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Highsnobiety Q&A April, 9 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Penfield CEO and Creative Director James Barshall Talks Designing, Manufacturing and More

Established in Hudson, Massachusetts in 1975 by Harvey Gross, Penfield was known early on among outdoor enthusiasts for their down-insulated jackets. Available in boutiques and department stores, the brand’s first collection consisted of four key outerwear styles, all made from rip-stop Nylon, insulated with down and quilted to hold the insulation in place.

Fast forward to today and Penfield’s New England aesthetic has permeated global culture with many prestigious collaborations to boot including the likes of Barneys New York and Stussy. To learn about the brand’s latest collection, we spoke to the CEO and Creative Director James Barshall. Take a look below.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is James Barshall and I’m CEO and Creative Director of Penfield.

How does the design process and concept begin at Penfield?

It’s very much a multi-stage approach. When we start to work on the new season the first
thing we look at is fabric options – the design team will have been researching and reviewing new fabrics and trim for a long time before the first new CADs are done. Then, we look at carryover styles which we review to see if there are any improvements we can make (or not), new colors, new trims, fabrics, etc.

Next, we look at new styles and then build around the core collection, making sure that each piece fills a distinct function within the collection. All the CADs go up on a wall in my office and on boards in the design room so that we can all get an overview of the collections as they evolve.

Is there a unifying theme to the collection?

I think that for Penfield there is one unifying theme that carries through all the collections and seasons and that is the marriage of “function and fashion” – this is something that is consistent and defines what we are as a brand.

Is there a particular kind of guy you had in mind when designing the collection?

One of the things about Penfield is that the brand and our product resonates with so many different types of people – sure, there are some pieces in the collection that will appeal to a more fashion conscious guy (or girl), or for someone who wants a classic piece that they can wear in any situation with a more technical look and function, but it’s our job to make Penfield work for all of them as far as possible.

What inspired you during the designing process?

We get inspiration from so many different areas – the design team spends a lot of time on
the road and one thing is certain and that is you can’t just trawl the web for inspiration – you have to get out and see how people are wearing things, mixing things up and creating their own style.

Did you apply any different or new manufacturing processes?

We are focusing a lot on making every part of our supply chain more eco-friendly and are
constantly reviewing the chemicals that might be used on fabrics to make sure they have the minimum impact.

Are there any particular prints, patterns or materials you’re especially fond of?

We are using some super lightweight down-proof fabrics that make lightweight jackets feel amazing to wear but are also highly functional and can pack away to nothing.

Do you think technical fabrics will ever outdo more traditional materials in terms of performance or insulation?

After all these years and the huge advances in technical fabrics and fibers there is still
nothing that can beat down for performance and insulation.

What is your favorite piece from the latest collection?

From the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, it would have to be the Vassan jacket. This is my essential travel jacket – it has loads of pockets, but is light enough to pack away nice and small; can be layered for the colder evenings, is a great rain jacket, and it’s one of those pieces you can wear with everything, in pretty much any situation and it doesn’t look out of place.

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