Quality Goes a Long Way, and Sims Wear is Here to Prove It

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A disappointing experience with an expensive sweater set Billy Sims-Hilditch on a quest for better quality knitwear: the realisation that very few brands offered what he was looking for was the spark that led him to the creation of Sims Wear in 2022. In this interview, Billy shares with us the secrets behind high-quality knitwear and his quality-focused approach to production.

Billy Sims-Hilditch, founder of Sims Wear

Could you share with us a little about your background and what initially inspired you to create Sims Wear?

Interestingly I never expected myself to be professionally involved with menswear. I grew up in a pretty creative house – my father has a furniture business and mother my has runs an interior design firm. The concept of buying once and buying well has always been relevant at home, and as a result I’ve tried to live by that as a guide.

Sims Wear came about after I bought a simple cut Cashmere sweater for no small sum of money (£220 to be precise), just to see it fall apart within a year – holes in the elbows and under the arms. After some time researching I came to the realisation that to get a top quality jumper you needed three things: 

Raw Fibre that is long in staple (the length of the fibre): the longer the fibre, the stronger the yarn will be. This is down to more surface area creating greater friction between the fibres, and in turn increasing the tensile strength.

Spinners who prioritise quality over speed: Todd & Duncan (our yarn spinners) purposefully use machinery that is 50 years old as the modern equivalents may be faster, but they cause more damage to the individual fibers which result in a weaker yarn

Knitters who fully understand how to get the best out of the yarn in the making of a jumper: knitters need to understand how the yarn reacts to the machines they use. For example, in Year 1 we wanted our knitters to create a Cashmere/Cotton blend jumper for the Summer Collection. After some development, they told us that the Shimaseiki machines they use were not as good at knitting Cotton variants as they were with Lambswool and Cashmere, and consequently the sweaters would not perform as well. We tried a small run anyway, but have since decided to stick to the Lambswool and Cashmere as the Cashmere/Cotton lost too much shape during use. 

In effect, if one of these factors falls out of kilter then that can result in a jumper which isn’t as good as it can be. I then set about looking at where I could buy such a jumper, without having to pay extortionate sums of money for the brand label.

It was soon clear to me that there were very few brands out there that truly wanted to focus on the making of the product, while also ensuring the product was simple and easy to wear. Everyone seemed to be trying to hide where and how their clothing was made while chasing the newest aesthetic trends. As a consumer, all I wanted to know was is this product the best it can be, and can I wear it every day! After a series of conversations with a 4th generation family knitter in Scotland, I placed the first Sims Wear order which consisted of 50 merino lambswool sweaters, and 50 cashmere sweaters, all done in easy to wear crew neck styles. 

As a brand, what core values and beliefs does Sims Wear embody, and how do these inform the design and production of your products?

Since our launch a little over two years ago, Sims Wear has always been about using great UK factories to create items of clothing that not only look and feel fantastic, but also last.

When thinking about the purpose of Sims Wear, we like to look at it in a slightly broader way. The idea of Slow Living has resonated increasingly with me since launching a couple of years ago. While not being the original founding principle, it is now our key driver when it comes to making decisions about the brand. It links how we want our customers to feel when they interact with Sims Wear products, the type of life they lead, while also informing our creative direction and how our products look and are made. As you may already know, slow living is about creating time and space for things that are actually important in life. We want Sims Wear to embody this, and to encourage people to question what is important to them.

As to how that relates to the making of the clothing, everything is done in an honest fashion. We make sure to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes when designing new pieces, asking ourselves “is this the shirt we want to pick out when going for a Sunday Roast with friends, will it be easy to wear, is this the sweater I’ll choose when I take my family for a walk in the countryside”.

For us, the idea of  Slow Living stems from mine and my business partner Rory’s ideals that we can get the best out of life from the simple things; going for a morning jog before starting work, meeting up with friends for a tasty coffee on the weekend, wearing a cosy jumper while listening to records. Effectively making time for the things we enjoy the most.

