A few years back I was collecting interviews for a personal project – a self published magazine that would revolve around a different theme each volume. The theme of the first volume was going to be Beards. Unfortunately I never did get the magazine to print, but the upside was that I got to speak to some really amazing people. People I look up to. I came accross the manuscipts of those interviews recently and wanted to share them rather than leave them dormant on a hard drive. With the permission of the subjects I present these interviews to you now.
Back in 2012 I reached out to David Hieatt to ask him a few questions. David has long been some what of an idol for me. His attitude, insight and methods in building a 'brand that matters' is something that greatly inspires me. I was so thrilled when he replied agreeing to answer my questions. I have since met David in person, albeit breifly and can firmly say he is still one of my idols and inspirations today.
David Hieatt is the founder of The Do Lectures, Howies and Hiut Denim. All of these projects have many amiable qualities associated with them, Howies was one of the first big little company in the decade of big little companies. They paved a new way to do business, clean, honest and true to their routes. Howies included the customer in the workings of the company, they invited the consumer to see what Howies were doing and encouraged them to adopt and uphold Howies ideologies. This was all a brand image that was started by David in his living room and grew to be sold to Timberland in 2006. While also running Howies, David and Clare Hieatt (Davids wife) founded the Do Lectures. Once described by David as a cross between the TED talks and The Burning Man Festival, the Do Lectures were founded to spread the idea of doing. Held every year to a sell out crowd they invite a number of hand selected speakers and lecturers to the depth of the Welsh countryside to inspire others. The Do Lectures have been a huge success and now have expanded across the sea to America. With Howies sold and the Do Lectures able to support themselves David needed a new project. So in 2012 he founded Hiut Denim, a project that was a long time coming but one that many view as being well worth the wait. After Hiut was out in the open and with their first jeans having been shipped I thought it was a great time to catch up with David and ask a few questions.
Confucius said, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Is this something you can relate to? What does this mean to you?
There are people who you meet that tell you that they are going to do the thing they love in 5 years time. They have a deferred life plan. I think putting up with something that you don’t love just wastes your time, your energy and delays your dreams. It is better to start at the bottom of the thing you love even it pays terribly and work your way up than to be at the top of a career at the thing you don’t love that pays incredibly well.
In the end, love pays well. You are happier, you don’t look at the clock, and you enjoy what you do and guess what, you get good at it.
The death of Steve Jobs was very sad. He was 56 years old. But I can’t imagine he spent too many days doing anything that he didn’t love. So it might be that you can live until you are 90 years of age, but 40 years of that was spent doing something you didn’t even like. So in some ways, that person didn’t live as long as Steve Jobs because they were only alive for 50 years of the 90.
It seems you harbour a passion for the outdoors; this was evident in howies and shows through in both The Do Lectures and Hiut Denim. Do you find it difficult to balance your love of the outdoors and a busy work schedule? Which is more important to you? Work or Play?
I can’t separate work or play. I don’t think of work as work. I love being outside. I love being inside. I don’t spend my time wishing when I am at work that I was elsewhere. And when I am outside, I don’t spend time thinking about being at work. I focus on the thing that is front of me.
It’s hard to have a balance. People strive for it but never attain it. They beat themselves up about it. There is an ebb and flow to all things. And you just have to go with it when it flows your way.
Behind all your ventures there seems to be some real solid design work. Would you say you’re aesthetically lead? Is good design important to you? Thomas Watson said, "Good design is good business." Do you agree?
Good design requires thinking. It requires iteration. It requires testing. It requires imagination. It requires utility as well as beauty. It requires resolving complex problems and making it feel like the answer couldn’t be any simpler.
Good design goes far deeper than just how something looks. Is it useful? Will it stay that way? Is it intuitive? Is it simpler than what went before it?
So yes, I do think good design is good business. Because customers deserve good design. And a lot of companies think it is just about making something look better. That’s shallow thinking. Shallow thinking doesn’t build a great product.
People say a man’s house is his castle, how important is home to you? Is it important to separate home from work?
Home is important because that is where your loved ones are. I haven’t always been good at separating home from work, but I have learnt it is important. Clare teaches me all about that. And I have learnt from her, and got better at it.
Your work always seems to have a purpose; you always seem to set out with a set goal to achieve. Do you feel it's important to set yourself targets to achieve in life and work?
