Wednesday, 12 February 2014

North Sea Clothing - Whatever Weather

Interview with Neil Starr.

Shackleton Epic Team
Ed Wardle, Tim Jarvis and Paul Larsen of The Shackleton Epic Team sporting NSC clobber outside the RGS last summer. (On one of the hottest days of the 2014!)
Further to my recent article on North Sea Clothing's Intrepid sweater, I caught up with the brand's founder, Neil Starr, for an interview. 

Neil has had a long standing interest in vintage and military clothing. Having run a vintage stall in London’s Portabello Road Market for years, he decided to start NSC 15 years ago.

Surplus supply of the original WW1 & WW2 Submariner sweaters dried up in the 1990's. It was partly this scarcity that led to the birth of NSC, “they actually became very hard to find… so we developed it ourselves. Initially it was just the Submariner in ecru. We changed the shape slightly, because some of them were designed to go over your jacket, sort of like a big sack. We changed it to something more suitable for modern guys.”

NSC Victory roll-neck
A heavy knit Victory roll neck.
So these are not stitch for stitch recreations. Such attention to detail has its place, but is perhaps irrelevant here. NSC’s jumpers are not too dissimilar to the originals and, as Neil argues, these would have varied anyway, “the spec was sent out and the originals were made in different factories. Like most military clothing they just had to meet certain criteria. We just try to focus on the quality in everything we do.”

There are several other reproductions out there, but it is this quality that sets North Sea Clothing apart. In fact, NSC are so good that apparently other brands have tried to copy them.

Archive image of an RN sailor
Bet there's a tot of rum in that cocoa...
Neil is charmingly sanguine about it all, saying, “I don't want to disrespect the other brands, we've had a lot of people see what we're doing and produce their own Submariner, but it's usually only for one season. A couple of companies have been very naughty who've knocked off the label, almost making a facsimile. I look at it as  a compliment in a way, instead of getting wound up about it. It's great to think that you're doing something that's worth copying.”

All NSC jumpers are made from 100% English wool by family firms in the UK. The untreated wool retains its natural lanolin, so will keep its insulating qualities even when wet. Construction is robust, with reassuringly heavy knits. 
North Sea Clothing - Submariner
Robust construction - reinforced seams and shoulder gussets on a Submariner. These pullovers will last you.
Production is labour intensive, just to get the yarn on the bobbin is quite an involved process, with the wool having to be sheared and scoured first, “it has to travel all over the place. There are not many people who can do that in the UK any more. There are only a couple of scourers left.”
However, British wool is making a comeback. After being at such a low ebb where there was almost no point taking it to market, a few years ago the price doubled.

With people as passionate as Neil behind the British wool revival, things can only get better.
Ed Wardle looking suitably rugged in an Intrepid.
The Submariner may be their staple, but NSC have a growing range of other sweaters and accessories. Neil tests all the pieces himself before they go to production.

Future plans include the introduction of a deck jacket, based on a vintage French Marine National example Neil has in his collection, “anything I produce is something I'd like to wear myself. We took one to the shows last year, it wasn't ready… I wasn't happy with it. But I was wearing it and someone said, ‘that's really nice, why don't you put it out on the stand?’” Feedback was so positive that Neil is planning to release the jacket for Spring / Summer 2014.
North Sea Clothing - Marine Nationale Deck Jacket
A sneak preview of the new deck jacket. (Review to hopefully follow soon.)
North Sea Clothing’s motto is “Whatever Weather.” Having worn an Intrepid (a Norwegian pattern Submariner) over two Scandinavian winters I can testify that this is no idle boast. 
I've said this already in a previous post and make no apology for repeating it here - the fact that NSC supplied the Shackleton Epic Team in their recent recreation of the original 1916 expedition to the South Pole should tell you all you need to know on how good these sweaters are.

No gents winter wardrobe is complete without one. You can purchase them online here.
Perfect for jaunts to The South Pole. Or a summer camping holiday in England.


  1. Good piece. They are obviously pricier than the high street, but you'll get so much more for the investment. Rest assured, these are God's own pullovers. There'd be no complaining about the current floods in the UK if everyone owned one of these. We could all be Jack Hawkins showing the best British stiff upper lip…

  2. Or Bernard Lee's character in "Dunkirk" - he was full of British spunk so to speak. And he did it all in a very small boat, wearing a Submariner, a dangerously high waisted pair of trousers and boots. A far cry Ed Miliband pointing hopelessly at floods. Ghastly man, what.

  3. Sad times indeed. Best we don't get started on David Cameron's high-viz jacket.

    1. The horror!! What, I ask you, is wrong with a stout Gloverall duffel coat?

    2. Genius. Pure genius: