We caught up with Simon Alfred of SPA to talk about perfectly oversized tee’s, transparency and upcoming collaborations with the European arts scene.
Founded in 2018, SPA is making a name for itself in London and Berlin for creating high quality, superior pima cotton basics at every day, honest prices. The standard is so good in fact, that those who have discovered the brand tend to keep it quiet for fear of it attracting too much hype (and a hyped-up price tag to go alongside it). Thankfully, that’s not what Simon’s about.
I was lucky enough to sit down with him to talk about how he went from studying mechanical engineering and working as an equity trader in Mayfair, to running a small team of 4 that are crafting top quality basics in Berlin. It was a great chat, Simon’s one of those people you just instantly like – open, honest, and with a healthy British dose of self-deprecation.
The first obvious question I have for him is where did it all start?
“I’ve always liked baggy T-shirts. When I was younger I used to skate in them, but I was a late bloomer and when suddenly I shot up” – Simon now stands at 6ft3 – “I could never find one that fitted the way that I wanted it to. So then your options are to go super high end, like Acne stuff where you can start to find something similar… but in my opinion they still don’t get it quite right. Or you can get the super low quality equivalent where you go online and just buy the XXXL, but it doesn’t fit quite right and the first time you put it in the wash it will get ruined.”
“Weirdly if you go to the States you can start to find them. These heavyweight oversized garments are just the uniform of blue-collar East Coast and Northwest America – there you’ve got your Carhart’s, your Dickies, you can find them everywhere. I’ve got family over there and I used to go and visit them and find these big, oversized T-Shirts and they were super good quality, and I was like, why is no one making these in Europe?
Then I thought, why don’t put my money where my mouth is and actually do something about it?”
But he didn’t stop there. As well as crafting the perfectly designed, minimalist basics, SPA prides itself on their conscious production and progressive approach to transparent pricing. It’s always great seeing new brands take this stance from the beginning, but I find this particularly interesting given Simon’s self-confessed lack of fashion background.
“Yeah, well when I started learning more about the fashion industry I realised how harmful the processes are that go into bringing garments to life, and I thought… I don’t want to run my own business purely to make profit, it just wouldn’t be enough for me. I wouldn’t feel good about myself, or feel like I’ve actually done anything worthwhile in my life if I was just pursuing that. I want to do something that feels like I’ve made a difference. I want to be able to give something back.”
All of SPA’s products are made from heavyweight, low iron, 230 GSM jersey 100% organic Pima cotton. That’s a bit of a mouthful but what it means is that as well as being responsibly sourced, the t-shirts themselves last far longer than standard cotton (won’t get ruined when you wash them) and are extra soft to the touch1
On top of that, SPA donate 1% of their revenue to Crisis UK, the UK’s national homelessness charity and work closely with Berlin’s Rise Foundation, helping to provide clothing, medicine and conversation to Berlin’s homeless community. When I asked Simon about this charitable aspect of his business, he replied passionately:
“I’m a product of the state, both of my parents work in the public sector, I went to state schools and as a result of that I was able to get a university education and a good job out of university, and that’s been great. But I don’t want to look back when I’m 70 or 80 years old and have a successful business and then be known as the guy who runs a tax efficient scheme out of Brussels… I want to give back to the system.”
I told you it was hard not to like Simon. So why did he pick homelessness as his battleground?
“Growing up in London I was completely aware of the growing homelessness crisis and I don’t think it gets talked about enough. If I can do a little bit and give part of our revenue back and encourage people who buy products from us to give a donation, then I can feel good about myself and what I’m building. I’m under no illusions that we at SPA are suddenly going to cure the homeless epidemic in the UK. We just want to try to do our bit rather than pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”
This liberal attitude explains Simon’s approach to pricing. SPA is the first brand I’ve talked to that worries about pricing themselves out of the market, by not being expensive.
“I want to be transparent. I want to have all our profit margins online, but sometimes we price ourselves out of a sale because people think we’re too cheap. People assume the quality won’t quite be as good as it is… but to be honest that’s irrelevant. I don’t want decisions of environmental friendliness, charity and transparency to be things that are reserved for those who can afford it.
We don’t want a bricks and mortar store, but I fantasise about the idea of a young Simon going up to Oxford Street at 14 and still being able to shop at SPA and not only being able to get a £6 shirt from H&M. I like the idea of him thinking, maybe if I save up a little bit I can get this sick quality T-shirt, that will actually last and won’t trash the planet.”
At a time when designer brands are being called out on their ridiculous mark ups (check out the HighSnobiety exposé on the $22 t-shirts being sold for $5502), this no-nonsense approach to pricing is a breath of fresh air.
I ask what’s next for the brand, and this is the first time that Simon has been a little secretive with me. I’m instantly intrigued.
“Our core business is plain, menswear essentials. Very minimalist design and coming in just three colours, and whilst we have no intention of changing this, we have been told that we’ve created the perfect blank canvas to print on… so that’s what we’ve decided to do.
I can’t tell you who yet, but in the pipeline we have some super limited-edition collaborations with artists who will create and print their own designs… DJ’s who play the kind of music that we like, producers who make the kind of music that we like, artists who make the kind of art that we like, skateboarders, athletes, rappers. I hate the word, but people who are typically from the “countercultures” that are fundamental to the creative DNA of the brand.”
Sounds epic, right? We can’t wait to see where this brand ends up. From where we’re sitting, it feels like SPA has created a winning formula, garments that:
We end by musing about why no one else has previously taken up the mantle of perfecting such a staple garment, and Simon adds an interesting perspective about his lack of fashion background being key.
“If you’ve grown up dreaming of working in fashion and go to university or college to study to become a fashion designer, you’re a very creative person or an artist, and you graduate to start your own brand or go and work for another brand… you don’t say all I want is to make oversized t-shirts. You focus your energy on making the complex and interesting, hats, bags, dresses… they don’t focus on making the basics, so I did.”
Well, we’re certainly pleased that you did Simon. Check out SPA’s collection below.
Interview by Emily Ellis.
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