In Focus – Story mfg. AW22 at HIP

Birthed in 2013 by husband-and-wife duo of Saeed and Katy Al-Rubeyi, Story mfg. (short for manufacturing) is a brand with a strong desire for a more authentic, fulfilling and kind approach to clothing for men and women. Working with a large group of skilled dyers, weavers, embroiderers and tailors, Story creates unique collections each season that hone into and pay homage to their slow-moving design process and historic craft used. Keeping their footprint on the earth at the forefront, Story consciously collects their natural fibre offcuts from production to be re-used later and use minimal synthetic materials, with natural dyed organic cottons being a proud pillar of each collection.

We sat down with founders Saeed and Katy Al-Rubey in their Brighton studio and store space to discuss early days of the brand, artist collaborations, what ‘Researching Ancient Technology’ means to them & more.

Please introduce yourself, what you do and where you are based?

S: I’m Saeed Al-Rubeyi – this is my wife, Katy. We founded Story in 2013. We’re both founders, creative directors – sometimes that sounds grand, I don’t know what our exact titles are sorry *laughs*.

We live in Brighton, but the company is based all over the place, we’ve got major partners in India, so I would say we’re based between here in India at the moment and we also work people in Thailand. We’ve done stuff with people in Turkey in the past too.

Firstly, how are you both doing – how has it been since moving into your new store in Brighton? 

K: We’re tired *laughs*. No, we’re good. It’s been really good but Story has grown loads in quite a short space of time. So, where we knew what we were doing a couple years ago we’re now delegating so much out to other people it requires a whole different brain.

S: But the shop is good. Shop’s great. Which is the main thing. It’s in Brighton. It’s kind of off the beaten track, for Brighton – which is almost like another area of London, because it’s under an hour to get here from central London. It’s easy to get here, but you kind of have to want to come if you’re coming. It’s nice to have a space that is our own and it’s curated our own way, and we’ve got the buy of our stuff in a certain way we can talk about stuff or we can have videos playing and like everything be 100% about the brand. 

We weren’t able to stock much on our own site until quite recently, so you’d have to buy from a stockist and that’s obviously mixed in with other stuff, so it ends up like having a different feel depending on which stockist does it and how they style it. Now we’ve got our own website and we style it the way we want to. 

Then we were like, what it be like if we had our own physical space, how could we style it? The shops really, really good – It’s really nice. Having people who like dealing with customers and talking to customers and making sure they’re happy. It’s really good. 

K: The shop also doubles as our stock room. So even on days where the shop shut, there’s still stuff happening all the time. We open in the week for appointments, which means people get to come and spend like an hour trying on. And everyone we hired is extremely chatty, which is really nice, and they know so much about the product. 

Tell us about the early days of Story which began when making a pair of jeans – for those who may not know, how did this come about and what was the process?

K: We met as we were dating basically and we both were not loving our jobs and were itching to do something new, like a hobby almost. When it started we had zero expectations, I would go as far as saying I did not want to have a brand or make collections!

At the time I was working for a trend forecasting company and was focusing on denim trends. So every couple of weeks I’d be traveling to Japan or America and then going to all different trade shows and seeing the newest innovations in fabric, it would always seem like all this stuff was happening in factories but then nothing ever ended up in the shops over here.

At that point we were buying loads of vintage and being like, oh, imagine if you made this jacket  but in this fabric.We went to one of these fabric trade shows to see if we could find some material which we could  then make into something to sell potentially – but we had a really strict list of things the fabric had to be. One of the requirements was naturally dyed because that was something that I’d heard about in my 9-5, but then never saw in the shops outside of Japan. Then there was recycled fibers which we were really interested in, fabrics that used less water than normal, fabrics that were craft-based and that used an old ancient technique that people had been reinvestigating.

We went to this trade fair with this list in mind and we had loads of conversations, we saw loads of stuff and we ended up talking to a guy that worked for a huge Indian fabric mill making denim, but they also worked with really small-scale  traditional Indian weavers. He was bringing that craft to his big mill – they were working with these artisans and working out ways that they bring it to a bigger audience.

S: It was like a social enterprise that they were doing – it wasn’t like a main thing. I think It since stopped, but we were asking him about it and he would say –  “well, if you’re interested into this you should check out these other people” – he gave us a list. It was so generous of him, It’s like “check out these people, these are the people that inspired us to do this.” And so we flew like two weeks later through India.

K: Yeah, we had no plans or money to do anything. I think that those flights were the most expensive thing we’d ever bought. And so we went to India and we did this kind of  road trip to visit all these people. The very first people we visited happen to be the same people that we still work with now still after nine years or almost 10 years. It was a really long time ago, but it’s also one of those things, like a proper sliding doors moment – if we haven’t had gone and met those people, what would we be doing now? 