What are some of your most popular or beloved products, and what do you think makes them stand out to customers?

Our Merino Lambswool sweater has been a favourite right from the start. I think the combination of the seamless knitting (it comes off of the machine in one piece) which helps with longevity, along with the beautifully soft merino lambswool which comes from the first shearing (meaning added softness) makes it such an amazing entry piece into the world of high quality British knitwear. Our colours have equally been well received by our customers; we’ve got some which are classics while also offering a couple which are more out there.

I think another factor which gives people confidence in the sweaters is the fact that we have a proper repair scheme, effectively meaning this jumper should last you a considerable amount of time even if something happens to it. 

Are there any meaningful moments in the history of Sims Wear that you would like to share with us?

Throughout this conversation you’ve probably noticed me saying “we” a lot. This is because, very excitingly, I’ve recently found a business partner in one of my great friends from university: Rory. We lived together for a year when we were 21, and since then have stayed very close. He recently left his job in finance in the search for something more meaningful. At the time I was looking for a business partner who could bring something different to Sims Wear – someone who still had the creative passion but was more operationally minded. Since we’ve began working together earlier this year, things have started to move more quickly and efficiently, with exciting ideas popping up (quite literally!) for the year ahead. 

Among the most iconic brands with a strong legacy, what is your favourite one and why?

I’m going to throw a couple into the ring, and there’s a chance you haven’t heard of either of them! 

The first is an old camera brand called Mamiya. Unfortunately they aren’t around anymore, however they built some of the most amazing camera hardware to have ever existed. The one I use for our shoots is a 1971 Mamiya RB67. It takes medium format film (which creates better pictures than any digital camera in my opinion) and is fully manual which makes it far more reparable than modern electronic equivalents. While they didn’t create an incredible brand, they took so much pride in designing and building cameras that were the best they could be. The fact that the camera I own is still working as well as it did on day 1 over 50 years ago is my daily reminder that whatever I do, I need to do it to the best of my ability. Unfortunately they didn’t survive as a brand, which perhaps has guided Sims Wear in the importance of balancing brand purpose and identity with product quality for true enduring longevity.

The inspirational brand (which has perhaps had more of an effect on my person) is my father’s furniture company, Neptune.

He started it with a friend back in 1996, with the idea being to make a hammock as good as it possibly can be. Dad joked that he wanted these hammocks to last 100 years. Having had some success, the business grew into a more general homeware brand, doing anything from kitchens through to bed linen. While the day to day mission has changed, the purpose has always remained the same: whatever they do, do it to the best of their ability. This cycle of continuous improvement, or Kaizen as the Japanese call it, has meant that they are always doing something genuinely different or interesting, which has equally inspired me to ensure Sims Wear is always looking for new ways to improve.

Is there a book, a movie or a trip that has inspired your life or the creation of the brand?

When I was 16 I read A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush. While I’d be lying if I said it led me to where I am now, it certainly nurtured the sense of adventure that I had developed growing up in the countryside. It’s a true “diary” all about two British men who go trekking in the Afghan Hindu Kush with very basic experience in 1956. One of the two is highly nervous of the idea, while the other manages to convince him that it will be a fun experience. Naturally they are very underprepared and make a load of dangerous mistakes, but still end up making it to the other side ok (albeit with a few bruises)… 

There’s one key lesson I’ve taken from that: don’t be afraid of the risk in life – often it really isn’t as scary as it seems from the outside. The more risk averse we become, the less there is to truly excite us. Naturally there have been moments with Sims Wear when I’ve been thinking: what the **** am I doing!?, or I’m out of my depth. I’ve since come to the realisation that, like in the book above, sometimes we need to push past that mental barrier and take the risk. Sometimes it works out, and if it doesn’t, the lessons you’ll learn in failing are far more valuable than the regret you’ll have for never trying.

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