Made in Sheffield

Created in 2013 through a combination of strong family values and the desire to create sustainable Sheffield steel, Mamnick is a brand whose influence reaches far and wide. Creating 'one thing at a time, as beautifully as possible', Mamnick products have come to be known for their quality and aesthetic appeal, and a dedicated Mamnick store has recently opened its doors in Tokyo.

We spoke to Mamnick founder Thomas Barnett to find out more...
Published —
09.02.16
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Tell us about your background, and how you came to get started in Mamnick?

I was born in Rotherham and studied a Fine Art BA at Sheffield University, at the old art-school on Psalter Lane. It’s got a good reputation around this way as a few of the ’so-called’ great bands from the eighties went there. I mainly focused on sound-art and sculpture which lead to me making some narrative-based installations upon leaving, as well as continuing to make music and sonic-arts.

The conceptual side of the art-world never really sat well with me though. I became slightly obsessed with asking awkward questions about value, price and the art institution itself. I didn’t get on with this language and context-led work. At the time I was studying art, it was going through the whole ‘relational aesthetics’ stage, I found most of that to be complete baloney and it was here where I realised I wasn’t interested in finding a career within that world.

I’d grown up in the working-class town of Rotherham, I’d always liked ‘clobber’ and upon becoming disenfranchised by the art-world and the music industry, I decided to put my energy into creating products and clothing that had a function, played a part in people’s lives and that ‘tipped their hat’ to Sheffield and the Peak District in someway.

I started Mamnick in 2013 with an ethos of doing “One thing at a time, as beautifully as possible.” I ignored the trade-shows and have avoided doing much wholesale, opting instead to control the brand equity myself and by working in a more creative manner with other brands and smaller stores on interesting products, limited or exclusive to them.

I hear that working in the Sheffield steel industry is a family affair, with your granddad making a living from it himself. Is this where the fascination began?

That’s correct, my granddad Eric worked his entire life within the Sheffield steel industry and I wanted to dedicate something to him, in someway, as he approached the end of the his life (he died in 2014). I thought this might be a nice thing to do but also, I felt as though no-one was really working with Sheffield steel in this way. I guess I found myself wanting to put Sheffield steel back on the map.

Do you feel like you’re keeping a part of that heritage alive in the work that you do? Is this a theme for you across all your products?
I think so, in a personal way but it’s not important for me that all my customers know that. I’d rather be judged on the products themselves and their design, rather than the narrative that comes along with them. That said, it seems we live in a time where people love a story and so I’m sure many of my customers are drawn to mine. I’m proud of my past and my story, especially because it’s honest. I don’t like the falseness of some of the brands I’ve come across since I got involved with manufacturing. Honesty is important to me, I’m grateful of my customers and I don’t want, or need, to lie to them.
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How important is it for your brand that the customer knows the craftsman who made it? 

As I said, telling an honest story is important for me and for the brand. It’s about being honest and it’s about giving credit to the people I work with, for without them, Mamnick would be just a logo festering in my head.

What was your first Mamnick product? And why did you decide upon that particular product?
I designed and manufactured the Backtor shirt and the Clough shirt in England, for no particular reason other than I liked wearing shirts and wanted to design one, or in this case two!  While these two shirts were being made I designed the Everyday clip and the tie-slide, both of which were made in Sheffield and came out of the factory before the shirts did. The brand was launched with this micro-collection.
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How has the business grown since then?

I launched the site with only four products and then continued to design and work on new things. Since then I’ve released 60 products over four years. That works out at just over a product per-month. I’ve worked with different manufacturers and collaborated with other brands such as Rapha, 6876, Clarks Originals and INSTRMNT. I’ve always kept the product to my site only and on our Japanese store that we opened in December 2014. The awareness of the brand has grown slowly but consistently. I’ve always thought you’re only as good as your last product, which keeps you level headed and determined to keep coming up with good ideas and executing them the best you can.

You’ve recently opened in Tokyo, tell us a little bit about how that came to happen?

I was working with vintage clothing before starting Mamnick and I had made some good friends/contacts over in Japan, so when I started the brand I explored the possibility of doing some wholesale via these avenues and it worked out really well. As the brand grew over in Japan I worked with a friend to put our heads together on a Mamnick flagship store over there. I feel quite lucky that everything just fell into place quickly really. The store, like online, continues to grow slowly and consistently.
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Do you think there’s a growth of interest in sustainable British brands in Asia?

The ‘Made in England’ tag is important for the Japanese audience, but I’m not 100% sure that it is something that is a USP anymore. With the globalised world now in full force, I think some consumers are more interested in the quality of the item as opposed to where it’s made (even that is questionable on the whole). It’s difficult to gauge. I feel extremely proud to still be manufacturing a lot of products close to my home, working with people locally to help their businesses. It’s nice to meet the people and work face to face with them, from week to week. There is a great deal of value in building these relationships with people, it makes my job worthwhile.

How important is sustainability for Mamnick as a brand?

If I want the brand to prosper for years to come, which I do, it’s very important that I strive to make every product the best it can possibly be. It’s very important to me that I stick to the ethos of “One thing at a time, is beautiful as possible.” I think so far I’ve managed that. I’m proud of the products I’ve made over the last four years and I’m happy to see the brand growing slowly and steadily over that period of time. It is also very important to be able to work with people who understand my goals and vision for the brand.

Cycling is something that is interwoven with your brand story. Are your products inspired by your love of cycling?

Some products are, they are mainly under the ’42.21’ moniker. The bike is a massive part of the my life, but the way it plays a part in my business isn’t very straight forward. There will be more cycling pieces coming through the site but I’ve never wanted to be exclusively a bike-brand in all honesty.

The bike is something that helps me escape and gives me a sense of purpose. It’s great for my well-being and mentality, both are important when it comes to running your own business. A work/life balance is very important to me.

The bike also leads to great conversations with friends and this is something that informs a lot of my designing. I’ve written a little bit about conversations and how important they are on the Mamnick Journal. Luckily for me, the best conversations I have are on the bike in the Peaks, in the cafe or in the pub.
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What’s next for Mamnick?

I’m gearing up for the colder months now. I have a women’s collection that is complete, which I’m really excited about. It’s taken time to get things right but I think now is the time to push this out. It also includes some jewellery too, a big step forward but one I’m keen to explore. There are also some Japanese made garments that are ready to be pushed online and another British made outerwear piece that I’m excited about. Every one of these garments are made in small numbers, so they are very limited pieces. That is something that has always been important to Mamnick.

With Christmas on the horizon, time becomes very limited because we offer a custom marking service on all of the steel and pewter pieces. This can be quite time consuming; trying to organise things and making sure people are getting things in time for Christmas, so I’m trying to get prepared as early as possible for this.

Amongst all that, I am focusing some time on the cycling kits I wish to do for next summer. It’s another lengthy process but something I’ve always wanted to do with Mamnick from the start.