When thousands of doors slammed shut during lockdown, digital gateways opened up instead. Gym classes, fresh pints, and haircuts were all temporarily banned whilst the country sheltered from a global pandemic, meaning that health, hospitality, and headwear all moved online instead.
Online exercise memberships and craft beer box subscriptions skyrocketed in 2020, whilst dozens of other new brands popped up to fill the void in retail – providing hats and caps to help people hide their dodgy lockdown dos.
One of them was HEX MCR.
But once the barbers and hairdressers did finally reopen, a funny thing happened. Nobody wanted to take their HEX hats off.
Luke Powell and Andy Gibson launched HEX as a way to stay busy when their own work in the construction industry dried up. But they actually ended up creating something that’s stood the test of time.
HEX has now become one of Manchester’s most familiar and fastest-growing fashion labels – with the headwear and clothing being paraded by footballers and reality TV stars, including the likes of Aaron Wan Bissaka, Danny Simpson, Georgia Steel, Charlie Frederick and Jordan Defay.
Next year, company sales are tipped to top £1 million.
Whilst caps and heats remain the brand’s ‘bread and butter’, the company has continued to expand into a diverse unisex range of premium streetwear – all of which blends style with a casual feel.
Co-founder Luke thinks that coming from such a different background may be part of the reason why the fashion line has proven such a success.
“Our vision is different, we’re not from the style industry,” he explains.
“Because our background is construction, we’re looking in with a different set of eyes. We’re not trying to re-engineer how the industry works or anything. We’re just in a different lane – taking a refreshing approach.
“We’ve been taking business skills from another industry and transferring them across.”
From the get-go, HEX has also strived to stay clear of fast fashion – ensuring all of the products are crafted ethically to quality standards. This careful philosophy seems to be stitched into the brand’s makeup, with the company committed to scaling slowly and making sure it takes the right steps at the right times.
“We’re not in profit mode – we’re not trying to rush anything,” Luke emphasises.
“We want to do it properly – running out a full campaign and getting models that suit our style.”
Despite its unwavering commitment to standards, HEX has shown a fluidity since launching in November 2020 – tweaking its product offering whenever it feels suitable to do so.
A special product range was launched for the Euros, for example, and new items are introduced according to demand.
Now, the next step is determining where HEX sits in terms of wider culture. And Luke thinks he knows where that place is.
Plans are already underway to turn HEX into the clothing line of Manchester’s underground music scene – including collaborations with up-and-coming local artists.
The brand already has that urban feel to it, and after seeing a number of celebrities donning HEX gear, Luke says the brand is now working on striking agreements with those in the creative industry.
“Manchester has got this historic music scene, and we’ve been having some exciting conversations with some big people in that world,” he explains.
In time, Luke says he wants the brand to go worldwide in a similar way to Madchester – pushing the HEX logo across continents.
But one thing about the brand that will remain intact is the focus on providing premium products.
Everything about HEX screams quality – from the design and fabrics used to the packaging in which the clothing arrives.
“We’ve always wanted to create this great user experience,” Luke says.
“It’s not just about the product, but the packaging you get when you open the parcel.
“I think part of the power is in the reveal as well as the product. We get a lot of people sending our stuff out as presents because of that – it just looks good.
“There are no shipping costs for our customers, either. We want the user experience to be premium as well as the clothes.
“That will stay. We don’t want to sacrifice the user experience.”
What started out as a “pandemic project” now has projected seven-figure sales in 2022.
From absolutely nowhere, HEX is all set to become a seriously big player in the fashion market over the next few months.
The name is already splashed across the media and press pages. But as Luke testifies, this is only the beginning.
“Going worldwide is definitely our aim,” he clarifies.
“That’s where we want to take it. There’s lots of exciting things coming.”
Stores like Cow Vintage, Blue Rinse, and Pop Boutique, not to mention the numerous charity shops and pop-ups that line Oldham Street, have turned that corner of town into a haven for lovers of the fashions of yesteryear.
But now there’s a new outpost in the heart of Chinatown – and it’s possibly the most stylish, charming vintage store in the city yet.
Stare Society opened last December, and has put some serious effort into both sourcing the items it sells, and decorating the space it sells them from.
Tucked away up a flight of stairs in a corner unit above Red Chilli, you’ve probably walked straight past it a dozen times already.
But glance up above the long-standing Chinese restaurant and you’ll notice a slowly rotating disco ball in the window, giving just a taste of all the treats in store.
Venture inside and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right back in time to the 1970s, greeted by the sound of Fleetwood Mac being piped through the speakers (the legendary group are also the stars of a huge framed photo above the fireplace inside).
Stare Society is decorated to the nines – fringed lampshades, rattan screens, glitter ball plant pots, guitars, and a huge leopard print chaise lounge in the window, draped in retro-printed cushions, vinyl records and vintage hats.
There are 1970s-inspired scented candles named things like Cherry Bomb, Tiny Dancer and Rebel Rebel, and all sorts of knick-knacks (sunglasses, tiny mirrors, antique glassware) hailing back to the glory days of rock n roll.
Then there’s the clothes – racks full of leather jackets, leopard-print furry coats, and fringed suede waistcoats.
Retro t-shirts with contrasting collars, with ‘Manchester 1970’ and ‘Chinatown 1970’ scrawled across them.
Cowboy boots painted with stars, piles of colourful felt berets, and loudly-patterned blouses.
The space is so beautiful, it’s actually available to hire, for things like photoshoots and private events, with a vision to host intimate gigs inside in the future.
Stare Society joins the booming vintage scene in Manchester, like Bare Necessities, the online giant that recently hosted a pop-up store on High Street that everyone lost their minds over.
You’ll find Stare Society at 20 Nicholas Street on the edge of Chinatown in Manchester.
Featured image: The Manc Group
The surprisingly affordable luxury eyewear brand made famous by Peaky Blinders’ Cillian Murphy
Most of us who watched Peaky Blinders finished the later seasons with a new-found obsession with stylish eyewear, thanks to the glasses Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby started wearing as his character progressed.
But did you know that you don’t need to run a dodgy racketeering enterprise to afford his accessories?
The lovely tortoiseshell frames were made especially for the hit BBC show by IOLLA, a Scottish brand who opened their first English store right here in Manchester last summer.
The brand specialises in fashionable, innovative glasses with a totally transparent pricing strategy – no hidden costs or added extras.
So that means you can get a stylish new pair of specs for £85, which includes prescription lenses and coatings.
What’s the catch? Erm, there genuinely isn’t one.
The new store at St Ann’s Square is a stylish space where shoppers can browse and try on the full IOLLA range, from the tortoiseshell MacDonald frames (the closest you can get to Tommy Shelby’s) to the bold cat-eye shape of Kelly.
Then there are the Frosted collection glasses, launched today, which take IOLLA’s best-selling styles and create them with new frosted coloured acetates.
All the glasses and sunglasses are handmade, uniquely designed and built to last – something that caught the eye of BAFTA-nominated costume designer Alison McCosh, who approached them to create a pair of frames for the fifth season of Peaky Blinders.
Anyone who visits IOLLA can have a styling session with an eyewear expert and build their own eyewear wardrobe.
Customers are encouraged to have their eye test prescription to hand (IOLLA don’t offer eye tests) before placing their order through their digitally enabled platform either in person or online.