So back at home we decided to make a pair of jeans out of this really interesting material. Then we were like, how do we actually sell this? Saeed had been chatting on Reddit for like ages and was part of this community where everyone was really supportive of each other’s projects and really into detail-oriented things, so we did pre-sales on that pair of jeans.

S: Yeah, we did pre-sale – we explained what we were doing, what we planned to do, way before we had any idea, again, we didn’t have a website. We only had a link to a mail out – then we just took people along on the journey. The idea was that at the time huge surge of brands starting on Kickstarter or Indigogo. I was really into it because I’m really interested in production methods and I’m really into knowing what companies planned to do, and how they’re going to get there. But I felt like that surge of brands doing that, kind of branded all those brands. So if you start as a Kickstarter brand, you’re now a  Kickstarter brand, it felt very Silicon Valley. So we decided we wanted to do this without the Kickstarter name being involved. We launched, and then updated people constantly about what we’re doing and eventually we had these jeans available to buy through pre-order and kept moving on and on.

In short, we wanted stuff not on the market – natural dyed, crafted stuff. Then we wanted them in shapes that we liked because up until then, if you were to get natural dye fabric, you wouldn’t get it in like an item that you could find in HIP or in a showroom. Before it would be very hippie, raw edge – we were saying this fabric’s beautiful, but it’s not being treated or being put into the right context. 

What does an average day in the life look like currently working on the brand?

S: We wake up at around seven, get our son. Try and drink coffee – do all of the morning stuff. Then if on a workday he has nursery in the morning, we take him to nursery at eight o’clock in the morning. Then we walk to our studio down the road, we have two or three hours at the studio, basically having meetings and troubleshooting stuff – then we go to pick up our son at 12, come back and then he has a nap. We work through the nap and then he wakes up and then he goes to bed at seven and then we do a little bit of work, and then we go to bed.


It’s all based around his schedule at the minute, which is so crazy for us. It basically means that we have to be so productive in the shortest space of time ever. At the minute we’re recently honing everything we do in terms of production, systemizing it – is that a word? 

S: During the workday, some people work from home, some are in the office, some are remote. We use the app Slack with everyone, our production partners. So, this is like the real office, everybody’s on here. 

The atelier and dye house where most pieces are produced is in Tamil Nadu, India – alongside in person visits, what is the daily process like when communicating online to keep production going and finalizing details?

S: It’s pretty amazing. Aside from going there and having phone calls we have a Slack channel and just speak to each other all day.

K: They take pictures on their phone and send to us, almost every morning.

S: For example, are these colours ok? And so on. You’ll see on our various Instagram pages we post behind the scenes all the time – they’re just raw pictures from the dye house. 

We have a few production partners – the ones we spoke about most colors of nature, who is the atelier, but we have other partners too, so it’s different with each one, but this one who’s our main production partner is a constant back and forth. Some are more Slack based, others more call or email based. Even though we speak every every single day, it’s still really important to meet them and chat in person. We have a production coordinator and a technical designer now too – two roles we didn’t have last year, and they’re mostly talking to them too.

K:  Before we used Slack, we used WhatsApp. So every morning we would all be on WhatsApp, they would be sending me pictures of the embroideries or colours to check and stuff. Before that we just used to go and visit them around six times a year. 

S: I think about often that Story can only exist in this new world. It would have never been able to exist 20 years ago. It’s an overused word but “democratzation” happens because we all have the internet. There are guys in like remote mountain valleys, all they need is a smart phone and then they can contact us and do business with us.

K:  And everyone has Instagram now, even the most remote artists in the mountain villages, they also have Instagram. If they don’t get reply from us on WhatsApp, they’ll message us on Instagram.

S: The world is so big, then the internet makes it all so small & connected. There’s only like under a hundred people that we could work within the whole world, but the internet allows us to find each other. In the same way our customers are also a tiny niche spread across the planet but the internet means we can speak to them.

You recently worked with friend of HIP Seapunch on a graphic tee along with other artwork for the brand, how do collaborations like this typically come about?

S: We’ve got another sister brand called Gentle Fullness, and Dan Pacitti who works with us on that brand said he had an idea for a t-shirt and then recommended Antoine. I liked his stuff, so we did that and then needed to do a zine for retail orders so reached out with him to work on that and also the t-shirt to match it.

We read your 2022 Health Check Essay – which acts as a personal update on the latest thoughts and happenings at Story and found it incredibly insightful and reflective. It really summarizes both the challenges and rewards of what it means to run your own brand. Was there anything that prompted you to start this series?

S: We really enjoy being honest and its important that customers understand Story mfg. is still a little company made up of people who care. Being honest is something companies aren’t usually, and its kind of hard to be honest and not come across as marketing-y.