When you go to the train station, you are helped by the fact you know where you want to go. It is the main reason you arrive at the correct destination.
Do I think it’s good to have a plan for yourself, yup, I do. I think you have to careful what the plan is, because you can spend a lot of time on the wrong journey.
A lot of time, people chase money instead of doing what they love. And end up not making much money, but spending a lot of time being unhappy.
A lot of people I know just spent their time doing something that they had an interest in, and ended up making a lot of money from it. But that wasn’t their goal. It was just a by-product of doing something they loved.
You built howies from selling T-Shirts out of the back of vans to selling it to a multi national company, was this always the plan? Did you ever foresee it growing to the level that it did?
Yes, I always thought it would get interesting. It was born with big dreams in mind. But it will never see those dreams come true now. It doesn’t know what it is anymore, it’s painful to watch.
Was it tough to let go of a company that you nurtured from inception? I know quite a few howies fans were sad to see you go, did you feel it was time to let it go and move on?
The howies I started died when I sold it to Timberland. Apologies to all the howies customers. I messed up. The dream ended there and then. Andrew threw his Timberland boots out of the window. Gideon went home that night and shed a tear. I knew that moment it was all over.
It was a good lesson, and a tough lesson to learn. Independence is everything to a company that wants to do interesting things. Once it is lost, everything is lost.
You & Clare also founded The Do Lectures, it seems you are a big fan of "doing" things yourself, initiating projects rather than allowing them to be presented to you. How important do you feel creating your own work is? Do you believe that the best work is always self-initiated?
The thing with having ideas is to make them happen. They are not alive on a piece of paper or in the back of your head. It’s easy to have an idea. It’s hard to make it happen. But you are most alive when you are making things happen.
We tend to work with a small squad of people that we trust, that we enjoy working with, that push us. Sometimes it will be our ideas. Sometimes it will be theirs.
It doesn’t matter who comes up with them, but it does matter if they make you feel excited.
The Do Lectures attracts and encourages some very inspirational people. Who are your inspirations? Who inspired you to be the person you are today?
I live on the far edge of West Wales, subsequently I don’t get to meet to many of my Heroes. But I read a lot. I study the approaches of my heroes and I try to learn from them. To try and understand their thinking. I have been a long-time admirer of Steve Jobs, I love what Yvon Chouinard has done at Patagonia. I was a big fan of Bill Shankly. I love how Warren Buffet thinks. I was lucky to have had Paul Arden, the maverick creative director, as my boss for 7-8 years. That was my lucky break.
I tend to read as much as I can from these people to inform me, but I also rely on my instinct a lot on doing business. I rely on my instinct to take me forward.
I think we are all combination of many influences. I can’t name one thing or one person.
Through various avenues you strive to inspire others, do you feel that the free-thinker and free doer are a dying breed? Do you feel that it is important to pass on the passion for doing to the next generation of doers?
I like ideas. They don’t care if you smell. They don’t care what university you went to. They don’t care who your parents are. They don’t give a hoot if you are rich are poor. They don’t care if you are in the bath or the boardroom. Your geography doesn’t matter. What sex you are is irrelevant. Who you pray to has no bearing at all. Ideas don’t care if you are tired, if you are driving, if you are waking up or going to bed. Ideas just come to you. But the important thing is to understand that ideas can change things.
What we are doing at The Do lectures is get people to understand the importance of an idea. How it can change things. To recognise that it is indeed an idea. We are trying to show that by introducing them to people who have had ideas, and have changed things because of that idea.
It’s important also for people to understand that ideas require a great deal of energy to make them happen. Even the best ones have difficult births. And ideas need to be executed well. And that is not easy. Many great ideas fail for bad execution.
I think the next generation will be the most interesting yet. They have all the tools at their disposal. And some of them will be driven enough to use them to change things.
Do you believe that some people are just born with the drive to go out and explore the world on their own, creating their own opportunities, or do you believe it is something that is a product of consequence and life experiences?
I think the driven are born that way or a set of circumstances have made them that way. So it can be both nature and learned. But the driven ones seldom lose that quality. It will be them with until their last breath.
Hiut Denim is another company you have started from scratch. Is it something that has been on your mind for some time now? An idea that you had to try? Or is it a (relatively) recent idea?
