In May last year the entrepreneur David Hieatt appeared on the front page of his local newspaper in Cardigan, west Wales, appealing for skilled machinists with specialist knowledge of making jeans to work in a new denim factory in the area. Hieatt, who founded the action sports clothing company Howies in 1995 with his wife, Clare (they sold it to Timberland in 2006), was in the process of launching a new venture, Hiut Denim Co. In response to the newspaper article, he was inundated with applications from locals, many of whom said the same thing: ‘I want to make jeans again.’
Almost a decade ago, 400 people in Cardigan, a tenth of the town’s population, with hundreds of years’ experience making jeans between them, were made redundant when the Dewhirst Group shut the doors to its clothing factory and moved production to Morocco. Dewhirst was Cardigan’s biggest employer and the factory had been producing 35,000 pairs of jeans each week for the likes of Marks & Spencer and Gap. At a time when provenance matters greatly to consumers, manufacturing his product in Britain gives Hiut Denim Co a head start in the market, but Hieatt says he ‘can’t count on craftsmanship alone’. What he needs to do, he says, is to ‘change the jeans industry through ideas
Hieatt has called on some of his more technologically minded friends to help him with his big idea for Hiut Denim Co. ‘We are building an app called History Tag,’ he says, ‘and our jeans will be the first in the world that will have their whole history recorded.’ This idea will become a badge of honour for companies who make products that last, and the longer you make something last the more stories it has to tell.
What we are trying to pull off here is crazy hard. We are trying to bring manufacturing back home when the story is always that manufacturing leaves never to come back. But our town wants to make jeans again. It spent 3-4 decades learning how to do that well. And it is not going to let that skill go without a fight.
This is our fight.
But we will not rely just on sentiment of our town making jeans, and superior quality. That will only make us as good as the best. And that will not be enough for us to get the town making jeans again. A big part of the fight will be our ability to have ideas that have never been done before. The HistoryTag is just one. There will be more. And judging by the sheer number of orders, people want us to win. We had almost 3 months worth of orders within the first two weeks. That has brought with its problems to solve. And we have had some teething problems. So I want to share some of the Lessons I have learnt so far.
Doing the right thing isn’t the same as doing the smart thing.
This is my learning about doing the right thing. We made the decision to make orders in the date that they were received. It was the right thing to do. But it meant we would be making one of this, and one of that. We were doing the right thing, for sure. But we were also doing the most in-efficient thing too. Instead of making 50 pairs a week, we would be lucky to be making 25 pairs.
So our desire to get everyone their jeans meant people were waiting much longer than they had too. It was the opposite of what we wanted. Yup, doing the right thing isn’t always the same as doing the smart thing. We now make our production in bulk.