This month I catch up with Carl Thompson, UK blogger and the founder of luxury menswear brand Hawkins & Shepherd. We chat about making the leap from a professional career in IT into full-time fashion design and blogging, the secret to creating a successful destination blog and his fool-proof A/W style essentials. He also reveals the most expensive item in his wardrobe and why a career in Table-Tennis wasn’t to be!
Name: Carl Thompson Based: London Blog: www.carlthompson.co.uk
Carl, thanks for joining us for a Meet The Blogger chat. You’re the first male blogger to feature in this series and we’re delighted to meet you! You had a high powered professional career in IT before moving into full-time blogging. Why and when did you start your blog www.carlthompson.co.uk?
I did! In many ways you could say I had a good head start with my IT background. So many of my blogging friends struggle with the IT side of things, which is understandable because if you don’t speak the language then everything takes twice as long. Initially I was just looking to drive more traffic to Hawkins & Shepherd, so I started writing about fashion and the things that interested me. Back then I don’t even remember it being called a blog, but I guess it was.
I enjoyed the process back then, I was writing prolifically, developing my knowledge base and I was also getting a kick out of sharing that with others. The blog soon developed into something separate and I was keen to olive branch into sub genres such as travel, cars etc. Hence now we have Carl Thompson the blog. It’s very much my baby and the root of all my grey hairs.
What prompted you to make the change in career to do blogging full-time?
The job I was working required you to be well presented. I always took pride in my appearance but I guess when I was buying suits for work, I wanted to know why some suits were entry level and others cost a king’s ransom. What was I getting for my money? Imperceptibly, I was becoming a student of tailoring, shirt making in particular, and I knew that I had to follow my heart on this one. I also knew I could be good at it and back then, there weren’t too many of us doing it. Doing it well at least.
Describe a typical day.
Ha! I’d love one of those. I’m desperately trying to get some form of routine and normality in my life these days. I wrote an article recently about how my devotion to blogging over the last five years and the work it takes in developing your own brand has meant that other areas in my life have suffered as a result. Relationships have had to take a back seat, sometimes my health isn’t always top of the pops neither. Every event will come with a free drink and although I’m fairly well disciplined, it’s not always easy to extricate yourself from the accoutrements of socialising.
That all said, it starts with a ‘lets-go’ handclap, a smile for the mirror, a coffee then I’ll walk Charlie round the block.
Your blog covers men’s fashion, lifestyle, grooming and travel as well as technology, fitness, food and interviews with industry leaders! How do you come up with regular inspiring content? How do you make your blog stand out?
It’s a good question, I’m lucky in that I’m naturally curious. I think the best character trait anyone can have, other than grit, is to be curious. If I had kids, I’d want them to be curious above intelligent. If you’re curious, and you question stuff, and you want to know more about subjects outside of your area of expertise, I think you’ll be ok as a human being. To start with I wrote about things that would interest me. Things that I was curious about and that started with Menswear and naturally bled into other areas. As to why it stands out? I invest a lot of time and money in getting good imagery. Don’t be precious neither, if you have half an inkling a photo doesn’t look right – scrap it. Move on.
Tell us about your brand Hawkins & Shepherd.
Finally! Haha I’m kidding. In 2013 I launched ‘Hawkins & Shepherd‘ and began selling luxury, handmade shirts and in particular bringing back the pin collar shirt into men’s wardrobes. This season I’m very excited to be launching the Country Shirt range, you’ll be hearing me rhapsodising about that for the next couple of months. I’m also currently designing a super premium made-in-Britain range of which I’m incredibly proud to be bringing manufacturing back into the UK.
Where do you think the blogging / influencer industry is heading? Are blogs still relevant to brands over being featured on social channels like Instagram and Facebook?
I was just having this debate today with some colleagues. It really depends on who you speak to. The PR industry will tell you that bloggers are becoming more entitled and more picky with the brands they work with. I’m lucky now that I’ve got to a place where I can be selective and work with some amazing brands that are congruent with my site and more importantly, will be of interest to my audience. You speak to some bloggers and influencers and they’ll tell you that the PR companies aren’t incentivizing them enough; expecting a lot of work for gratis and where none of the sponsorship money is getting kicked downstairs.
