Hiut still makes just one product… Why choose jeans?
I fell in love with denim and the history of the fabric when we were doing Howies. Just like coffee is really, really geeky, so is denim. There are some really great selvedge fabric mills in Japan, which are the elite. We begged them to work with us when we were starting out and my obsession began from there. Everything about the process – from plantation denim to the original selvedge narrow looms and visiting denim factories – is just a brilliant experience for me.
When we launched Howies, there weren’t many other UK brands bringing manufacturing back to the UK. We were certainly the first denim brand to go and start a factory. When we started Hiut, the premium denim market was pretty healthy, but the rise of direct-to-consumer brands wasn’t really a thing. We were early with that idea, but we were right: direct-to-consumer is all about craft and quality, so the customer wins – and it makes a good story.
Would you ever make anything else?
Hiut is only ever going to make jeans because it has the knowledge, the skill and 40 years of learning behind it. We are confident on how to do one thing well and we have no ambition to do anything other than that. We’re a singular product company selling direct to the consumer and that product is super-high-premium-quality jeans. That's our complete and utter focus. Anything else is a distraction.
Was there a business plan?
Yeah, we spent six months doing business plans butso you know I hate business plans. I hated every minute of that six months because we had to go down to the post office and find out minute details like how much it was going to cost us to send out a pair of jeans. But, as painful as it was, knowing your numbers is really important. When you don’t know your numbers, you’re going to have to raise more and more money. It can be the difference between failure and success.
Who did you turn to for advice in those early days?
Starting a factory is a complex, pain-in-the-arse type of thing – that’s why most brands don’t do it. So the people we really took advice from were the people running the old factory. They helped us set up, told us what to do, what not to do. We were novices and naïve; they were skilled and had done it for decades.
What’s it like running a business with your wife?
Well, we’ve worked it out. We’ve been married 26 years and we’ve learnt each other’s strengths. I’ve learnt to listen and I am lucky to work with her. I’m more responsible for building the brand side; Clare’s responsibility lies more with building the business side. She makes sure we stay in business and I make sure we stay relevant.