Jean image Source: http://www.albionman.com/
“Companies with a soul are so much more interesting than companies motivated purely by profit” (David Hieatt)
In 1995 at the age of 36, David Hieatt co-founded Howies, a niche active clothing business that wanted to produce high-quality slow fashion products sustainably in an industry notorious for damaging the environment. Over the years he and his wife, Clare, have introduced organic cotton and merino wool (2001), used recycled wardrobes for point of sale in their shops (2002), made their first organic jeans (2004), introduced organic canvas and cord (2006), and started using recycled polyester in their outerwear (2007). At this point, after growing too rapidly, they sold the business for £3.2 million to the American manufacturer and retailer, Timberland, something David now wishes he had not done. They remained with the company until 2010 when a disagreement arose with Timberland regarding the direction of the company. David says “A business needs its founders to complete the mission. Leaving Howies we felt like we’d only half completed what we set out to do”.
Having failed to buy back the business on three occasions, he and Clare launched Hiut Denim Company in 2012 in Cardigan, a small town on the West coast of Wales. Until 2002 it had been the home of the UK’s biggest jeans manufacturer, employing some 400 people about 10 per cent of the town’s population. Shared David, “Cardigan was world class at making jeans one day, and the next day it was gone”. However, as he recognised, the knowledge and skills of the employees remained. After having second thoughts, David and Clare ultimately decided to open Hiut in the original jeans factory. During the drafting of the business plan, David began to doubt his desire to pursue the venture. However, a friend reminded him that the endeavor was not solely for his benefit but also for the town. With this realization, they proceeded with their plans.
The venture was therefore launched to bring manufacturing jobs back to Cardigan and to utilise the knowledge and skills of its workforce. However, while the long term aim is to reinstate all 400 jobs the intention is for Hiut to be a producer of a small number of high-quality denims not, as previously, some 35,000 pairs a week. They do not want to be the biggest denim manufacturer in the world, but one of the best. This involves not harming the planet and being “lower impact today than we were yesterday”. To do so they use organic cotton and selvedge denim from Turkey and Japan, together with recycled and less water and plastic-free Candiani Denim stretch fabric material which is 100 per cent biodegradable. The latter has been used to make a limited range of micro plastics-free stretch denims for men and women. Also, rather than burn their waste or dump it in landfill, they have collected waste from their cutting room floor and used it to produce 65 pairs of jeans for a special “Landfill Dropout” collection. To help further reduce their footprint, they have also introduced the “Deja Blue Programme”, whereby they encourage customers to return their old and unused Hiuts so that they can be resold and reused. Finally, in order to preserve water, they have created the “No Wash Club” so as to encourage their clients not to wash their jeans for 6 months. This helps both to personalise the product and make it unique to the wearer. This “saves a bunch of water and makes for a more beautiful jean in how it looks and how it takes responsibility for its impact on the planet”.
The denims are expensive and many of the company’s clients, including former US actress Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, are high-profile celebrities. The popularity of the products has led to a waiting list, and the exposure provided by high-profile clients has helped to spread their message about the urgent need to protect the planet and its people.
This message is also promoted in David and Clare’s inspirational “Do Lectures” launched in 2008. Since then, they have hosted approximately 300 speakers, all of whom are “DOers,” disrupters, and change-makers, at their annual lecture events. Additionally, over 3,000 people have attended the courses and workshops that they have run. This has led David to contemplate and plan a Startup School for budding entrepreneurs based on the Y Combinator Start-up School in the USA.
Hiut is very much a Harmonious Enterprise that embraces profit, planet and people. It addresses SDGs 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (ClimateAction) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
Cvetkovic, A. (2020), Ideas to Change the World: Hiut Denim – A Welsh factory is supporting the local communitywhile making some of the world’s best jeans. The Office Group. May, 28th
Velasquez, A. (2020), Huit Denim Bows Limited Collection of Biodegradable Stretch Jeans. Rivet Magazine.March, 18th.
Warren, L. (2022), Huit denim Makes Jeans from Cutting Room Scraps. Rivet Magazine. February, 10th.
West, K. (2014), Selvedge job: jeans company helps Welsh town get back in its stride. The Guardian. February, 11th.
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Thanks for sharing the success of a very Welsh company. It is an inspirational journey and an example of great entrepreneurship and vision. Cardigan, like Lampeter, was the home of trouser manufacturing for major stores like Marks & Spencer until the closure of the factories, and sadly all those skills of local workers were redundant until Hiut spotted the opportunity and the rest is history. Wishing them continued growth and resilience.