David and Clare Hieatt are serial entrepreneurs, whose clothing ventures have included the creation of howies, a highly regarded apparel company acquired by Timberland in 2006. David and Claire have just launched Hiut Denim, a challenger jeans brand on a mission.
What was the inspiration for starting the company?
I live in this town that knows how to make jeans. For three to four decades it made 35,000 pairs of jeans a week, every week. One day it was forced to stop and yet all that skill remained here. Imagine if you got good at something over a period of decades and then were told you had to stop? That's what this town was told.
I knew I wanted to go and start a jeans brand because I had fallen geekily in love with jeans. It seemed obvious at the time to try and make them here. If you're going to start a jeans company anywhere actually, Cardigan is the place - it's the hotspot of denim.
It was obvious to pull together the love of this town, the love of jeans and my ability to start businesses together.
How much was the idea led by the business case, versus this sense of injustice you feel?
I left Howies and I wrote a business plan for jeans and I showed it to my investors and they said 'brilliant, let's go'. But there was something missing. We're defined not by what we do but why we do it, and I couldn't work out why I was going to go and start this this company.
I had got sufficiently good at what I was doing to be able to go and play with the big boys, but I hadn't worked out my 'Why?'. I then got a phone call from Gideon, our jeans designer asking 'why aren't you doing the plan? It's a great plan' and I told him I hadn't worked out the why.
He said 'I thought it was about getting the town making jeans again?'. That was the moment. That was the why. We're going to get 400 people their jobs back. That's why we want to go and start a great, global denim company. The skill is in this town. The skill never left town. Economics made the factory close it wasn't for a lack of skill.
Do you feel that your ambition to get the town making jeans again ties into a wider concern for a lack of British manufacturing?
I want to show that Britain can create and design products. We can put ideas into things and we can do it from here. Britain needs to make more. This notion that we can't make things needs to be disproved. Britain often thinks too small. We can't be the cheapest, but our expertise means we can be the best. And to win, we have to operate there.
There was an interesting moment in the banking crisis where there was a collective unease. We got worried because we found out how vulnerable we were. If you can't trust the financial service industry and we don't make anything, what do we do as a country? What is our purpose? The question of can Britain do it? There's no doubt in my mind that we can.
How do you reach the level of influence necessary to make a change in the world?
Initially, you need your 1,000 true fans. The people who really get what you're doing, support you, and will always be there for you. If you don't grow beyond that you might have a nice, small little business, but you have to reach beyond that to go into the mainstream, and the biggest change comes from the mainstream.
If you're going to hide on the margins you can't really make change because you can't do it from the edge. It's important to have a story and to be able to tell it well. For us we are jeans makers, but we have to every bit as good at being great storytellers as well. The story has to be true and it has to connect with the customer.
What advice would you give to a founder or brand owner trying to find their 'why?'
You've got to tell your story and make sure it really resonates, both with yourself and your consumer. If you don't feel it, then I'm not sure anyone else is going to. That's crucial: it has to come from within you, but also has to be big. Something the customer thinks is a common problem. The answer is ideas - you have to go and change something.
A strategic brand consultancy with a single focus: challenger thinking and behaviour. eatbigfish exist to study challenger behaviour and work with businesses who want to become challengers themselves.