Work Experience at Hiut Denim Part 1: Creating creative spaces

“What can an environment do to influence the work we create?” I’ve started a personal work experience programme ask companies I admire whether I can pop by.
Work experience at Hiut Denim

Table of Contents

As a founder, it’s easy to get lost in my own bubble. So this year (and on a continuing basis), I’ve started a personal work experience programme where I’ve asked companies I admire whether I can pop by for the day and see how they do things. 

I did it earlier with Rise at Seven and learned loads. Now, I’m bringing James, my co-founder, with me to film the experiences (see the video above!)

When it came down to the question of ‘who could we ask to let us in for a day to learn from?’, Hiut Denim was (really) high on the list. 

I’m not sure we expected them to say yes, but when they did… James and I celebrated like two giddy fanboys – excited to see what we could learn.

This is part one of a three-part story of Hiut Denim – and what we learned from spending the day with David Hieatt and his team at Hiut Denim.

How to create creative spaces?

For part one, we decided to focus on the theme of ‘spaces’. 

Through our fanboying, James and I knew there were some visually striking spaces Hiut and DO operate from, but the real question we wanted to answer was: “What can an environment do to influence the work we create?”

A storied space – Cardigan Bay

And so… With ‘spaces’ running through our head, James and I began our 7 hour trip to Cardigan – home of Hiut (and Hieatt…)

Cardigan is important to the Hiut story. As the first blog post from Hiut reads…

“Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades.

Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do.

That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.

As one of the Grand Masters said to me when I was interviewing: “This is what I know how to do. This is what I do best.” I just sat there thinking I have to make this work.

So yes, our town is going to make jeans again.

Here goes.”

Cardigan Bay isn’t just an address of Hiut on Companies House.

Their location provides the company with a mission, a new character, context, and perceived value. 

Hieatt’s mission is now to replace the lost jobs for the benefit of the town. It’s a story that was referenced by the team throughout the course of the day. 

Cardigan is now a character in the story by providing context as to why the location matters. This impact of this is profound and found everywhere from the advertising through to the jeans themselves featuring the ‘made in Wales’ inside every pair of jeans. 

All this means that when you go to buy a pair of jeans from Hiut – you’re not just buying jeans: you’re buying a share in and wearing a small slice of the story of the revitalisation of a town. Hiut can speak about the superior quality of their jeans (that matters, and they are fantastic), but the perceived value of the product is driven through the roof through this storytelling.

Casey Neistat completes a similar trick, but doing it in New York. It’s not just a backdrop – it’s part of the story. Other examples include Scottish Whiskey, Japanese Swords, Italian Suits… etc. Every one provides meaning beyond the product alone.

Learnable moment:

Can your setting be used to tell part of your story? Not only where you work, but where you live: and why that matters as part of the product/service you produce?

Walking through hallowed doors

Crossing the threshold into the factory was a giddy moment for both James and I. 

To the left, you head up the stairs to ‘the ideas factory’ – the space where David, finance and marketing sit together. Go to the right, and you head to the jeans factory: where the jeans are made. 

Emblazoned on the doors was ‘do one thing well’ – Hiut’s motto.

This is something Hiut have nailed: visual cues throughout the space they work in to gently reinforce everything the company stands for. These reminders are EVERYWHERE.

It’s not generic rubbish taken from a quote book. You can tell everything has been placed there because it means something to how the company chooses to operate.

Learnable moments: 

  • Litter your space with symbols of things that reinforce everything you believe

The agency space

The first thing we did was turn left – up to the ‘ideas factory’.

Heading to the ideas factory, James uttered under his breath: “this feels like an agency!”. The space is light and airy with more visual cues to Hiut’s identity and plenty of post-its adorning the walls. 

That’s a point worth labouring… Hiut isn’t a marketing agency – but they run their marketing team almost like one. That was cool and got me wondering whether other companies could try to emulate the same trick.

One of the dangers of this approach is a sense of separation between the respective teams, yet, Hiut seems to have avoided any sense of ‘upstairs, downstairs’. Gut tells me this is through the power of a shared mission, a good level of communication, a respect for the craft of the other part of the company, and a healthy sense of competition. 