Maybe this is one way that we can just be plain about it – just do this super boring business update about – we still don’t have this, we still don’t have press, we still aren’t doing this, we are really struggling with this, we’ve had some success with this. I just feel like Story is built on telling stories about the clothes and the communities and the story about us. It’s good to have these road markings about what’s going on.

Close knit online communities have played a part in the brand since the early days – what is it Saeed you enjoy about the open dialogue of platforms such as IG, Reddit, Discord and classic forums?

S: I think it’s so good to get a read on stuff – I join all these forums just to like constantly search my name, Katy’s name and the brand name and see if any, what someone has to say. If even two people are like this sucks or this collar is weird then that’s good info for us to have, or if they’re really loving something, that’s also good info to have. It’s a level of information that I seem people think they’re too busy or too good for, when really it’s the actual customer and we are just people like me and you are both interested in the same stuff. You always come across people who just act like they’re too good for X situation.

What’s a recent discovery or obsession you’re currently into, clothing or otherwise?

S: Katy is obsessed with children’s clothing. Because we’re constantly buying stuff for our son.

K: I basically have a doll that I get to dress up now. I’m trying to work out how we can make tiny versions of our stuff, but we don’t even have time to shower these days – that’s how busy we are. Actually, I did shower this morning *laughs*.

S: We had a guy who had been like do you wanna make a perfume? And we were like oh yeah, I think so. But we’ve been talking to someone else about it and it was going nowhere. Then we decided to meet this new guy, we met and he’s a super duper genius.

K: He read our minds Saeed!

S: He knew the stuff that’s so exciting about Story like the process and the history and the culture. He was like, have you heard of this? And then he’d tell us something that would blow our minds. An example is this essential oil which is an earthy smell – that is made from extracting the essential oils and smells from discarded cups of tea, made from the actual ceramics. It smells earthy like rainfall and also tea. It smells like the actual smell of rain, but of course it’s extremely expensive.

Other than that, no, we’ve just got our normal obsessions, like food. I’m really like really into watches, but we haven’t got enough money to have a collection so I just appreciate from afar. In the vintage watch world, there’s a lot of value placed on how well something is worn. An undesirable thing to do would be to polish them or renew or replace parts. I feel the same about clothing.

Have you been surprised in different ways the brand has been interpreted? Are there any interesting ways you’ve seen pieces worn?

K: My favorite surprise is the age range of people that buy Story. We have an older lady and an older gentleman customer. Older ladies like my mum’s age wear it and look so cool, I love it.

S: We get different styling all the time. I really enjoy it, sometime it’s not at all how I would style it, I’ve seen like people iron creases into our baggy trousers and they look good but not how I would do it. Recently I saw someone wearing our double day jacket with white skinny jeans and I would have never expected it, it looked good because it was their style. I’ve seen some brands that try and control everything and who and how people wear brands. More recently we’ve been like, you know what? This doesn’t just belong to us. We do it, design it, but it’s up to the customers to do what they want with it. And it’s their interpretation – it’s much, much cooler that way.

Your current IG bio states “Researching Ancient Technology” which sums up the brands craft championing feeling well – can you expand on this and what it means to you?

S: Speaking to the guy who founded the natural dye house in India a few years ago, he was saying what we are doing now is infantile compared to like how natural dying used to be. A lot of the practices have gone, but the documentation remains and there are books with a verbal history about how things used to be, how to dye or make colours in different ways that don’t exist in use anymore, and we can’t replicate it. Most of our job is researching that ancient lost technology.

There’s this story that I remember that my dad told me that the Romans invented concrete and then when the Roman empire fell, no one knew how to make concrete for another thousand years. So basically, everything is like researching ancient technology, right at the core. I also like that it if you initialised it would be R.A.T. . We were like, we should have like a R.A.T. department. *laughs*.

You’re approaching 10 years of Story being born – are there any final words of advice for those looking to create their own brand, or in general you’d like to share?

K: Don’t. No, I’m just kidding. 

S: The advice I always tell people is have extremely low expectations. We’ve always got really low expectations and then everything’s good. The 99% of people’s problems starting out is that they immediately want to get somewhere or be something straight away. Then it becomes very hard and also very demoralizing. Everything that’s come to us has been a nice surprise, I think.

K: Yeah. Like everything, like we didn’t expect to have a company. We didn’t expect to have collections, or any money.

S: We didn’t just leave our jobs. We kept our full-time jobs for four years. I guess that’s a good one. I hear a lot about how rewarding it is, but it’s mostly hard *laughs*.

K: I also think you really have to really love the thing, whatever the thing is. What’s the thing you love? Do that, because you are literally going to do it so much. When you do it so much and you go to bed and you dream about it and you wake up in the morning, you’re talking about it and pick it apart over and over, you really need to love it. 

Explore the Story mfg. AW22 Collection at HIPonline now.