Talking With .... Frank Whitford of Plain Bear

From the moment we clapped eyes on the independent, unisex clothing brand Plain Bear, we were hooked. We love their contemporary graphics and bold shapes and their use of Organic Cotton and Fair Wear Foundation accredited wares.

Following our initial chinwag with the brand's owner Frank, we took our first delivery and haven't looked back. At Colony, Plain Bear appeals to men and women of all ages who appreciate it's simple, clean aesthetic and soft, cosy feels.

We caught up with Frank recently to find out what the cheery chap has been up to.

Colony:  Hi there Frank. We've been stocking your unisex, street wear brand now for just over a year. We love your contemporary, simplistic aesthetic and of course the bears! Where did the bear come from? 
Frank: Hi Claire and all who are reading. Thanks for all the love and we are happy to be stocked in your fantastic shop. The 'bear' was the end outcome of a long chain of events. Originally (and we are still working towards this), I wished to develop a brand called 'Plain'. The idea behind this was to locally produce simple high quality cuts that could be worn on a daily basis. Having researched and developed this idea, I found the financial side was beyond my means...I had £5 in my pocket, and needed roughly £150,000. 
After this set back, I had a rethink. I obviously needed to start small and go from there. Approaching the Prince's Trust, I sat a business course. This helped me develop an identity founded through my sculpture years at university, of which was based around strong, bold, abstract shapes and mediums. Working with the ethos, less is more, and wanting the designs to be of a 'bare' nature, our name was created, 'Plain Bear', leading to the brands strong logo of the bear....   
Colony:  What are your main roles as the creator of the Plain Bear label?
Frank: ha....ummmm....basically everything and anything that needs to be done. The obvious one is designing, creating and printing all our garments. Then there's all the admin, banking, staffing, folding, developing, researching, orders, etc etc. The other main side of the business is selling at our markets. We do have a handful of staff for this, but personally, I love this area as I can interact with Plain Bear's customers on a one-to-one basis, helping develop regulars and getting feed back with what works and what doesn't.
Colony:  Did you always aspire to be a clothing brand designer and how did you get to that point?
Frank: As you have read above, I was looking at developing a brand called 'Plain'. This stemmed from a desire to have basic garments in cuts that had a regular fit. I personally found (being of an average height and body size), shaping was always loose or far too tight. Alongside this, the brands at the time were all far too heavy on the 'design' aspect, forgetting clothing's first purpose is to dress us. The second being, and i'm a strong believer in this, casual wear being used everyday, regardless of the situation. 
Colony: What are you finding your main challenges are right now in business?
Frank: Plain Bear has recently had to become VAT registered. Being based in London, our overheads are already sky high. This tax, along with all the other taxes, simply means we are having to work harder and harder to simply break even. This effects the other side of our business, developing the brand, creating new designs, moving into new areas, all because our time and cash flow are tied up in simply making ends meet. As a small, independent business, this is a difficult time, but the only thing you can do is power through it hoping to come out the other side and continue moving forward. 
Colony: Which businesses / brands out there are currently inspiring you Frank?

Frank: I am personally a huge admirer of the brand 'Rains' with their basic coats and bags. I think they have got it spot on with what people desire, and their colours pop. For a large brand, 'Uniqlo' have a good mix of those daily essentials with smart casual cuts. 

Colony: What do you like doing during your downtime?

Frank: I'm quite an active person, so my 'down time' wouldn't be that quiet. I like to skate (there is a fantastic hidden skate park in Deptford, London) and walking in the surrounding areas of natural beauty. Now that the weather has changed 'wild swimming', (I hate calling it that, its basically swimming in rivers) and jumping in off high places. I am still yet to visit the famous Dartmoor's 'devil drop' or whatever its called.

Quick Q's

fave music - anything that you can sing along to
fave food - cheese! 
fave event - any time my friends and I get together at a pub
fave holiday - anywhere away from big cites
fave thing to do on a Sunday - roast and easy day (though 90% of them I'll be working my markets)


Thanks Frank - it's been great to find out a bit more about you, go steady on those 'Devil's Drops' won't you ...!!