Introducing: W’menswear

Based in Bangkok, Thailand, W’menswear shares founder Lauren Yates’ love of all things vintage – exploring authentic textiles from local cultures, each telling their own story. W’menswear presents “hard-hitting” garments that cover a breadth of historical references and women’s styles, with every piece filled with sentiment.

In conjunction with our first collection from W’menswear at HIP, we caught up the brand’s founder and designer Lauren Yates to talk early beginnings, studio life, working with fabric mills across the globe and more.

Firstly, please introduce yourself and your role within W’menswear?

I am Lauren, founder and designer of W’menswear.  I am responsible for establishing the creative and conceptual direction of the brand.  We are a pretty small set up, so I also oversee production, which means working with both small and medium scale artisan producers, mostly within a 10km radius of our Bangkok studio.

Can you tell us about the beginnings of W’menswear and how it started? 

My good friend and mentor figure, Nigel Cabourn, was a big factor in the brand’s beginnings. At the time we met, I was working for Vogue Australia and had the opportunity to interview Nigel at his London store.  We hit it off, two like-minded people who loved vintage, and over the next few years, Nigel took me under his wing and taught me how to run a fashion business from the ground up.  For the first collection, I worked with a local denim producer in Bangkok who was using vintage workwear machines to produce a small collection, exclusively for Japanese retailers.  This was 8 years ago and the brand has evolved and grown to serve a more global market.

Did growing up in Australia and Bangkok influence your approach to design and clothing?

Absolutely.  Moving from Thailand to Australia at the age of 8 was a big transition from a Metropolitan city to an expansive, wild landscape.  I spent a lot more time outdoors in Australia, and I loved sports and the arts.  As a teenager, I was a volunteer Surf Lifesaver at Long Reef beach in Sydney.  Throughout my time at Art School I would be surfing on weekdays and fishing on the weekends.  After graduating, I decided to retrace my roots in Thailand, where I fell in love with the traditional textiles and the age-old artisan crafts that the culture is based upon. 

What does a typical day in the studio look like at W’menswear?

As a small business, we all carry a bunch of different job roles in the team.  A typical day at the studio is a dance between design, production management, and logistics.  Our studio is in a trendy Bangkok neighborhood called ‘Ari’, where food is a definite highlight.  There is an incredible choice of street food, cafes, diners and mom ‘n pop eateries.  What we’re having for lunch each day is an important topic!

What inspired you to source from fabric mills across the globe?

Over my time spent here in Thailand, I have become a collector of Southeast Asian textiles.  They can teach you so much about time, place, and values.  These textiles are beautiful examples of what was important to these cultures.  First of all, they represent the natural resources available at the time.  If you look at a Hmong wedding piece, it has been woven over many years, and you will see changes in colour throughout which tells us the plant, soil, or insect matter that was available then.  Also, weave design tells us the function and values that the textile holds. 

I use textiles to give a historical context to my collections.  I use authentic fabrics like camo or denim that come from the time period that the collection is inspired by.  I might commission traditional Thai weavers to produce a handwoven piece made in natural dye colors to pay respect to my own heritage.  Or, I may play with new tech to give an age old material like hemp a new identity and function.  I like to mix authentic materials with some newer textile developments to tell a story and give new meaning to the garments.

“Hard-hitting garments for hard-hitting humans” – can you expand on this tagline you use and what it means to you?

I hope that my garments represent a sort of integrity that their future wearers can identify with.  As most of the collections are based on inspiring people through history, I do hope that people can feel that juju and embody it in their own way.

What’s next for yourself personally and W’menswear?

Over the past few challenging years, it’s become ever clearer to me that I want to focus on expanding skills and knowledge in my community.  Our community line, ‘Good ‘Ol Whats-her-face by W’menswear’ was born during the first year of the pandemic to provide stable jobs for the smaller-scale artisan makers in a time of hardship, which since grown roots of its own.  Our natural dyers, who are in fact a network of Northeastern Thai artisans, have been training younger members of their communities to continue the linage of knowledge and culture.  It’s a wonderful privilege to be a part of these communities, and my hope is that I can continue to make traditional crafts relative to contemporary culture.

Keep up to date with W’menswear here.

New to HIP for AW22 – W’menswear. Online now.