David Hieatt is one Britain's most interesting creative entrepreneurs. With his wife Claire he founded cult clothing brand Howies (which he famously sold to Timberland and then left out of disappointment), then started the Do Lectures which brings together interesting minds to inspire change and has had over 5 million views online. With his latest venture Hiut Denim he's got his home town of Cardigan making jeans again.
David wears Blake Harris Tweed.
So tell us...
Q: How do you switch between being the businessman and the creative man within Hiut Denim?
I don’t think I am a true businessman. A true businessman spots an opportunity and goes for it regardless of if it matters to them, regardless if they believe in it. But for me, I have to find something that matters first. Can we bring some change to it? Is it broken? And can we fix it? Then by having ideas, I work out how we can make a business out it. Of course, the numbers have to add up but they are the last consideration not the first.
I think for me I don’t switch from businessman to creative man. When I am thinking of a business strategy, I am still a creative man.
Q: You identify yourself very strongly with your brand - it's your name above the door. What are the upsides and downsides of making your business so personal?
I think the best companies, the best brands in the world, are all the summation of one man’s spirit. I don’t believe in committees. You can’t tell a joke by committee. Try getting a committee to leave a hotel reception and get on a bus on time. Almost impossible.
I don’t believe in consensus. I believe you can’t do remarkable things by consensus. I think consensus does nice things but not brave things.
I believe in collaboration and I believe in working with talented difficult people. But when you start a company no one sees it, no one feels it like you. There is no brand manual for the soul of a company.
The upsides are simple enough. No one tells you what to do. You can deliver on the vision. The downsides are all the fuck ups are yours and yours alone.
Q: What inspired the History Tag and how did you go about turning the idea into reality?
My insight was we humanise things. We put our computers to sleep. We give names to our cars. And we mourn when a pair of jeans comes to the end of its life. And, even when they do, we seldom throw them out. We are a funny lot, aren’t we?
The History Tag was born from that. We attach memories to our things. The History Tag is a pretty basic way of logging some of those memories. So if those jeans ever get handed down, or end up in a second hand shop, their stories will go with them.
Q: What's the biggest lesson you learned from growing/selling/leaving Howie's?
The big lesson from starting Howies was how important it is to work with the best people. Working with ‘average’ is slow, painful and in the end more costly than working with the best. Expensive is cheaper in the end.
The learning from selling it was people say everything you want to hear during the deal. Then everything changes after that. Unless you have control, the game is over.
The decision to leave Howies was easy enough. The chance of it ever delivering on its dream was over and so there was no point pushing anymore.
I walk past the shop window now and all I see is average vanilla mush. They have stopped trying and so as pioneering brand it is not relevant anymore.
Q: Imagine you've been invited to do a talk at The DO Lectures. What would the subject be?
The Beauty of Ideas and those crazy fuckers who have them.
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