar and add a scarf and it’s super for cooler weather as well. A detachable shoulder strap on this one, whereas the sort of iconic first version (in green corduroy, very very nice) had it fixed in place (which didn’t work out too well for me, even though I adore the jacket). A really nice coat.

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A new shopcoat in ventile. But so much more than a mere coat. There is a lining, which unbuttons and becomes an inner jacket, which can be worn standalone, as can the outer shell. So 3 coats in one, wonderfully constructed and executed. This is a really clever piece and shows how SEHK are continuing to innovate and improve.

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Knitwear… So how does SEHK do in this respect? Ok, near 300 pounds for a sweater may seem pretty steep, but having gone over them, I’d say they’re as close to a bargain as a 300 pound sweater can be. So incredibly thick, soft and solidly knit. Awesome, I’d say. And from the autumn available in a really sweet roll-neck version as well as the shawl neck and crew neck versions they’ve had so far. Three different colour combos as well, with 4-5 colours of wool in each combination. Get in line for yours now. Seriously.

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Oh, also worth mentioning: Socks. These are quite special, made on special old machinery. Keep an eye our for them. They’re like something your granny would knit, if she was really nimble and clever, with superb eyesight.

The blazer-style jackets are in the proces of being made a little more fitted now, to cater for the tastes of those that prefer a snugger style. This as opposed to the fairly loose-fitting styles which have been made so far.

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Apart from that, some nice trousers, with improvements over last years. Nice caps made by a little-old-lady factory in Ireland, just up the road from where some of their tweed is produced. A few more jacket variants, including a new version of the ventile raincoat with an improvement suggested by yours truly (cool!). New Kelly-collared shirts etc. etc. There was a whole rack of new stuff and it was all good.

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I can’t help but be super-charmed by all the stories surrounding the production of materials and garments for SEHK, as opposed to the bullshit “historical stories” concocted by certain other companies. Listen to Paul talk about the one-man mill nearby in East-London, or the father and daughter knitting company, their search for the unique and rare materials that will allow them to create stand-out items and you’ll feel this is both real and a link between now and the past. And Paul is truly enthusiastic about what they’re doing, while at the same time totally humble about it. I found myself being quite envious of what is obviously more than a mere job for him. I was hoping to meet Sarah, the design half of the duo, as well, but she was busy at the factory readying the final items for shipping. Maybe next time.

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