United States


Q&A with Tom Chudley of Service Works

S/S 24

We chat fashion and food with Tom Chudley of Service Works, whose modern workwear has a dedicated following amongst catering cognoscienti, wannabee Carmen Berzattos and regular Joes alike.

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What or who encouraged you to start the brand? And what is your role?

I spent my childhood living and working around my family's hospitality business. I have a big family and everyone chipped in, I spent weekends, summer holidays, Christmas and everything in between there. After moving out and working in other kitchens, I wanted a change and started working in clothing stores for a supposedly calmer lifestyle. I eventually started working more behind the scenes and spent some time at Billionaire Boys Club, Maharishi and a few other brands. I started an online store called Blacksmith Store out of my corridor in Brockley in 2016, much to my housemate's dislike. I was importing mainly blank tees and hoodies, which weren't available in the UK, and it ended up becoming my full time job three years later. I then moved into making own brand goods.

During a trip to Japan in 2019 I noticed a handful of menswear stores who were producing their own brand 'easy pants' and chef inspired pants. I tried to dig deeper but not only were the trousers 6 inches too short for me, they didn't have any real tie to the hospitality industry - it was very much a visual link only. I spent more and more time thinking about the intrinsic link between food and clothing, particularly workwear, for lack of a better word. It felt like a no-brainer and the two are all I've ever known, so I decided to go for it. I released a tiny run of trousers via Blacksmith Store during lockdown and had never sold anything so quickly. I haven't really stopped since then!

I've done everything from the branding, design, production, photography and so on, which I love to be able to do. As the brand grows I'm still leaning more into the creative side of things rather than logistics or operations, but I've never really had the luxury of choosing.

A look book image of a pair of Service Works Canvas Chef Trousers hung up in a kitchen.

Why is food culture so important to you?

I guess having the childhood I did, shaped my obsession and love for food and drink. It's my favourite way to pass the time; cooking, eating and drinking with family, old friends and new ones. It has informed everywhere I've ever travelled, and brings me a lot of joy. It’s so broad and can never really be mastered; ingredients and techniques are endless, which for me, makes it very exciting and stops me getting bored or jaded.

I think there was a misconception that the industry as a whole was more competitive and elitist than it really is. It feels like there’s been a generational shift and people are less concerned with stars but value authenticity and accessibility, which in my eyes makes for an infinitely better time and sums up what food culture is about. Pushing boundaries and experimenting can be cool, but when it’s self indulgent, over-engineered and over-priced it is pretty boring. Indulgence doesn’t need to be stuffy and selective. I love the culture for being inviting and inclusive, and focussing on the core elements; consuming something lovingly made and having a good time in a comfortable environment.

How have you encouraged the teams in some of the best restaurants in London to wear your gear?

We've never reached out to any restaurants before, it's always happened organically which I'm really grateful for. We're super lucky that it's a tight-knit community and word of mouth is more valuable than hounding a GM over the phone until they crumble. It's a hard thing to push, as generally speaking, restaurant budgets don't prioritise uniforms. We've been adopted by those with a more holistic focus, and in turn ended up in what I view as being the best restaurants in the country.

When you were a teenager what were you wearing? Which labels did you gravitate towards? And have they influenced what you’re doing now?

I grew up skateboarding so basically flitted between whatever I thought was cool at the time. There were some bad looks. I wore Krew jeans and Emerica’s because I wanted to be Andrew Reynolds. Then whatever DQM and Supreme I could afford on eBay in about 2007 because I wished I was from New York. Through going to The Hideout for Supreme caps when I was about 16/17 I got more into “proper clothes” and started seeing Japanese streetwear brands like Wtaps and NBHD, which I couldn’t afford and so became obsessed with. When all of my mates went to university and I didn’t, I travelled around staying with them and resold Supreme from Hip or Hideout for a few years. I guess that’s around when I became more interested in working in that world and moving away from hospitality.

A mood image of two chefs wearing Service Works shot from behind.

Tell us a bit about the team that you work with.

The main people who work with me at Service Works are two old friends James and Charlie who have been with me since just after the first lockdown in 2020. They were also both working in hospitality and wanted the same change I did when I left the industry so it seemed perfect. They both started off packing orders but now help me with production and operations/managing the warehouse staff as I’m no good at that! We’ve got an amazing team and everyone has been hired through friends/family of existing staff, it’s a good vibe, I’m very lucky.

Where do you see Service Works in 10 years? Are you planning Carhartt style world domination in the workwear market?

I hope that in 10 years Service Works is the go-to for those in the industry who care about every aspect of their produce, kitchen and staff. Alongside would be a concise collection of everyday goods for those outside of the industry who want the same qualities in casual wear. I want to be able to provide value and support hospitality businesses and individuals who care as much as we do. I don’t see there being any trends to cash in on, I plan on making the same reliable products at an organic rate for people who are passionate about food. If people stop being passionate about food then we will have bigger problems than trying to sell trousers!

With a background in catering, please tell us your favourite thing to eat and your favourite thing to cook.

These are impossible questions which change by the hour but at this moment in time as I’m under the weather and my daughter is teething/not sleeping, beef pho from cay tre in Hoxton would definitely see me right in a matter of minutes. As for cooking, I love cooking a warming white pork ragu with pappardelle, lots of butter, parsley and parmesan. Probably some bitter leaves on the side to avoid guests falling asleep at the table too.

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