Words: Luke Pinot
Photography: Ellie Kynaston
Jamie Cansdale and Tom Parker are the owners and co-founders of Bristol’s independent fashion retail outlet, Donuts. “Loving you long time since 2007″ as the physical storefront once read, 2014 marks their seventh anniversary and a change in direction for Donuts.
Since it’s genesis, Donuts has been a centrifugal force locally as well as holding down a significance in the UK as a whole for it’s stance and aesthetic in the streetwear scene, finding a blend of getting behind the local brands such as African Apparel or Colourway and then branching out further afield with prominent brands from Scandinavia such as Wood Wood or Soulland. Their significance has led them to reputable and varied collaborations along the way from the likes of underground record label Swamp 81, to London collective Bridging The Gap, to now streetwear giants Trapstar. For a long time, Donuts has also held a prominence in Bristol club culture, throwing some of the best intimate parties the city has seen and bringing in some of the best acts.
The full story on the early Donuts years can be found in our last interview with Jamie and Tom from back in 2011. For now, back to the aforementioned change in direction that has seen one of the UK’s most loved streetwear stores close it’s doors. In April we announced that after six and a half years of business, Donuts were to close their physical store on Perry Road and re-launch online with a new website. Such a big decision warranted that we caught up with Jamie and Tom to find out the reason behind the closure of the store and what their new venture means for the future of Donuts …
The last thing we heard from Donuts was that you were closing the physical store to relaunch solely in an online capacity. How did this decision finally come about?
Tom: A variety of different reasons.
Jamie: I guess we maybe felt like we needed to change something – rekindle our excitement for it.
T: Yeah, I think we definitely felt the grind of it sometimes, sitting in the shop every single day. It has been one of us sat in the shop every single day for the last six years.
Was there maybe a danger of things getting a little bit stale? Did you need a fresh take on things?
T: Yeah, I think the opportunity to be able to do stuff in our own time when we’re feeling enthusiastic about it, rather than the obligation of being in the shop every day and feeling like we have to be inspired. I’ve definitely found I’ve been a lot more productive already with the time that we commit to Donuts.
J: That was it yeah, maybe putting a higher value on our own time and feeling like we could be more productive and more creative without the constraint of sitting in the shop. Also, the lease on the premises was up this year so we felt it was time to make the break.
T: And I think ultimately over the last couple of years there has been a big shift to online, as much as it pains me to say it, and we definitely noticed that. Even before launching a new website the site had started to overtake the in-store.
How hard was it to finally make the leap? Was there any hesitance closing one of the UK’s most loved streetwear stores?
T: I think there was a bit of relief haha!
J: I think we could have perhaps made the decision sooner. A few people have been quite surprised that closing the store wasn’t a negative thing for us. There were a few pangs of sentimentality when we were finding posters for old exhibitions and shows, but also maybe a realisation that the last couple of years have kinda drifted by and we haven’t been as proactive as we should have been. Ultimately, once we decided we were excited more than anything.
T: It’s definitely a positive thing. I think perhaps we stuck to our morals for too long. We were sat in there wanting to stay as a bricks and mortar store as we do love having that interaction with our customers, connecting with people in Bristol, but still perhaps we should have done this a little while ago.
J: I feel like we’re sufficiently established online now too, so we can make this move, whereas maybe before we needed the store a bit more to act as that flagship.
So what’s the bigger picture with the decision of going solely online?
T: I think to take a step back and re-focus, to set our sites and see where it leads us. One of the things we have been focusing on is doing more of our own clothing and closing the physical store has freed up the time to be able to do that.
J: Yeah, we’ve got that stuff in the pipeline for later in the year and maybe some stuff around the 7th birthday in October. I think that not being tied to one retail space for 12 months out of the year means that potentially we can look at the idea of doing pop-ups around Bristol and London. Just having that freedom is something we’re gonna try and make the most of.
What’s it like now to have all this extra time to put into creative efforts?
J: In the past we’ve been maybe a bit slack with things like lookbooks and really featuring the stock we get in, but now we completely have the time to do that.
T: I think that’s definitely been a reflection of us thinking “I’ve gotta go to the shop and tend to things” rather than getting out there and doing shoots etc.
You also have a history of decent collaborations from the likes of Trapstar to Swamp81. Do you have anything in the pipeline for the near future?
T: We’ve been talking to a few people…
Is it all under wraps?
