Greg Finch of Orsman Clothing
Words by Calum Gordon
Photography by DK Woon
Greg Finch is a product of his environment. South Africa, London, skateboarding and, to a lesser extent, fashion and art scenes have all had a hand in moulding the 39 year old. He is one of a select few that pushed London’s 90s skate scene, perhaps culturally more than anything, clocking off every evening around 6 and spending the following hours drinking on the streets of the then-less polished Soho area. It was that culture and scene, which grew out of legendary skate shops like Slam City and Bond International, that paved the way for the likes of Palace Skateboards today. Finch is an integral member of the Palace set up, doing much of the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes stuff that allows them to make it all look so effortless. But today, we’re here to talk about the South African’s own brainchild, Orsman Clothing.
Sat in the East-London office of Peach Fuzz – a creative agency that handles Orsman, as well as the likes of Dickies and Gasius – Finch walks me through his collection. The colour palette is not shy, as collegiate greens and yellows off-set more muted hues of slate and navy. What’s also apparent is the quality of the outerwear – a big focus of the collection. “My girlfriend is a pattern cutter, so she’ll sit down and go through a lot of the stuff with me when I’m designing it,” he says.
That kind of exclusive thing is for other people.
I want my stuff to be accessible
Launched in 2014, Orsman provides something accessible and undeniably of streetwear origin. It is, essentially, streetwear without all the hallmarks of a streetwear label – like obtuse branding, graphic boldness and an often-unhealthy obsession with being cool. For Finch, his label is the antitheses of an attitude that is so pervasive, but with few actually executing it well. Instead, Orsman’s pared-back aesthetic can sit just as comfortably in the wardrobe of a teenager who has just unboxed his first pair of Huaraches and watched his first pin-roll Youtube tutorial, as it can a middle-aged bloke in a London pub that appreciates simple, well-made clothing. “I like the fact that I’m not super snobby about who my customer is. I’m hyped that I can walk into a pub and have a granddad wearing an Orsman sweater and some kid wearing an Orsman jacket. That kind of exclusive thing is for other people. I want my stuff to be accessible and if it’s to peoples’ taste, then they’ll buy it”
In many respects Finch is correct – anyone can appeal to a very small niche, but to create something in your own vision which has universal appeal is often much greater challenge. Orsman’s Spring Summer ’15 offering has influences clearly rooted in 90s sportswear – but unlike that era, this stuff actually fits well. “I’d had it in my mind to do something a bit more along the lines of Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Hang Ten when I started this 3 or 4 years ago.” The references thoughout the collection, however, are often understated. “In the mid 90s, loads of people wore striped polos or striped shirts – it’s just what you did,” he says. “So we did those colour block stripes in reference to that. It’s subtle.”
In London you can get pissed and fall asleep on a bus bench
and the worst thing that’s gonna happen is you’ll probably lose your shoes
Finch grew up in Johannesburg before moving to London in 1996, just two years after the end of Apartheid, at the age of 18. “Johannesburg is a pretty conservative place. You’ve got to watch your back constantly,” he says. “Whereas in London you can get pissed and fall asleep on a bus bench and the worst thing that’s gonna happen is you’ll probably lose your shoes.” For Finch, skateboarding provided a form of escapism in his formative years. “99% of people there would very much live a linear life: you go to school; go to university; get a job and get married.”
“So, I moved to London with Gareth (Skewis). We started skating and working at Slam City Skates together. It was a totally different lifestyle – skating every day and drinking every night.” The pair have remained close – Skewis is also a key figure behind Lev Tanju’s seminal Palace label – but Finch remembers those first years in London as a special time, sharply juxtaposed to the often-stifling Johannesburg environment.
Despite being sponsored and having a pro-model released, Finch never considered himself a professional skater, but by 2002, Finch had co-founded Cide, along with fellow skates Alan Rushbrooke and Richard Holland. The skate shop was situated near London’s South Bank area – the scene of a protracted battle between local authorities and skaters for the past few years over plans to purge the hallowed skate spot. Stocking the likes of Chocolate and Girl, as well as having an adjoining gallery space where local artists would display their work, Cide would last for four years, after which, Finch decided to go into making his own clothes. It was a move that was partly spurred on by his hatred of the apparel that was on offer from most skate brands.
That whole skate thing
…a lot of it’s really badly made and overpriced
“You’d see skate clothing come in (to the shop) and it was so shoddy,” he says. “I was going up to Gap and buying like chinos and plain white shirts, because that whole skate thing… a lot of it’s really badly made and overpriced” After sourcing a number of London-based factories and selling a few of his creations to friends, Finch decided to start putting clothes out under the name Larke. “Its appeal was that it was all made in England, from the fabrics to the trims. Everything except the zips.” However, by 2010 the heritage fad that had engulfed menswear began to grow stale in Finch’s eyes, and he started toying with the idea of a new, sportswear-led brand.
“I wanted to try something new. I looked to kind of combine Berghaus with 70s Hang Ten” – the California-based sportswear brand – he says. “You know, sweatpants, free and easy beach vibes paired with smart outerwear.” And while those influences are apparent in the Orsman aesthetic, it maintains a refined edge to it all. For Finch Orsman is about being understated, whilst providing superior levels of craftsmanship and fabric quality. “Look at cycling – it is the most garish product you could possibly get. And then someone like Rapha comes along and takes away all the branding and makes it all black, because people want to cycle but they also don’t wan to look like they’ve been shot out of a brand cannon. It’s the same reason why North Face and Patagonia are flying: because the product is good and it’s made for a reason,” he muses. “Obviously, I got a long way to go to reach that level, but maybe one day.”