The guys over at Kafka are certainly good sports. Shortly after posting a celebration of the mysteries of Kafka Man, they got in touch, answering a Q&A I’d sent them a couple of weeks before.
Owned and run by brothers Russell and David Cameron, Aberdeen’s Kafka Mercantile has been operating since 1990. With a brand mix including Visvim, Eastlogue, Blue Blue Japan and the Nepenthes family (including The Conspires) plus oddities like the revivied Texan shoe brand Autry, the store is a pillar of quality menswear.
The last couple of years have seen beloved indies like OTHER/Shop and Present shuttered, while many others have downsized. Kafka’s resilience (alongside The Bureau, Garbstore, Oi Polloi, Goodhood, Hip Store) is a blessing for the more discerning consumer.
Here’s Russell on the mighty Kafka Mercantile.
How’s lockdown been for Kafka?
I guess, over the past few years we’ve moved into a more online platform. We are now a team of three, so by accident rather than design for the lockdown we have been able to cope with the Covid situation okay.
What elements define a Kafka brand?
Elements that mean something to us would be offering our customers garments and articles which we would want to buy ourselves and which have an honesty to them.
We know our own limitations as a small team that has had to adapt to new, and at times formidable changes it can be challenging. Both Dave and myself are in our 50’s and learning and adapting to change and new technologies can de daunting.
We work at running the store, packing boxes, paying bills etc… ( the day job) then we have to get product onto the site, measure and size, describe etc… We also run the Instagram and the Mercantile Man newsletter and keep our wives and kids happy at the same time.
You could describe us as passionate product people first and then most other stuff is ‘have a go’. Although pretty amateurish the shoots are honest and we try to show things in our way, which probably is pretty easy to ridicule but we feel this is more what we are about and who we are at the end of the day. I take the images and Dave puts on the clothes and he would be the first to admit he is no model, but happy to do his bit.
How important is a man’s age on the way he choses to dress?
Age is a number, we have always had that attitude. All we can do is offer our options to a huge worldwide marketplace and hope we get enough customers who are of like mind.
What are your early memories concerning clothes?
Back in the day there were connections with music, culture and clothing. My first real memory was of Two Tone and a kind of mix of Mod and Ska with bands like the Specials, The Beat and The Jam. First piece? Probably the parka. David and myself have never been rivals though, we’re brothers, brother.
How do you guys define the kind of clothing/movement you’re in?
After spending 30 years in the industry the most pleasing aspect of this area is the honesty. There is a lot of false and fake in the fashion industry and many are driven by greed and sales. With many of our brands it is the maker or designer who makes the decision on fabric and materials because they want what is best for the item, not the most ‘cost effective’. We don’t put things in boxes and I don’t think this is a movement, it’s just things we like ourselves and want to offer to other like minds.
From an outsiders perspective, it seems like Kafka’s brand roster has grown massively over the last three or four seasons. What’s the strategy?
Has it? I wasn’t aware of that. No real strategy, just that if it is of interest to us and I think I would buy that for myself, we buy it for the store.
What’s your experience around introducing your customers to new brands?
It is hard to tell in this day and age as the human interaction is minimal. I think we have customers who trust our judgement and they know if we have bought a new brand then we must like it ourselves, so for them to experiment with the new brand is less risky. I think also that our customers are into these types of clothing and will research online and find out if the whole product and brand’s philosophy appeals and makes sense.
Why do you think men shop at Kafka?
On the whole we would like to think it is about quality, choice and honesty. Of course we have a few commercial brands thrown into the mix for balance and certain other narratives can be considered, but on the whole we like to think that we are part of a good circle where the brand supports its workers, we support the brand, the customer supports us and in turn the circle keeps rolling along.