T: Yeah for now. Like Jamie said, we’ve got some stuff planned for the birthday towards the end of the year and a few other bits…
J: We’ll be working on something with African Apparel, we’ve had a long association with that brand and their new collection is great. It’s a real step up from their previous stuff. That’s something we’re looking forward to.
With the relaunch you did two new t-shirts. Can you tell us about the thinking behind the designs?
T: We took a pretty apocalyptic approach. I mean it was a serious thing closing the store, but it was also a positive thing and we were like “Fuck getting sentimental about it”.
J: It’s all pretty tongue in cheek playing on “The end is nigh”, “It’s the end of the world” with us closing the shop. Because we felt so positive about things we felt like we could have a bit of a laugh with it.
T: So one of the t-shirts is an ode to that with the blast on the back, and the other was just a long sleeve. We’ve never done a logo t-shirt, so yeah it was just a pretty clean and simple thing.
J: I think that’s another thing that is pretty long overdue!
So is this a sign of things to come? You mentioned earlier doing more of your own stuff. Will we see an expansion into larger collections?
T: I think for the immediate future we’re gonna keep it small releases, just some short runs of stuff with the collabs every now and then.
J: We will look to present small capsule collections though, not always just tees.
With all these changes will there be any new direction in regards to your stock?
T: We’ve parted ways with a few of our bigger brands, not because we don’t like them anymore, but more as a necessity as they may not be as exclusive to us anymore.
J: I think maybe we needed to go back to smaller, more interesting things. We had more and more stuff you could get at quite a number of other places and maybe we were starting to lose the more unique stuff that we were known for and built our reputation on. Having stuff you couldn’t find other places. With no disrespect to them bigger brands who have been great to work with, this whole restructure is definitely partly about re-finding that uniqueness.
T: For example we have Moupia coming back.
J: They do short runs of five panel caps made in Spain and for this season they have some bucket hats coming as well. They should be back in the near future.
T: We’re also going to be working with two relatively young brands from the UK that are doing great things later in the year which I’m excited about.
J: We also have taken on Soulland this season and we’re about to receive the Autumn/Winter ’14 stuff too.
It all sounds positive! Let’s talk music and get back to the website a little bit. You started a mixtape series kicking off with fellow Bristol cohabitant Neek and you’re now onto the second instalment. Can you tell us a little about the direction you’re taking with this mix series?
J: Yeah it’s not gonna be purely Bristol, but I think what we do want is to keep bringing in people that we have some sort of history or connection with. We don’t really just want to go and hit up loads of people we don’t know.
T: Yeah that wouldn’t really be what the mix series is about. I guess the idea naturally started out from the fact we put on parties and we know a lot of people that make music and DJ, but at the same time music influences a lot of different people that we work with in a creative capacity.
J: So we’re also going to be asking people that are not predominantly known as musicians. People from the brands that we work with…
T: We want to see what inspires them, find out what they’re listening to, how music effects them and how they interpret it. So the current mix we have is from Christian who runs PRMTVO from L.A. who’s done a pretty mental Psychedelic mix.
J: It’s a great mix! We’ve been sitting on it for a couple of weeks whilst we get a little interview together to go with it. So yeah, if people think we’re just going to put out a series of House and Disco mixes, it’s not going to be that. Tom and I are both into all sorts so we just want to do something a bit more personal.
T: Yeah, definitely not just in the realms of dance music exclusively.
And what’s in the pipeline in terms of club nights and parties for Donuts?
T: Bristol needs venues basically.
That seems to be what a lot of people are saying…
T: Yeah I dunno, we’ve experimented with doing parties at Colston Hall and other one-off spots which have come and gone, but there doesn’t seem to be too much scope for it in Bristol at the moment.
J: Bristol is difficult at the moment. The last few things we’ve done have been at pop-up spaces and venues, but the problem there is you end up putting the sound system in yourself and pay for everything that the club usually covers and when you are making niche bookings as we do, that situation doesn’t seem to be too cost effective.
T: We just threw a party last week with Greg Beato and Adjowa and actually thought about doing it in the store as it’s currently empty, like a farewell to it.
J: It would have been really cool, but the shop next door is this really nice lady’s pottery store and the prospect of her coming in on monday morning and finding out the bass had knocked all the plates off her wall might not be a good thing. Not the best way to say thanks for all the times she lent us her stepladder haha!
T: Also, we’ll be heading out to Dimensions in Croatia next week, following on from the launch party we threw for them earlier in the year.
A big thanks to Jamie and Tom for spending the time with us to answer these questions. Make sure you check out the fresh new Donuts website to keep up to date with their stock and movements.