In between writing Adidas ads, Dave asked me if I wanted to make some T-Shirts with him.
I would be the third partner, aside from Dave, there was a City-boy, business type, (I can’t remember his name only his goal; to own a house with a drive in drive out drive way).
Dave had a very clear vision: To make very ecologically sound, ethically decent, high quality, ie, expensive, T-Shirts aimed at the niche sports like BMX-ing, Surfing and Skateboarding.
Dave had a name; Howies.
He liked it because it sounded genuinely American.
I didn’t like it because it sounded genuinely American. (He’s from the valleys in South Wales?)
Howies it was.
We designed a few T-Shirts over a couple of weekends, this is the first one that got made:
(It was based on this idea. I could never get Adidas to buy it.)
But within weeks it became apparent that Dave REALLY wanted to do this, whereas I was happy to knock-up the odd T-Shirt, but didn’t want to go to BMX meets, meet various cotton mills, T-Shirt manufacturers, look into the ethical use and disposal of dyes, etc.
So I concentrated on my day job, while Dave did his day job AND built Howies into cool brand admired globally.
Cut to a decade later. Dave calls up asking for some advice on Advertising.
I tell him I’m weeks away from setting up a new agency, he says Howies can be DHM’s founding client.
(Excellent, payback for that ‘Life*’ T-Shirt that they’ve been selling for the last ten years.)
DAVE: “Timberland have bought in, they’re going to help us expand abroad. We need to start advertising, but we don’t want to look like we’re selling out.”
There’s an old BBH line from their AAR reel that I’ve always loved; ‘Don’t sell, make people want to buy’.
So I thought let’s not do ‘ads’, let’s produce bits of content that feels like their brochure, but put it in bought media spaces.
Talking about Howies view of the world seemed to be the way to go:
LOOK: Lets avoid anything that says advertising, so goodbye logos, end lines, cookie-cutter layouts, brand colours and graphics.
TONE: Not full of superheroes, normal people who want to do the right thing, self-effacing, show personal insights rather than global ones. Overall, we have to show humanity.
Having the headline and brand name in the same font, at the same size really helped the pages not to feel like advertising.
The first roughs:
Rejigged, they became the first ads:
The opportunity came up to make a couple of films for the web and cinema.
Instead of showing amazing surfers or skateboarders, why not show terrible ones? The films would be more empathetic if they were based on people trying.
Also, rather than show a group having fun, let’s show an individual ‘in the zone’, not giving in and enjoying the solitude.
We had a working line that summed it up; “Get better, fail more”.
(Shot by Charlie Crane, first bits of moving film that ever went through his camera.)
Next was a brief to talk about the amazing qualities of Merino wool.
We had a first go:
Dave: “They’re a bit similar to the first batch, let’s do something completely different, let’s keep moving around”.
Luckily, my old writer Tony Barry was bored, he’d just switched from creating to directing and hadn’t quite adjusted to Directors life where sometimes your diary is all windows.
We rounded up the sheep ads and presented them to Dave:
Dave loved them.
I now had to find a way to make them relate to each other, stand out and look cool.
I chanced on a fantastic Japanese illustrator called Kin Pro.
Unfortunately she spoke no English so everything had to go through her friend of hers who spoke bad English.
(I’m not knocking her, my Japanese isn’t great either.)
Trying to explain details like why the sheep was wearing a very brightly coloured hat took patience.
FIRST ROUGH: “Looks good, but the red eyes are a bit weird? and that black bit at the bottom looks a like an oil slick, and might get in the way of the type.”
SECOND ROUGH: “Better, I preferred the yellow sky though, it looked like dusk, and the mountains jump out too much.”
A SLIGHT HICCUP.
My brother, who’s a bit of a BMX legend, get’s interviewed by a leading BMX magazine and had a rant: “Soul-less businessmen are moving in on sports like ours trying to make a quick buck selling cheesy T-Shirts, companies like Howies, it’s run by an Adman!”
Dave mentions it in passing, I say “Yeaaaah…not ideal.”
It’s not mentioned again, we crack on.
David Goss and Ollie Wolf were given the brief for the skateboarding.
What I liked about the stuff they came back with was that I didn’t understand it.
I liked that they were using words I didn’t know ‘Oli’, ‘Grindbox’ and ‘Kickflip’.
I thought I better google them to make sure the guys weren’t just making them up.
It turned out they were real words, I now not only understood the ads and liked the fact that non-skateboarders wouldn’t.
There was also an ongoing brief for T-Shirt ideas.
We’d produce a batch of lines like this:
The chosen ones were then finished up:
One of the things that made Howies great was the quality of their ingredients.
Take denim, Dave would seek out the top denim guy in the world, and sweet-talk him into working with Howies.
Howies denim was surprisingly high quality, £300 a pair quality for a third of that.
So our job was to explain exactly why:
Unfortunately, Timberland didn’t deliver.
As their sales started to go through the floor, they got consumed with putting out the big fires and ignored their small, cool brand from Blighty.
(Does Wales count as Blighty?)
A huge shame, but not to Dave, he’s banked the lessons and has since set up The Do Lectures and more recently Hiut Denim. Check them out: http://hiutdenim.co.uk/ & http://www.dolectures.com/