Instagram and Facebook have been great instruments for my trade. I think YouTube is going to be more influential than either of those and American menswear bloggers are way ahead of the game in that respect. Look at the likes of Antonio Centeno from Real Men Real Style, and Aaron Merino from Alpha M, love them or hate them they can get over 3m hits on a video and they know how to make money. UK bloggers haven’t hit those heights yet. YET.
What bloggers do you follow?
I think I follow every blogger haha! I’m a fan of good content, whether that is in written or visual form and I love these blogs for that exact reason Fashitects, Ali Gordon, Twenty First Century Gent, Man About Town, That Dapper Chap, The Everyday Man, Man For Himself , The Discerning Man, someone put me onto Human Research not long ago and now I’m hooked.
I’m always checking out the usual’s too, GQ, Mr Porter Journal, Cereal is a good one actually. I’d love to contribute to that magazine.
What has been your favourite collaboration so far and why?
I recently teamed up with Mini, test driving their Cooper D Hatchback. I’ve also done another car collaboration but can’t tell you about that yet. The car junkets are good because it’s a nice distraction from Menswear, which I need every now and then. I have a friend who reviews cars exclusively, he’s James Bond in my eyes. Always in a different car when I see him, never in the same country for longer than a week.
You feature top class photography on your blog and social channels. Who takes your pictures? What are your tips for creating great quality photographs?
I have a few photographers that I team up with on a regular basis who are Ella H, Rebecca Spencer, Kylie Eyra, Kats Films and Charlie Sawyer. We have worked together for a long time now and we’ve developed my dark aesthetics as a collaborative effort with my photographers. They are incredible. I really feel that I have a unique style and if you see one of my photographs you’ll know that it’s mine. Key to taking great pictures? If you are in the photo, have faith, don’t try and pull off any blue steels. Let the professional do their job and take direction. I’m also a keen photographer and have recently invested in an incredible camera for stills and video, the Sony A7Sii. Yes the camera is important but it is more important to know how to use it and quickly change the settings based on a variety of different scenarios. So I would recommend taking a professional training course then a weekend walking around London taking photos and playing around with the settings.
How would you describe your style? What are your autumn / winter style essentials?
My style is classic, clean and tailored. At least that’s the look I go for. Every fashion blogger will tell you this is their favourite time of year because they get to bring out the big guns. I have one blogger friend who is a hat lover and he wishes winter around like kids do Christmas because he loves wearing winter hats. My A/W staples are the Cashmere Camel Coat (available on my site) is never far from arms reach. It’s cashmere so light, breathable and interchangeable more or less with any jean or chino. I’m looking forward to rocking my aforementioned Country Shirt range and Made-in-Britain shirts. I’m gravitating towards knitwear and thicker outer garments this season. Very gentrified.
Where are your favourite places to shop for clothes?
Well you can’t beat ASOS. I still find a lot there. Reiss is a good one for me as is Next. I go through stages, depending on my mood. I love a lot of what I see on Mr Quintessential, I have splurges at Stradivarius, Zara, Barbour and COS. I still love going out shopping, if it’s for myself that is ha!
Tell us about the most expensive item in your wardrobe? Was it worth it?
Well that would be a Belstaff leather jacket, Omega Seamaster watch followed by my 100% cashmere camel coat by Hawkins & Shepherd. I tend to spend more money on coats and watches as I find they are timeless and durable.
Where is your favourite travel destination? What places are on your bucket list?
One of the most incredible unknown places I love is Los Roques in Venezuela, an untouched paradise, it will hopefully remain that way as development and tourism are controlled. Only 1,500 permanent inhabitants; however, it receives approximately 70,000 visitors a year. A few places currently on my bucket list are Tanzania, Botswana, Cuba, Mexico, Hawaii and New Zealand.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
I played Table-Tennis for Kent and was England ranked since I was 14. Unfortunately I gave up when I turned 18 as girls and football seemed more interesting, so didn’t quite make it to the Olympics but some players that I played against in my early years did. So if anyone fancies a night out at Bounce then get in touch!
Finally, for any guys out there thinking of starting a fashion and lifestyle blog, what advice would you give?
Become a morning and night person as you’ll be working seriously long hours. Be prepared to do a lot of work for free. Stay regular, find a voice, get a decent camera. Be a cameraman, a writer, videographer, a podcaster. Read as much as you can, and read before you write. If you want to write about a subject, be the authority on that subject.