David and the Goliaths


In an increasingly crowded and compromised world, what is it that both stands us apart and makes us fulfilled? And in a highly commercial world, where bludgeoning budgets can destroy diversity of enterprise, how do small businesses and start-ups compete and thrive?

David Hieatt, co-founder of Hiut Denim Co and the Do Lectures, gave a provocative and emotive insight into the ethos that is writ through his personal and business life: how the power of purpose can be the fuel for personal fulfilment and a driver of business success.

Hieatt told his story at a U+I Think event at our office in London, describing how Cardigan, a small town of 4,000 good people in west Wales, used to have a denim factory where 400 people would make 35,000 pairs of jeans a week. For three decades, until it closed.

Hieatt started The Hiut Denim Company to bring manufacturing back to the town and to use all the residual skills of the community’s former workers, breathing  new life into the town.

No motivational speeches were or are required, says Hieatt, because everyone in Hiut knows why they are doing what it is that they do. And it is just this – the power of purpose – that underpins both business success and personal fulfilment for everyone.

That purpose is the ballast in the company’s hold, keeping it stable while dynamic creativity and fruitful failure are allowed to run riot.

Purpose was and remains a powerful weapon in the company’s commercial armoury too, as it competes against global brands with gargantuan marketing budgets.

Watch the film

U+I Think: David Hieatt on Purpose

So purpose is power. Not just where purpose meets place – helping to rebuild an industry at the heart of a town’s identity – but also the purpose of enterprise, a pure focus on designing and creating a product of the highest, highest quality, to be purchased, worn, loved by people all over the world. And also personal purpose: getting up every day and doing something you believe in and love.

Hieatt’s view is that his company is part of a contemporary march of the makers, the small enterprises and artisans whose stories can travel faster, freer and further thanks to the power of social media and the web. These are businesses and people which have quietly gloried stories that give them authenticity and, yes, give them purpose.

These businesses - the Davids of the business world - can thrive against the Goliaths not just because their purpose and stories can be understood by the many thanks to social media but also because they are nimble and have the courage and the cultural space to make mistakes.

This experimentation – in the pursuit of personal and corporate purpose – is what makes his business work; is what enables his business’s story to travel fast and far; is what makes their products successful.

We at U+I regard David Hieatt and the Hiut Denim Co as like-minded co-conspirators. Like Hiut, U+I is all about purpose. You will know us, we say, by the places we create. You will know us because social and financial purpose share the same pedestal in our pantheon. You will know us because we are not afraid of the fruitful failure that arises from experimentation and the laboratory of ideas.

It’s our mistakes as much as our successes that define us, Hieatt might say. The ideas that we discarded are, ultimately, as valuable as the ideas that worked. You cannot have one without the other.

Imperfection, in other words, is perfect. But only if there is purpose in our mistakes.

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