Ten lessons from a maker

1) No one knows you exist.

You make a great product. But the world isn’t holding its breath waiting for you. It doesn’t know who you are. It doesn’t know you even exist. Currently, in the pecking order, you are at the bottom. It’s nothing personal. Everyone starts here.

You will have to make your reputation. You have will have to gain peoples attention. You will have to be as good at selling your product as you are making it. It is your job to get people to know you are on the planet.

2) You are not an artist.

You make things. You make things in order to sell them. The difference between you and an artist is you can’t wait years to be discovered.

You have to make what people want to buy. This is commerce. This is not art. Selling is good. Employing people is good. Having apprentices is good.

Makers are here to make. Makers are here to sell — Van Gogh had to wait till he died before he sold his first painting. You can’t.

Sales after you die don’t count.

3) Make something that people want to buy.

Time is your most valuable resource. Spending your time making something that no one wants is one of the best ways I know to waste your life, and also to kill your business. So before you start, work out what people want. Work out why they will buy your product over your rivals. Work out what sets you apart.

One good way to make sure people want what you make is to do it better than anybody else. Another good way is to design it more beautifully than your rival. But the best way is to do something that no else is doing. And do it so well, they don’t even try to copy you.

4) No one goes to bed at night and dreams of quality.

We make one of the finest quality pair of jeans on the planet. And we are very proud of that. But that doesn’t mean that is the best way of selling them.

Quality is what we make. It’s what we stand for. It’s what we believe in. But it is not how we will sell our jeans. People have desires and dreams and you have to learn how to make your product fit into them.

People buy a lifestyle, an image, a purpose, an idea of superiority, being part of a small, elite club, rejection of the norm. Part of your job will be to understand their desires, and make sure what you make appeals to them.

Your customers go to bed each night and dream their dreams. They dream about changing the world, they dream about starting an amazing company, they dream about all sorts of crazy stuff. But they rarely dream about quality.

Don’t ever compromise on quality. But sell the dream.

5) It’s a small club. But a good club.

The makers club is a small club. But, everyone in it wants the club to grow. That’s why there is a culture of trying to help each other. If you need a certain machine, or a particular service, someone in the club will know the answer. So don’t fret, you are not alone.

One example: Chris from Noble Denim asked us if he could come over and learn from us as he wanted to start a denim company. Conventional companies would have said no. Help a rival? “Pah, are you mad?” But if you are in the makers club, you want more people to join the club, so you say yes. Noble denim (nobledenim.com) is up and running. And we helped in a tiny, small way. But we helped.

Right now, we are the only British denim brand making its own jeans, in its own factory in Britain. But we had help at the start from Jayesh and his family up in Leicester. They helped us make our prototypes before our factory was going. And I told them I wouldn’t be able to give them any business in return. Why would they help us? It took 3 set of samples before we were happy. And they did each one with a smile. They wouldn’t even take any money from us for doing them. The makers club is like that, you know. We will try and repay that favour one day.

The makers club doesn’t exist in reality. It has no address, it has no business card, it has no website. But even so it is real. And it will help you.

As soon as you start making, the makers club will be in touch.

6) The more you work in the future, the less competition you will have.

This is a quote from a talk by Richard Seymour. And I think he is right. Our job as makers is to take the skills of the past and apply them to the future. We want to protect our skills from dying out. And the best way to do that is to give them a lead role in the future.

One great example is the DodoCase. They used traditional book making skills that were dying out in San Francisco and they gave them a new life by applying those skills to making iPad cases. The result is a beautiful and super useful product that is in huge demand. Finding a way to marry the Luddite skills with geek usage is something more and more companies will have to do if they want to fly.

For us at Hiut Denim, we figured there are more than enough jeans companies out there. The world doesn’t need another one. The question for us was how could we bring some new thinking to it. One insight came to us while staring at an old pair of Levis from 1876. I looked at them and I wondered what stories they could tell us. What was their best day? Did they strike gold? Did they fall in love? How hard were the conditions? But the jeans couldn’t tell me anything. They were born before the internet.

So every pair of our jeans comes with a HistoryTag: a unique number that allows you to sign up to the HistoryTag website and then allows you to update where you went in them and what you got up to in them. Then, if one day those jeans end up in a second hand shop, their memories will go with them.

We are first jeans maker in the world to do this. We are operating in the future. And that gives us a fighting chance.

7) It is going to take time.

And it’s going to take some old fashioned hard work. Those who want short cuts, who want to be overnight success, are going to be in for a bit of disappointment. There is no substitute for the hard work you will have to put in. Doing the work is rights of passage.

A business has to find its feet. Knowledge has to be learned. Skills have to refined. Reputations have to be earned. Customers have to be found and retained. A business will tell you when it wants to grow, and when it does, let go of the reigns; but not too much. One of the most important aspects to building a business is patience. It is a rare commodity.

8) Know who you make for.

We make jeans for creative people of the world. The ideas that they have and the change they make inspires us. That’s who we make jeans for. What could be a better honour than making jeans for people who are pushing this world forward? I think its important to know exactly who they are. And focus on them.

Be narrow. It’s much better to mean a great deal to a few people than next to nothing to a huge amount.

9) Don’t rely on just being the best.

I was doing a presentation to a famous department store recently. I told them all about our town, and how it used to make jeans. They got it. They took a look at the jeans, and they turned around to me and said ‘these are the best made jeans they had seen in years’. Given they sold pretty much every denim brand you can think of, it was a nice compliment. But, a few months after that meeting, they still hadn’t bought any jeans from us. But I wasn’t surprised. Our rivals may make an inferior quality jean compared to ours, in terms of quality and craftsmanship, but they have other things going for them: They are more well-known than us, they have more history than us, and they have a bigger marketing budget than us.

So for us, just being the best is not going to be enough for us to win. Yes, we have over one hundred and fifty years of experience of making jeans within our company, and we make one of the highest quality handmade jeans on the planet. And yes, our natural indigo dyed selvedge is made by Kuroki who hand dip it ten times until the dye gets to the very core of the cotton, so they age as beautifully as a jean possibly can, but despite all that being the best is not enough to win.

For us to win, we have to come up with ideas that challenge the Status Quo of an industry that had its most innovative day back in 1873. Our ideas will be how we build our company. Our ideas will be how we get people their jobs back.

10) The competition have everything more than you.

In all battles between David and Goliath, the odds are with Goliath.

They have it all, right? More budget, more history, more people. More distribution, more patents, and more of that little thing called money. They even have people just employed to repair the internet whenever that goes down. And you can bet, they never run out of photocopier paper.

But when you look at this way, things look different: Goliath’s have more meetings, more committees, and more red tape. More ideas being killed by research, more to lose by taking risks, and more outdated business models that they are stuck in. More rules, more regulations, and more good people leaving. So who cares if they never run out of photocopier paper?

Use your strengths: your speed, your instinct, your passion. Back your ideas with hard work. And yes, love can and does scale. Good luck.

There has never been a better time to be a maker. Thank you, Internet. You have levelled the playing field.