How Paynter Jacket Co. Found Success With Limited-Edition Chore Coats

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Fi Cotter Craig, a television producer in Britain, was scrolling through Instagram one day when she was struck by a photo. “I saw my friend wearing a jacket that I actually thought I would kill her for,” Ms. Cotter Craig said. “Rather than kill her, I rang her up 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 chore coat and poached it for herself. “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 a restaurant parking lot one rainy night when he was stopped by the attendant. “He’s standing in the rain, holding up traffic,” Mr. Cannon recalled. “First thing he said was, ‘Where did you get that jacket?’”

The maker 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. Their newsletter subscribers have about a week to order it in their desired sizes and colors, and the label makes only that many, in “batches” numbered 1, 2, 3 and so on. After the call out to subscribers, Paynter will offer each batch to the general public in an announced drop, which often sells out in about two minutes.

The “drop” model is common to streetwear brands, who often use it to drive up demand. But as Mrs. Okell, 30, and Mr. Thomas, 31, explained during a video call from their studio in London, they use drops with the idea of reducing waste.

“It’s a very wasteful industry,” Mr. Thomas said. “OK, how can we do this differently? What if we made only what we needed?”

Paynter has none of the inventory management problems that bedevil other fashion brands, Mrs. Okell added, because it has no inventory. The label orders enough fabric to make the coats for which it has orders — and no more.

Before starting Paynter in 2019, Mrs. Okell and Mr. Thomas spent time in corporate fashion. She worked in the brand department at Nike; he did marketing and product design for Hiut Denim Co., in Wales. In 2018, they attended an industry workshop in London, where, for some reason, Mrs. Okell greeted Mr. Thomas, a stranger at the time, with a hug. Within weeks, they were inseparable.

Mr. Thomas had long collected vintage workwear, including a blue jacket from France that had a better fit and softer fabric than the typical workcoat. As the couple began decoding how the jacket was made, they decided to build a brand around it.

Mrs. Okell and Mr. Thomas work within a narrow range of styles. Many of the 16 batches released so far have been variations on a traditional chore coat, as well as classic denim, gabardine overcoats and field jackets.

They begin by selecting fabrics from mills in Italy, Japan and elsewhere. The jackets — and occasional shirts — that they make out of those fabrics stand out for their simplicity. That is, until you notice the attention to detail.

Each limited-edition jacket has a label hidden inside designed by a different artist. The jackets are also hand-numbered, and the care labels have whimsical instructions, including, “Wake up early. Exercise first thing. Inhale. Exhale. Have a bowl of Coco Pops.” The jackets come in the mail with a small gift; Batch No. 16, an Italian wool cashmere winter coat, included a Tony’s chocolate bar with a custom Paynter wrapper.

Planned releases for 2024 include a waxed barn coat with a corduroy collar, followed by a chore jacket meant to commemorate the company’s five years in business. That one “will distill all our learning and all our favorite details from all the chore jackets we’ve ever made,” Mr. Thomas said. The very next drop, a flap pocket corduroy workshirt in four colors, is scheduled to go on sale to the general public on Feb. 10. Newsletter subscribers as usual will have early access to order.

The fashion writer W. David Marx has a Paynter field jacket in olive green. Asked to describe the construction of the coat, he wrote in an email, “A focus on fit and silhouette. No bells and whistles or details that will age poorly. The jackets are just made to make everyone look good.”

Ms. Cotter Craig, the TV producer, concurred. “I’ve got six or seven Paynter jackets and they’ve never disappointed, not one,” she said.

Mr. Cannon, the divinity student, said he likes to buy new jackets partly to follow how Mrs. Okell and Mr. Thomas are improving over time. “I don’t feel like someone is selling me something,” he said. “I feel like I’m participating in some kind of art project, almost.” Last fall, he flew to London to attend one of the label’s “Paynter at the Pub” events and to meet the designers.

Mrs. Okell and Mr. Thomas do just about everything themselves. And their low overhead means they can sell a wool cashmere coat for about $335 — an unheard-of price for a luxury good, a category to which their coats arguably belong. The label’s shirts cost about $150.

The couple said they have often heard from friends, customers and industry colleagues who say that Paynter should scale up and make double or triple the number of jackets.

“Some waiting lists go up to 3,000 people,” Mr. Thomas said. “And you think, ‘We should have made more of that.’”

He and Mrs. Okell aren’t losing any sleep over the missed sales, however.

“When we started Paynter, we both wanted a similar company,” Mrs. Okell said. “We were both absolutely dead set on it being 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 make fashion.”

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