I walked out of howies and I walked away from the thing I had built up from the living room floor. It was a low point for me. I walked away from my company and a company that was essentially my set of beliefs.
But pain makes for a great teacher. I set about writing the plan for a jeans company straight after leaving. But once I had finished it and got my old investors interested in getting back on board, I decided I hadn’t worked out why I wanted to do it. So then the plan stayed on the shelf for a year without being looked at. I spent my time getting the do lectures to stand on its own two feet. And it was a really great time for me. It gave me more time to think about the denim company and the lessons I had learned from howies and how I would do things differently.
After a phone call with the old jeans designer, he asked me why I wasn’t doing the jeans plan. I told him I hadn’t figured out why I wanted to do it. For me the ‘Why’ is like the wind in your sail, without it you end up going nowhere. He reminded me that it was all about getting the town making jeans again.
It was a moment of clarity. It wasn’t about starting another jeans company, it was all getting the town to make jeans again. Our town used to have Britain’s biggest jeans factory until it closed. But all that skill was still here.
The Hiut Denim Co was started to get our town making jeans again. And all that skill would not go to waste. That is its ‘Why’.
Hiut strives to do one thing well. In the vast contemporary world that we inhabit it seems more and more emphasis is on quantities, whether that involves physical objects of figures, how do you feel about this?
Even in a world obsessed by more and more, there is growing crowd of people who are prepared to buy less, but buy better. Quality is making a comeback. People are willing to buy things that are going to last, that may well get handed-down, that will last the test of time because they are made of quality materials and are put together with a craftsman’s hands and eye.
Maybe we all got tired of a throwaway society, maybe we worked out in the end that expensive becomes cheap in the end as it lasts so long.
Hiut is also focused in on the local. It is keen to bring back the jean to Cardigan, and with it supply the craftsman with a welcome place to reside. Is this a reaction to the direction that howies was headed? With howies growing and becoming bigger did you feel it was important to plant your feet close to home?
I have used the learning from howies, but there is nothing quite like starting over again. This time with a great deal of experience, a great deal of focus, with a great talented and driven team, and a deep understanding of its purpose amongst the team. And also an understanding of the importance of ideas for us as a company. And why we have to bring them to an industry that hasn’t changed one bit in 100 years.
The Hiut Denim Co is the company that I always dreamt about. The past has got us to here, and we are grateful for that. But we aren’t looking back. Our eyes are looking ahead only.
I think the Hiut Denim Co is going to be one of the most important denim companies. We will be first jean in the world to come with a historytag. Think of it as a way of attaching the memories you had in them to your jean via a website. It will let you to see your jeans being made and, if you chose to, you can upload photos of where you went in them and what you did in them. It’s like an iPod for memories via the historytag.com website.
It means one day when they get handed down or end up in a second hand shop, their stories will go with them too. The historytag will become a badge of honour for those who want to make products that last.
Think of it like two roads coming together. One called ‘Geek’, which is the internet and its ability to tell stories, and the other called ‘Luddite’, which is a company who wants to make great products that last. And the more we can make a product that lasts, the more stories it will have to tell.
As humans, we have a deep-rooted desire to know the history of things. And objects have stories to tell. With the HistoryTag it will be able to start to tell those stories.
Looking at your track record one could be forgiven in thinking that you must be a well organised person, is this accurate? Does everything have to be planned out or are you more likely to go with the flow? For example do you have a vision for where you want Hiut Denim to be in five years?
We have a plan. But we have learnt how to flex with the wind. Our dream is to get the town making jeans again. That’s 400 people jobs. So we have a plan for sure. The only way we will get their jobs back is to have ideas, to tell our story and to try and change an industry that hasn’t changed that much in the last century. But like all good plans, it is best to keep it secret. And then execute it with skill, speed and passion.
Do you ever see a time when you will be content with what you have achieved? A time where you can just sit back and relax, and enjoy life? Or do you enjoy life as it is? working on things you believe in? What does the future hold for David Hieatt?
I think we are starting out again. We have to build Hiut Denim Co up from nothing to be one of the most influential global denim brands. Now isn’t the time to sit back. Now is the time to work hard and have our best ideas.
But if work never feels like work, then maybe this is as good as it gets. Maybe this is our time to shine.
Words — David Hieatt
Interview — Jack Sadler
Pictures — Hiut Denim