George Heaton | Profile
George Heaton is the Creative Director of REPRESENT, a street-wear brand that is both influenced by and made in Britain. Starting from humble beginnings in his garden shed, George and his brother Michael have created a successful brand now seen in the world’s top fashion hubs, and one that boasts an impressive celebrity following. We met with George to chat to him about his career so far…
How did you discover your passion?
Through art, in school. I just loved to draw.
I could never concentrate on or get the grasp of lessons that weren’t art related, so I decided to take up Graphic Design in college. I absolutely loved it and managed to finish almost a year early, so following that I started Represent. I remember my last college project was to make something that would sell, and at the time, Obey and Diamond Supply, and all these huge skate brands were coming up and creating this streetwear realm. I was watching the YouTube channels of the owners, seeing the cars they were driving and where they were living and I just thought, that’s what I want to be and that’s what kicked it off.
And you’ve been working on Represent ever since?
I have this thing inside of me where I just can’t stop. I guess that’s what’s driving me to wake up at 6am in the morning and go to bed at midnight and just work every single hour. A lot of people think that’s weird, but I don’t know, I love it.
What have been the main setbacks so far?
For the first three years it was just money. I started the brand with 25 t-shirts that cost me £150 and I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t know what getting VAT registered was, how to create a limited company or what the word ‘profit’ meant. I was just selling stuff, making more clothes with the money I made and then selling again. When I left university and my brother joined me, we got a couple employees in as well as an accountancy firm. I learnt how to do the book work myself and figured out what we could and couldn’t spend.
Since then, setbacks have been mainly location based. I worked out of my dad’s shed, followed by the garage, and eventually ended up taking over the whole house. My parents loved it though, it was weird. We managed to find a nice spot near where we live and we still have that today, alongside a few other places. It took me nearly a year and a half to make enough money to actually move somewhere where I could pay rent and not have to worry about the costs. The other setback was employment, as I had never ran a business before and was recommended not to employ my friends. But I employed all my best friends and they still work with me today, which is great.
For someone so creatively minded, how did you transition into learning the business side of the company?
To me, all I was seeing was money in the bank and what I could spend, so learning the accounting side of a company is definitely something I would encourage doing. It took time but I was learning on the job, so I was familiar with the different numbers coming in which made things easier.
What advice would you give yourself 7 years ago if you were doing it all over again?
Don’t worry too much. I used to worry every day and not be able to sleep at night because I didn’t know if the product was good enough or if the shipping time was fast enough. At the end of the day, if you’re creating what you want, that’s your perfect product.
What do you want to change within the industry?
I think I want to change the whole seasonal, catwalk show thing. We tried to get into it for the past few years but it hasn’t really worked out for us, in terms of when we put product out there and when customers actually want to buy it. It has become a race between brands to get the season out earlier than everyone else. Catwalks in general are so focused on making product to put out on a walk that lasts 15 minutes, when you know half of the stuff you show isn’t going to sell. It’s always a struggle to bring the passion back into a collection to market it when you’ve already designed the next two because of the way seasons and walks work. We’re going to do something a bit different this year and try to change it up.
How do you find inspiration?
A few places. There’s a store in Paris called Premier Vision where we source fabrics, colours, et cetera. We always start off there and think about the next season, specifically focusing on the new styles and colours we want to use. From there, we put together our own rail with the products we love and the products that sell best and then we’ll decide which pieces we want to keep in the season and which things to take out. From there, we’ll adjust what we love and just take it from there, really.
It’s weird and amazing because my brother and I are complete opposites. He’s a really slow perfectionist, whereas I’m really fast and need to get stuff done. Yet somehow, we have the exact same vision of an outcome. Whatever anyone puts in front of us, we’ll always choose the same thing. The company is so tight because we live together, work together, and share the same vision.
Where do you look for ideas?
We always look at runway shows and what people are wearing when we’re out in Paris and Milan selling a collection. Adjusting what we like and making it work for everyone is the way we do things.
How did you build your team? Why did you decide to go with friends?
We lived 40 minutes outside the city centre and were surrounded by people in the same boat as us — leaving college or university — and all people we knew we could rely on. My first employee was a guy that had a degree in Physical Science and Sports. He would always come to the gym with me at 6am, help me pack my orders, take me to the airport whenever I needed and arrive half an hour early to get me, so I knew he was strict on himself like me. As I mentioned before, my brother is the opposite of me, he’d come to work an hour late but he’d be in there all night anyway so it didn’t matter and so he started working here. My next employee was another guy I had met in school. He studied Graphic Design like me and he’s now my right hand man and will probably be with me forever as well.
I think it’s the different traits people carry that make them suitable for a job. I don’t think people need to have degrees or qualifications in specific areas. If you can motivate them and give them an idea of what they can get out of it, anyone can do it.
Do you think it was more that they were your friends, or that they had the traits you were looking for in a team?
It took me a long time to start employing people I didn’t know. I never wanted to be in an office of strangers; I liked being surrounded by my friends and family, so it was a big step when we went from 8 people to a group of 25. But after a few weeks, it was just like a family anyway. I made sure that our studios are all open plan, we all sit around a big table and eat together. There’s no separation or walls in there, it’s just one huge room. There’s no meeting room to shut yourself away in and talk about someone in the office. It’s not like that. It’s like a family thing. So, it works well. There’s never a day that you don’t want to go in or a day that someone isn’t happy with someone else. You hear about that kind of stuff all the time, especially in this industry. Maybe we are different because the people that started it originally aren’t from that kind of background, so we’ve got a good mix.
What does your day to day schedule look like?
Every day is different. I’ll be in Milan one week, the next I’ll be in Paris, followed by Japan. Then it will be LA for a shoot and then back to the office for a week. I come back and I want to get out of the office, then I’ll travel and I’ll miss the team.
The most exciting days are when samples are coming in and you know they’re going to be right and you’ve been waiting for that moment a long time. It gets everyone up.
We’re doing a different kind of presentation for Fall/Winter next week in Milan. Everyone is full force on that back in the office and we’ve moved all of our factories and changed all of our suppliers, which is amazing. I’m just happy for all the stores and buyers to see that because it’s a big step up. And like I said about the shows, we decided to cut back on all the things that we didn’t actually want to make or wouldn’t sell. So it’s a really condensed collection. Everything in it I’m wearing, so that’s how you know it will work. When it’s everything you wear or want to wear, it sells out. I guess it was just about realising that.