Fi Cotter Craig, a British television producer, was scrolling through Instagram one day when she was struck by a photo. “I saw my friend wearing a jacket that I really thought I was going to kill her for,” Ms Cotter Craig said. “Rather than kill her, I called her and said, ‘Where did you get that jacket?'”
Chloe Speed, who lives in Amsterdam and works in marketing for Nike, envied her husband’s new blue coat and got it. “The color was so iconic and beautiful,” Ms. Speed said. “Every time you wear it, it gets a little softer in places and fits better.”
Ethan Cannon, a divinity student in St. Louis, was pulling into the parking lot of a restaurant one rainy night when he was stopped by the attendant. “He stood in the rain, blocking traffic,” Mr. Cannon recalled. “The first thing he said was, ‘Where did you get that jacket?'”
The manufacturer of all three coats is Paynter Jacket Co., a small British label run by Becky Okell and Huw Thomas, a married couple who take an unusual approach to their business.
Four times a year they announce the garment they will produce next. Newsletter subscribers have about a week to order it in the sizes and colors they want, and the label only makes so many, in “batches” numbered 1, 2, 3, and so on. After calling on subscribers, Paynter will offer each lot to the general public in an announced launch, which often sells out in about two minutes.
The “drop” model is common among streetwear brands, who often use it to increase demand. But as Ms Okell, 30, and Mr Thomas, 31, explained during a video call from their London studio, they use the drops with the idea of reducing waste.
“It’s a very wasteful industry,” Thomas said. “OK, how can we do it differently? What if we only produced what we needed?”
Paynter has none of the inventory management problems that bedevil other fashion brands, Ms. Okell added, because it has no inventory. The label orders enough fabric to make the coats it has orders for – and nothing more.
Before starting Paynter in 2019, Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas spent time in the corporate fashion world. You worked in Nike’s branding department; he handled marketing and product design for Hiut Denim Co., in Wales. In 2018, they attended an industry seminar in London, where, for some reason, Ms. Okell greeted Mr. Thomas, a stranger at the time, with a hug. Within a few weeks they became inseparable.
Mr. Thomas had long collected vintage workwear, including a French blue jacket that had a better fit and softer fabric than the typical work coat. When the pair began to reverse engineer how the jacket was made, they decided to build a brand around it.
Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas work with a narrow range of styles. Many of the 16 batches released so far are variations on the traditional work coat, as well as classic denim, gabardine overcoats and field jackets.
They start by selecting fabrics from factories in Italy, Japan and elsewhere. The jackets – and occasionally shirts – they make from these fabrics stand out for their simplicity. That is, until you notice the attention to detail.
Each limited edition jacket has a hidden label inside designed by a different artist. The jackets are also hand-numbered, and the care labels feature whimsical instructions, including: “Wake up early. Practice first. Inhale. Exhale. Grab a bowl of Coco Pops. The jackets arrive in the mail with a small gift; Lot no. 16, an Italian wool and cashmere winter coat, included a Tony chocolate bar with a custom Paynter wrapper.
Releases planned for 2024 include a waxed coat with a corduroy collar, followed by a work jacket designed to commemorate the company’s five years in business. That “will distill all our learning and all our favorite details from all the work jackets we’ve ever made,” Mr. Thomas said. The next drop, a corduroy work shirt with flap pocket in four colors, will go on sale to the public on February 10. Newsletter subscribers, as usual, will have early access to order.
Fashion writer W. David Marx has a Paynter field jacket in olive green. When asked to describe the construction of the coat, he wrote in an email: “A focus on fit and silhouette. No frills or details that will age badly. The jackets are made to make everyone look good.”
Mrs. Cotter Craig, the television producer, agrees. “I have six or seven Paynter jackets and they have never let me down, not even one,” she said.
Mr. Cannon, the divinity student, said he likes to buy new jackets in part to track how Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas are improving over time. “I don’t feel like anyone is selling me anything,” he said. “I almost feel like I’m participating in some sort of art project.” Last fall he flew to London to attend one of the brand’s “Paynter at the Pub” events and meet the designers.
Ms. Okell and Mr. Thomas do almost everything themselves. And their low overhead means they can sell a wool and cashmere coat for around $335 — an unheard of price for a luxury good, a category to which their coats likely belong. The label’s T-shirts cost about $150.
The couple said they often hear friends, customers and industry colleagues say Paynter should expand and produce double or triple the number of jackets.
“Some waitlists are as high as 3,000 people,” Thomas said. “And you think, ‘We should have done more.’”
He and Mrs. Okell, however, don’t lose sleep over the lost sales.
“When we started Paynter, we both wanted a similar company,” Ms. Okell said. “We were both absolutely convinced that it was independent. We didn’t want investors. We didn’t want big teams. We wanted to work on every part of the process ourselves.
“We make clothes,” Mr. Thomas said. “We don’t do fashion.”