High-end jeans makers Hiut denim hit the headlines recently after Meghan Markle donned a black pair for her visit to Cardiff – and orders have since gone stratospheric, with the brand’s owners admitting they can’t keep up with demand.
But what’s the story behind Meghan’s must-haves? We spoke to the founders of Hiut denim last year…
Five years ago Clare Hieatt and her husband David discovered a disused denim factory in Cardigan Bay on the Welsh coast.
Brands such as Marks & Spencer had given up manufacturing jeans there in the early 2000s, leaving 400 of Cardigan’s 4,000 residents out of a job overnight. The Hieatts had recently sold their fashion business Howies to Timberland and had moved from London to a nearby farmhouse. The temptation to give the Cardigan factory a second life proved impossible to resist and Hiut denim was born.
Making thoughtfully crafted, high-end jeans, Clare and David have built a clever, creative brand with a loyal following while re-employing some of the team whose careers had been put on hold since the closure. It’s a rare manufacturing fairy tale where new ideas and old skills have helped breathe life into a community.
‘All of the master jean makers we employ previously worked at the original factory and there is a huge sense of pride in what we’ve all achieved. We’d long wanted to start a jeans line, and when we heard about the abandoned factory in Cardigan it gave us extra motivation to make things work.’
‘We didn’t know what the response locally would be – we thought people might have moved on to different careers. But we filled all our positions instantly. Some of the former staff had been working in retail, one was making horse blankets. Elin Evans, who is now a key member of our team, had moved with her family to Morocco where much of the original factory’s work had relocated, but she jumped at the chance to come back home.’
‘It can’t be all sell, sell, sell – you have to be innovative and really engage with customers when you are a new brand, especially as we’re in Wales and very far from the fashion hub.’
‘David is brilliant on Instagram and Facebook – I was a bit dubious at first but it has really driven sales. He also writes a newsletter that features our favourite new books or designers or inspirations. In fact, it’s gone down so well he’s written a book about writing newsletters.’
‘We live on a beautiful farm that is minutes from work, and minutes from our daughters’ schools – you can’t beat that sort of no-stress setup. David and I both grew up in the Welsh Valleys – David next door to my uncle. And after our long stint in London, where we’d originally both gone to work in marketing, the plan was always to move back with our children, Stella, 17, and Tessa, 14.’
‘In our experience it’s had a negative impact – we pay for a lot of our materials in euros and dollars so everything has now become more expensive and, sadly, we’ve had to pass that cost on to our customers. We’re maybe talking a fiver on a pair of £135 jeans, but it’s something we wish we could avoid having to do.’
‘Classic jeans for creative people who enjoy great craftsmanship and don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing. We have customers aged 25 to over 60. Age is not relevant to how good you look in a pair of great jeans.’
WORDS OF WISDOM
‘We stick to a ‘do one thing well’ motto. We make jeans and that’s all that we do. We’re single-minded like that, but it seems to be paying off.’
Words by Amy E Williams