SMR Days is translating travel into clothing

A man standing in a sandstone doorway.

Dan May, Adam Shapiro, and Gautam Rajani have just launched travel-inspired menswear line, SMR Days. Here, they talk about supporting artisan communities, new directions in menswear, and 2020’s second-most-hated word – pivoting

By Shannon Mahanty   Images courtesy of SMR Days   Thursday 19 November, 2020

When Net-a-Porter Contributing Fashion Editor Dan May and L52 agency founder Adam Shapiro first started discussing launching a menswear label, the world looked very different. There was no global pandemic, no enforced working from home, and definitely no travel restrictions. Fuelled by a shared sense of wanderlust, and a love of hot climes and laidback menswear, they were free to imagine a warm-weather brand that men could wear on summer days. ‘We love to travel, and holidays especially have such an outsized part in people’s memories,’ explains Shapiro, ‘so I think it felt natural to us to want to tap into that feeling in some way.’

Finding the gap
A few years later, Gautam Rajani (former VP of International Business at Diane von Furstenberg, and Shapiro’s boyfriend) came into the picture, and the conversation about starting a label began again – and this time, all three meant business. Not only did the trio have a huge wealth of industry knowledge and contacts, they realised that they all shared a similar vision. 

May, Shapiro, and Rajani all grew up in hot countries (May in Cape Town, Shapiro in New Orleans, and Rajani in India) – destinations where summer dressing could last all year round. Having relocated to the UK, they found it harder to locate seasonal pieces outside of the summer months.  ‘When I joined Mr Porter for the launch 11 years ago,’ says May, ‘it was one of the first big global etailers for men, and it was shocking because it was almost the first time you could get a pair of men’s swimming shorts in December. The shops were just so rigid. When we started talking about launching a brand, we knew we wanted to be part of that ability to offer [summer clothes] year-round.’

‘I think we realised that there was a gap in the market,’ adds Rajani. ‘If women have beach weddings or summer parties, you can find clothes that are so glamorous. Men have white linen shirts and swim shorts… we just thought, why isn’t there more opportunity?’
A man standing in a desert.

Tom Craig

A man standing in a desert.
Craft is key
Two years ago, the three men decided to take a research trip to India, visiting factories and meeting with artisans in villages around Jaipur, Rajasthan. Collectively, they fell in love with traditional crafting methods that originated thousands of years ago, and had been passed down through generations of families. They learned that many of these styles were in danger of dying out, as more younger people abandoned traditional techniques and moved to the cities to follow different career paths. ‘The genesis of SMR Days was definitely that trip,’ remembers Shapiro. ‘Gautam had an incredible knowledge of the various Indian crafts and artisanship. For Dan and I to be able to experience that first hand with a great tour guide like Gautam… that was the spark. We were so inspired by what could be done with those methods, and we realised we could support the communities doing them by giving them a reason to keep those techniques alive.’

‘There’s block printing using a traditional wooden block to paint a fabric, there’s tie-dye, another prominent style we would go on to use is kantha,’ explains Rajani. ‘It was an embroidery technique used by Indian women; a patchwork made from hand-sewing different fabrics together. You see a lot of beautiful Indian fabrics and crafts being utilised on a lot of womenswear and traditional Indian wear, but much less so in menswear.’
Getting down to business

On their return, inspired and armed with the initials of each of their surnames, which conveniently pointed to their favourite season, SMR Days was born. May was on design, Shapiro handled communications, and Rajani was responsible for the production cycle. ‘We all have our specific roles within this business but there’s no boundary,’ explains May. ‘We all discuss the design, the business, and the marketing; there’s a really nice synergy between us. It’s helpful for me because I know what I like, but we all have different tastes – there's a lot of “Would I wear that?” “No, but you would wear that…” That’s really helpful for me from a design perspective.’
A person embroidering a piece of white cloth.
A man in a workshop cutting fabric with a pair of scissors.
Ready to wear
Their first collection is a real showcase of craft and a subtle love letter to India, with hand-stitched embroidered pieces, casual shirts and light workwear jackets, plus their signature tunics. ‘The traditional Indian kurta is where the tunic came from, says Rajani. ‘We took the kurtas and made them into shirts that button all the way up in long and shorter versions.’ May adds, ‘The tunic is quite a big feature for us. It’s such an easy piece to wear at home, to wear on holiday, to wear pretty much anywhere.’

Kantha also makes an appearance in the collection in the form of reversible cotton kimono jackets and gilets. ‘It’s something that started off with a very functional purpose in the world: making blankets or clothes to wear around the house. We’re now using it with ready-to-wear, resort, and vacation wear,’ says Gautam. ‘The other technique we used a lot was bandhani tie-dye. You see a lot of traditional tie-die, but you don’t always see tie-dye on silk basketball shorts, worn with a shirt. There was a lot of beauty that was scalable, and that we could use in a very modern way.’
A man standing underneath a make-shift wooden awning in the desert.
Patience, postcards and pivoting
Fast forward to last month, and SMR Days launches into a very uncertain world – though through the pandemic, its founders say it has found a new life. ‘Menswear is going in a much more casual direction, and coronavirus has really accelerated that,’ says Shapiro. ‘The work-from-home element has been really interesting: it’s allowed us to realise the different application for the clothing. Because it is really comfortable, you can wear it around the house, it is loungey – and yet at the same time you can dress it up and wear it to the beach. The DNA of the brand is always travel and wanderlust, but there’s options within it.’ 

And then of course, there’s the importance of that wanderlust feeling in encouraging the three to launch something new in the first place. In a time of quarantine and travel restrictions, we still look to escape in other ways, and when the launch was postponed due to lockdowns and the temporary closure of their production facilities in India, it was SMR Day’s editorial offering that provided some much-needed respite for its audience: users could share postcards on Instagram, and the best were reposted on the SMR Days website. ‘We used contacts and friends to get the ball rolling,’ says May. ‘I reached out to my photographer friends and said “We’re all stuck in lockdown, let’s just create this gallery of really beautiful images that can kind of transport people and also allow people to stay in touch.”’ 

‘It was a way of scratching that travel itch,’ says Adam. ‘Let’s face it, all of us want to be somewhere other than our houses right now, and with SMR Days the idea is that it’s always summer somewhere. The vibe is that warm holiday feeling wherever in the world you are... or wherever in the world you will be.’ Rajani agrees: ‘Even when you’re not on holiday, people love to plan their next vacation. It brings a sense of happiness, a moment of thrill, that feeling of “I’m gonna go away soon!”’
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