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Hiut: Jeans that write history

The last thing the world needs is another jeans brand. Isn’t it? With so many companies competing in so many different ways – price, name, heritage, exclusivity  – you better have something pretty special to bring to the market…

When David Hieatt opened the proceedings at the Firestarters event at Google the other evening, he told us that a new jeans brand was exactly what he was building.

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In the process he was bringing back to life a factory in his hometown of Cardigan that had been closed for 10 years and giving 400 (10% of the town’s population) people their jobs back was his vision.

That’s a nice story, but maybe not enough of a nice story to make you buy a pair of his jeans. Well, he had some ideas about what might add enough story…

In telling us how he decided to start up Hiut Denim, David related a lot of experiences and insights that were useful to any entrepreneurial soul. Previously, he and some partners started the clothing brand Howies, which they sold to Timberland and then regretted doing so deeply: “We sold the thing we loved to people who didn’t… It wasn’t bad luck it was bad judgement.”

Interestingly, Howies was recently “released” by VF Corporation, which had in turn bought Timberland…

He decided to start Hiut after two years in the career wilderness. Sort of. He busied himself running long distances and organising The Do Lectures, one of the top ideas festivals in the world.

So a fairly fertile wilderness, then..

David had written a business plan for a jeans company, but sat on it for two years. He couldn’t quite motivate himself to do it.

Then he realised that there were many talented people in Cardigan who had spent their lives making jeans. He realised he wanted to do it, to have the town making jeans again and give them their jobs back.

He painted a picture of someone in San Francisco 10 years from now buying a pair of secondhand Hiut jeans. They would be able to access the “history” of the jeans, by scanning the “History Tag” with their smartphone.

Hiut Jeans are not cheap, they are aimed at the denim geek fraternity. People who will buy selvage denim jeans, go through six months of breaking them in, not washing them, popping them in the freezer occasionally, and all that jazz, so they are “just right”. Each pair of jeans wears differently, takes on some the character and history of its owner.

So Hiut owners may just be geeky enough to record bits of history and attach them to their jeans.

And there’s more meaning to this approach than gimmick. As David said… “If you make something to last it will have more stories to tell.”

These are designer, flash-for-the-sake-of-it, one season and they are out of fashion items. They are designed to last, and while they last to accrue meaning.

“In the beginning, they will be like a blank iPod with no songs on it,” said David, “It will take two or three years for them to mean anything.”

So there’s meaning that grows over time, there’s history being made, there’s love and craftsmanship.

That starts to sound like a powerful product story to me…

What I really liked though, was that he was ready to find another way of storytelling, of making meaning around the jeans if the label idea became tired or didn’t do the business: “If it’s not enough, we will have another idea.”

That was something echoed in Adil Abrar’s talk later when he said : “Vision changes, values don’t.”

Hiut started production yesterday. Good luck to them, I say…

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By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com.

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