Nowhere is this more apparent as sat near the intersection of the two spaces is a scoreboard that reads ‘Number of jeans made’ vs ’Number of jeans sold’. On the day we were there, it was equal – something a few of the team remarked they’d never seen before.

Importantly, this scoreboard doesn’t feel like an aggressive old-school sales board: the team spoke about it lightheartedly. But what it can do is provide a sense of unity through competition. I liked that. It was also the embodiment of another of David’s mantras:  ‘constant gentle pressure’ – and you can imagine how this provides just that!

Immediately on evidence was another of David’s philosophies: ‘buy your team the best tools, then get out of their way to allow them to do their work!’. Everyone worked from top of the range MacBooks. 

You get the sense that this wasn’t based on vanity, however, it’s about removing ‘tools’ from the equation of things that can get in the way of the creative process. Something David Hieatt spoke about in his webinar with us last year.

Learnable moments: 

  • Separate spaces don’t need to mean being separate in spirit: you can find meaning through a shared purpose
  • Build an agency for your business! But, don’t make them the sole people in charge of contributing to your marketing: make it a group endeavour!
  • Create the space for creativity, and give it a deadline
  • Remove the barriers to creativity, and it’s amazing what follows!

A personal space – the office

And then… James and I were invited into what felt like Holy Ground. David’s office, or as David calls it, ‘his little shed’.

David is a big reason we wanted to be at Hiut. James introduced me to his work a long time ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.

David is a purveyor of slow growth, meaningful businesses, and frankly: quality. People notice too: Apple wouldn’t feature you in one of their ads if you were doing the same as everyone else.

Humbled to be alongside some of the best creatives in the country for @Apple‘s new campaign.#BehindTheMac#MadeInCardigan#Ad

— Hiut Denim Co (@hiutdenim) July 24, 2020

The ‘little shed’ is based on the farm he lives on less than ten minutes away. It’s also where he hosts an annual event known as ‘The DO Lectures’ – which is extremely successful in its own right.

In a way – the act of hosting an event where he lives feels representative of David’s approach to business. Honest, homely, human. Nothing too fancy: just trying to do the best by people while focusing on the few core things that really matter.

We’ll focus more on David in the next part of the series, but there is a learning here about the space in which he works in where he simply said: “everything works”. 

And while that isn’t revolutionary – it is important. How often do we operate in spaces where the Wi fi doesn’t work, the printer doesn’t print, or all the office rooms are booked out?

Creativity doesn’t come from a place of stress. It comes from things getting out the way and letting humans do the thing they do better than computers. 

A simple takeaway here then… how can you make your office space simply work, and enable your team to have that experience, too?

A head space – rituals and giving the time to commit – “Create the space so the magic can happen”

There was a striking thought in Jeremy Connell-Waite’s webinar on storytelling with us: “Get out there and stare at the clouds”. Simply put: creativity doesn’t come from rushing or staring at a screen.

Something James and I observed while being the work experience kids is the time and space the Hiut and DO teams are given to complete their work. 

An example is the Makers+Mavericks list the team compile. The list itself is a list of 100 people that got the team to utter the words ‘‘I wish I had done that, made that, invented that, thought like that, changed that’. It’s a big piece that the team produce every year – it’s something their community look forward to.

Aside from being an awesome exercise, the team told me that they’d been working on the list for 2 weeks so far – and it still wasn’t finished! 

I reflected on that myself and how I go about my work (and how I know a lot of other folks do, too). So often in this world of ‘ship fast’ and MVPs, we forget that actually – taking our time on something and allowing it the attention it deserves actually pays off.

And perhaps, that’s my biggest takeaway about space from Hiut Denim. They are creative not because they are ‘in’ a space, it’s because they ‘have space’. Space to be themselves in safety. Space to think. Space to work. Nothing gets in the way because the space has been engineered to get out the way whilst also providing purpose and inspiration. 

Space to create no longer feels like something we have automatically – it has to be more proactive than that. And that’s the trick that Hiut Denim have played: they provide the greatest space of all… headspace.

Part two will be released very soon 🙂