Love seems to play a significant role in what you do, and you’ve spoken in your own Do Lecture, as the guy who heads up Hiut Denim, about doing what you love for the people you love. How do you bring love into business without basing your business on sentiment?
If you do something that matters to you—business that makes a difference, or matters to you personally—that’s a personal mission. I could earn a fortune doing other things, but life is short and its incumbent on a person to do things that matter. It’s quite easy to live for the weekend, but there are five more days to live through, you should be having fun at home and work. Why settle for two fun days?
Making a product you don’t love, well I find that a difficult notion. If you can find a product you love and sell it to customers you love that’s a pretty good thing. Now I love jeans. Jeans are the uniform for the creative individual, and that’s who I want to make jeans for because creative people change things and that’s the world we’re interested in. If I can respect and admire and be inspired by our customers then I would hope to run a company that would inspire them too. All these things, to me, are just common sense. Sadly, common sense isn’t as common as we would like.
I believe in quality and great design. We throw things away, not because we’ve worn them out, but because we’re bored of them. Things that are conceived of in the moment die in a moment. I believe in an understated design ethic because actually, it endures. I like the sense of community that making jeans can bring back to my town, Cardigan, which used to make jeans. If we’re brilliant—and we need to be brilliant to take on the competition—then our town has found its mojo again. But we have to have great ideas. I’m scared of that because great ideas rarely come along. But I’m also completely comfortable with it.
There’s a real sense of intimacy to all of this—the carefully designed, manufactured and niche marketed jeans, and the small, but very conscious event that is the Do Lectures. The scale is small, but the potential impact is huge….
Yes, there is an intimate aspect to these things. You have to create a culture that invites people to believe they can do their best and most exciting work, because when you see people care it’s really hard not to care about them, and you want to support them as much as you can. Negativity is contagious but so is positivity.
You know how there are just certain people you want to hang with because man, they’re just so good to be around? And that energy is transferred to you and you realise you can do anything when you’re around those people. The spirit of the Do Lectures really is like an intimate dinner party, and it’s amazing.
When I met Duke Stump I just knew he would be the perfect person for the Do Lectures in the USA, it was all to do with the luck of finding him. I told him I had no idea what he would get out of the event, other than meeting some great people, but that would be enough.
The other thing I said is to think of it like a dinner party. Who would you like to invite? And if you change seats at every course, you need to be as happy to sit next to the new person as you were with the last. So it’s a very intimate and random event. Wherever you line up for your food is where you’ll end up sitting, so the conversations are very eclectic because you can’t choose to be in on anything, and there’s no separation between speakers and attendees. No one wears a badge. So the person you’re sitting next to might have invented the internet, or they might be working on the internet. You won’t know until you join in with the conversation.
How do the USA Do Lectures compare with the UK event? Have you noticed any striking cultural differences?
The Californian one was amazing this year actually. You forget about sunshine sometimes don’t you! By and large it was a Californian audience and I do think Californians are very different to other Americans. But the spirit of the event is totally on the same level as the Welsh event—the optimism, the open-mindedness, the laughter and the food. I go there and I’m quite humbled by it really. I feel just as good leaving there as I do leaving Fforest.
In amongst all the doing, is there a place for not doing, for just being? I’m thinking about the importance of dreaming and finding a space for stillness…
It’s very important. Sometimes we’re busy fools and just having those quiet, reflective times is really important. I have those quiet times when I’m doing sport, when I go for a run where I can have some peace. Not just peace as in peace and quiet, but a kind of productive peace.
William Rosenzweig of Physic Ventures in San Francisco—the first venture capital firm which invests in keeping people healthy—came and spoke at the Do Lectures about “wu wei” which is the art of not doing. If you look at nature, there are times when it seems as if nothing’s happening, but in fact a ton of stuff is happening underground and before you know it the shoots are coming up. So yes, we definitely need to press the pause button occasionally, and have time to reflect, calm down and think. If you have a lot of energy it can actually go in the wrong direction really fast.
So, there is a relationship between time and doing or not doing?
You can be ahead of your time, and that can make it hard. There is a timeliness to some ideas, just like when you’re running and the wind is on your back, it helps. So doing the start-up thing now, for us, is oddly timely. There is a need for more great companies now. I tend not to read the newspapers, but the political climate in the UK right now is all rubbish.
We can’t leave the future to politicians, we have to guide it ourselves, and we can do that by launching companies that matter and that make a difference to where we are and where we want to be.