Meet men’s lifestyle brand designer John McKenzie, as he tells us about his brand Mantidy and his journey through his life in the fashion industry. On his way to a meeting at Liberty London to showcase his latest collections, John’s bubbly voice and energy is ecstatic for a cold Monday morning in November. “I can be a celebrity for once!” he laughs. In his 27 years working in the fashion industry, John has made his way from the retailers of Teesside, to stocking his own brand — Mantidy, a London-based exclusive lifestyle brand for men — in large UK and global retailers.
The product designer started work in the fashion industry at a retailer called Envy. “Can you remember it? I think you’re too young. Back in the day we had a shop in Middlesbrough and one in Newcastle, so I started with them in 1996. I was there for about eight years as my first job. I saw it grow from about seven stores to about 50 stores in my time.” Growing up in the North East, John has always been interested in the world of fashion, which is what has led him to creating and owning his own brand. He explained how after the job at Envy, he took a year out to travel, which was the starting point to him landing a job as a buyer at River Island. He has also worked in the world of off-price brands — retailers that provide high-quality items at cheaper and affordable prices — including retailers TK Maxx, BrandAlley and SecretSales.com. After those jobs, John realised that he did not want to work for anyone anymore and wanted to be making money for himself. This is when he went travelling and his light-bulb moment struck for Mantidy. “The reason I started Mantidy was because when I went travelling for a bit, I was just sick of losing, and leaving cables and bits in hotels, and I just thought: ‘There’s got to be a way to keep it all together’. I was already planning to do a grooming brand and I already had some ideas for it.”
Mantidy consists of high-quality leather travel accessories for men. There are currently two collections out — the Herringbone collection and the Gaucho collection. The products featured are the Tech Roll and the Grooming Roll. The Tech Roll is a six-piece mobile phone accessories kit, and The Grooming Roll contains six carbon steel tools such as nail clippers, scissors and a nail file. John is passionate about the economics of his products, with his Herringbone collection being handwoven in the Philippines, he stated that by “buying each product from our Herringbone collection, you help us through our suppliers and GREAT Women Initiative to help the women in Sibaltan Village [in the] Philippines to get better payment and improve the infrastructure of their community.” With the initial audience being for men, the designer described his plans to bring out a women’s collection. “I am gonna be launching a women’s collection too. I’m not sure what I’m gonna call it yet, I think I’m just gonna call it W By Mantidy. I’ve got the domains WomanTidy, GirlTidy, HerTidy [and] SheTidy, but they all just sound like a spa treatment, so I just thought it’s probably best to call it W By Mantidy. “Another one I’m doing as well is called a cheese and wine roll. People love cheese and wine at Christmas, so I thought I might as well launch it.” John also explained how he wants to expand the idea of Mantidy and turn it into “the everyday essential that every man needs” rather than a gift. He explained that it is the perfect gift, however he wants it to be more of an essential. Mantidy has taken off hugely since it launched, and is now in large retailers across the UK, and in stores across Europe, Hong Kong and China. It is stocked throughout the UK in Selfridges, Conran Shop, Liberty London, Harvey Nichols and Fenwick’s. “It’s definitely took me a little bit by surprise, I knew there was nothing like it at all, so I knew that I had a chance of making it work… I just didn’t think that I would get all of the really good retailers on my first season.” He also travels and does trade shows in different countries, which helps towards his global audience, as well as the UK. “It’s weird that I’m getting a lot of sales through the website and a lot of calls from retailers abroad as well. I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it would just be a UK orientated thing, but for some reason Germany absolutely love it. UK is definitely the biggest, but outside of the UK, Germany has to be the biggest. “This week has been big. I normally do four or five a day on the website and then five on NotOnTheHighStreet, but this week has gone mental. This week we did 54 over the weekend [and] we’ve never done that many over the weekend before. A lot of them were from Germany this weekend. I’m not sure what has happened there but something has.” Mantidy has been featured in several magazines. John described how his brand has been featured in GQ magazine as well as others. “I got a phone call from my friend Sonya yesterday when I was out and about and she said she was reading The Saturday Times and apparently we were in there, I didn’t know we were going in either, so that was a nice surprise. I know we are in the Evening Standard next week as well.”
The man behind Mantidy revealed his plans for the future: “The States I really want to get into. I think America will be brilliant. I’ve got trade shows in January. So I’m signed up to do one in Berlin, then Paris, then ManWoman or Capsule in New York, then Revolver in Copenhagen, and oh Las Vegas. So yeah loads of shows coming up in January, I think the New York and Vegas shows should tap us into the US markets.” Speaking about celebrities, John would love for Richard Branson or Elon Musk — a South African businessman and multi-millionaire — to own a Mantidy. “Funnily enough I’ve been asked this question before. A celebrity I would want to represent my brand would be? I suppose it’s a little bit different to anything else, but it would be someone who has made a difference in the world. I would say someone like Elon Musk or Richard Branson. So it’s not necessarily the whole celeb thing, but someone who is making a difference in the world, that’s all I care about.” You can find Mantidy here: https://mantidy.co.uk with prices ranging from £39 to £199.