How a Welsh jeans firm has become a cult global brand

With a look of concentration on his face, a worker guides the sheet of denim through the sewing machine, and a pair of jeans, starts to take shape.

As the needle moves up and down in a blur of movement and noise, a line of stitching begins to form a neat trouser leg.

When most people think about the world of the fashion industry, it is safe to say that a sleepy town in the extreme west of the country of Wales does not immediately come to mind.

Yet, Cardigan, Wales ‘ Irish Sea coast, has for the past five years has been home to a high-end jeans maker – the Hiut Denim Company.

Well-liked by an increasing number of fashionistas from New York to Paris, and London to Melbourne, Hiut sent his expensive jeans in the world.

As orders arrive via its web site, Hiut of the workforce of just 15 people to work hand-cutting and sewing of the pants from giant rolls of indigo-coloured denim that the company imports from Turkey and Japan.

Despite the fact that only about 120 pairs of jeans per week, the founder and owner of David Hieatt has big ambitions to expand it.

Even if this may seem a little incongruous that a posh jeans company is based in west Wales, Cardigan (population 4,000) has a long history of jeans.

For nearly 40 years, the city was home to a factory that made 35,000 pairs of jeans each week for the united KINGDOM Marks & Spencer. But in 2002, the closure of the plant with the loss of 400 jobs when production was moved to Morocco in order to reduce costs.

Fast forward 10 years, and when Mr. Hieatt, a proud Welsh – was looking to open a factory to start making jeans, it has chosen to Cardigan. The company name is a combination of the first two letters of Mr. Hieatt’s name and the word “utility”.

“What better way to be in a city with a history of jeans-making, where the expertise remains?” he said.

Employing machinists who have already worked in the old factory and is not lost to their years of jeans-making skills, Mr Hieatt said that he was confident that Hiut could be successful if it is focused on selling directly to consumers around the world via its internet site.

“Without the internet, we would have been dead in a period of 12 weeks,” he said. “But the internet has changed everything. The internet allows us to sell directly and keep the [profit] margin… it allows us to compete.”

Hiut

Now, the export of 25% of its jeans, it is necessary to Hiut about an hour and 10 minutes to make a pair, compared to only 11 minutes to a very mechanized jeans giant of the industry.

And rather than staff doing that part of the process of manufacturing, such as sewing on pockets, each machinist to Hiut a pair of jeans from beginning to end.

Mr. Hieatt refers to the workers as “masters”. This is in reference to the fact that some of them have more than 40 years of jeans-making experience, and new recruits have to train for three years before being able to start making jeans for the customers.

In the execution of Hiut Mr. Hieatt and his co-owner, wife Clare, have benefited from their experience of already owning a clothing company called Howies, which they sold to the american firm Timberland for £3.2 m in 2011.

But this has also been of inestimable value is Mr. Hieatt’s previous career working in advertising.

This advertising has enabled us to him in a very efficient manner to market and promote Hiut, from its snazzy website, with its intensive use of social media; the two ads in people’s Facebook feeds and arty photos of people wearing his jeans.

“The interesting thing about social media, for me, is that, up to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat you had to have a huge budget to tell your story,” he said.

“Indeed you have been locked out of telling this story, because the costs [of advertising and broader marketing] were too high. But social media has actually allowed the smaller maker [small businesses that manufacture things] to return and tell his story.

“And indeed, if David wants to fight Goliath, the best tool in the world of social media.”

Mr. Hieatt is also sending free jeans to what he calls the “influencers”, the fashion bloggers or famous people, in the hope that they will write or speak positively of the band.

Successful examples of this have been an increase in orders from Denmark after Hiut sent a pair of his jeans to celebrated Dutch chef René Redzepi, and also UK TV presenter Anthony McPartlin duo Ant & Dec tweeting about the company.

As Hiut continues to win foreign orders for its jeans, which can cost up to £230 ($300) a pair, Mr. Hieatt admits that one negative, the corporation must deal with a rate of return of 14%” – the people of the sending then, because they do not match.

To counter this problem Hiut is to explore the use of technology that can accurately tell from a picture of a perfect person jeans size.

Dr Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, fashion marketing course leader at London College of Fashion, said that if Hiut wants to develop its sales abroad, it must have “a web site in different languages” and to consider partnerships that will see his jeans listed on other web sites.

Back to Hiut in the small factory on the edge of Cardigan, Mr Hieatt said that the long-term goal remains to re-create 400 jeans and create jobs in the city.

“Our goal is to get 400 people their jobs. If you ask me when is that going to happen, the honest answer is that I don’t know.

“But I believe in compound interest. Small things more time to gather huge numbers.”