Meaning: David Hieatt on jeans and purpose

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

david hieatt

Imagine that one day they made you stop doing the job you love. That’s what happened to Cardigan. The jeans factory closed, and 400 jobs – in a town of 4000 people – went away.

Imagine what you’d do, if you sold your company and realised that it was a mistake. That’s what happened to him. He toyed with the idea of getting back to making jeans – but does the world need another jeans maker? No. There are enough unsold ones in the US to last decade.

But something needed to be done for the town. So, he started a jeans company. And they got six months of orders in the first few days – they had to stop taking ordes.

But it was a good match. He could market jeans. The town could make them. The taxi drivers could teach you how to make jeans. They had people who had spent 50,000 hours making jeans. They were grand masters of jeans making.

So far, they have 10 people. 10 out of 400.

It’s a great story – manufacturing comes back to a town. It isn’t enough.

Their coin pocket fits an iPhone. But quality isn’t enough.

We have to have ideas.

The things we own, tell stories about us. Think of children’s’ beloved toys.

Now, think of the space where the internet – which tells stories – and the luddite desire to make objects last.

What if jeans had a story? The secondhand jeans market is stronger than the first hand one… If your jeans end up in a secondhand shop with a story attached, is that interesting?

The Antiques Roadshow is interesting for two reasons – you find out if you’re going to be a millionaire, and what your object’s story was. 80% of the market for jeans is for pre-washed jeans. Industrially was he dot make them look old. We can’t afford the £1million market to fake history for our jeans. That puts us in the 20%.

So – we have the denim breaker club. You give students jeans for six months, who agree to wear them, and not to wash them. To record their history. And when we sell them, you get 20%. Planet earth is better for out. Our margin is better for it. But it’s an experiment. We need ideas, because there are 390 jobs left to go.

In 20 years’ time we’ll thank the bankers for making a mess of everything. It’s such a mess that we’ll have to do something extraordinary again. They made such a mess that everything has to slow down. I love Kickstarter – I love anything that starts putting the banks out of business.

We need big, bold, brave ideas. If you have them, I love you, and I want to make jeans for you.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.