Although my homeland is a country steeped in heritage, with a reputation for exporting quality products and catering to the highest taste levels - there are actually very few British brands that are currently meeting those high expectations. Especially when it comes to new blood.
That being said, we have always been a nation that takes pride in quality over quantity, and our few brands that do it well, do it really fucking well. I recently sat down with Represent - one UK brand that is flying the flag higher than most - to get to the guts of what sets them apart from the rest.
Headed up by two brothers, Mike & George Heaton, we discussed how Represent made the enviable transition from a run-of-the-mill T-shirt brand to a high-end streetwear powerhouse - sourcing their fabrics from across the globe and bringing it all together on home turf. In turn, the brothers explain why they champion British production, and the importance of keeping their personal taste at the brand’s core.
We also touched upon their upcoming “Only The Strong Survive” collection, with exclusive cuts from the campaign lookbook scattered throughout. The collection drops May 15.
TOM WINSLADE: Right, let’s get it. Introduce yourselves and explain what you do within the brand.
GEORGE HEATON: I’m George, and I basically handle the business side of Represent. So, controlling stock, speaking to our manufacturers, managing the logisitics - the general running of the brand, making sure it all runs smoothly.
MIKE HEATON: And I’m Mike, and I’m on the creative side of things. Technical templates, product development, graphics, the website, etc. Essentially, I focus on how everything looks, and then George focuses on how everything works.
GH: Yeah, but then it all comes together and crosses over between our roles anyway. We both have a say in the creative process, we both make decisions for the business as a whole - it goes around in a circle between us, but we both play to our strengths.
Represent has been active for a few years now, but it seems like the brand really started coming into its own over the last 24 months or so, in terms of having a consistent identity and presence. What factors would you say helped it all click into place?
GH: Well, up until two years ago it was more of a project for us that a legitimate business, I guess.
MH: Yeah, before then, it wasn’t Monday to Friday working on the brand. It was just a case of designing a graphic here and there, more of a hobby.
GH: The first real time we put into building Represent was for the Ghost collection, which was Autumn / Winter ’13. That was our first actual season. We worked with a designer named Imtayaz Qassim to cut our patterns, to design the garments themselves, and used our old manufacturers that were based overseas to bring it all to life. That season was the one that kicked off Represent as an actual brand, using our own silhouettes. That was the starting point.
And I guess when you start to work seasonally like that, and it’s successful, you’ve got no choice but to tighten up your game?
GH: For sure. That season’s success made us see the potential clearer than ever. Like, we couldn’t not take things seriously after that.
MH: Back then no one else was really producing that style either. Especially in our market, which was predominantly streetwear.
“WE PUSH EACH OTHER, WHICH IN TURN PUSHES THE BRAND FORWARD.”
GH: It was fresh, so we had to capitalise on it. We made the decision to start pursuing Represent as a legitimate business around then, so as soon as Mike finished University he jumped straight into the brand full-time and that was pretty much it. We started looking for new manufacturers and reset our direction again with the Wraith collection, which was Spring / Summer ’14. We didn’t feel like the Ghost collection was at a level that we were 100% happy with, so with Wraith we improved our fits and just kept pushing it. Every season since has been a progression like that though, learning as we go.
I can see that. Watching the brand grow, the progression has always seemed natural to me. You can almost see the learning curve through the products, with the way you’re consistently tweaking and improving upon things each season.
GH: Yeah man, every day is a learning curve for us. We teach each other stuff all the time, too. There’s a good team dynamic. Everything we were learning we kept pouring back in, so when we got to Autumn / Winter ’14, that was a similar collection to Spring / Summer, in terms of a product range - but everything was better. Adjusted fits, improved materials, new palettes. Our last release was Spring / Summer ’15, which was ultimately the same formula again, and we’re satisfied with it, but this new upcoming collection is the one that sets the tone for the brand we’re gonna be.
Would you say it’s that chance to set yourselves apart again, as you were originally?
GH: Yeah, I mean it’s still Represent and it’s not like we’re throwing the current brand out of the window, but it’s definitely different.
MH: It’s more concept-driven. Even more tailored to our interests, and what we like to wear. Our lifestyle.
It’s always been my observation that the most successful brands are those that live and breathe their product like that anyway.
GH: Exactly, and that’s how it’s been for us since day one. Everything that we produce, we wear everyday. If it’s not something that we want to wear, then we won’t produce it. We’re our own target market, our age and taste - and we know what people like us want to see. That’s why it works so well.
With that in mind, what product or products have you been most proud of producing so far. What do you wear the most?
GH: We pretty much wear the same shit everyday. The brand is almost like our uniform. More often than not, we’re wearing our Biker jeans or our Under T-shirts. The material and fit on those T-shirts, you can’t find anything else like it. There’s nothing else that fits that well. After that, probably our Bomber jackets.
MH: Staple pieces.
You mentioned before that your manufacturing was originally done overseas, but now it’s all on British soil, right?
GH: Everything’s produced in the UK. Everything apart from our denim, which is produced in Mainland Europe. But yeah, 100% European, predominantly UK.
You’re one of the few brands - at least within your market - that produce their own garments in the United Kingdom. How important is British production to your brand ethos?
GH: It’s all about the control, really. Being able to speak to the manufacturer on the phone easily, sorting things out in our own timezone. We can go straight down to the factory and check things out in person, rather than having to wait for samples to ship from overseas. We’ve simplified the process, confirming everything down to the last centimetre on the patterns. There are no faults or errors. It just plays into the speed and efficiency that people expect from us now.
As smoothly as things run now, I imagine it wasn’t quite so smooth trying to get yourselves into that position?
GH: It was just a matter of time. Trying out place after place until we narrowed it down and had the perfect manufacturer - someone that understand’s our brand direction and vision. It wasn’t easy. We pretty much had to spend everything we had to produce our first season that was made in England, but it had to be done. It’s funny though, because now we pretty much run the factory. The majority of garments they produce are Represent, so they have no choice but to believe in the brand like we do. With the volume we order through them, they don’t have the capacity to work with anyone else. They grow with us now.
You also design and develop all of your garments in-house, and having full control over the entire process like that has clearly been a winning formula for you. But I was wondering, how do you stay inspired and ensure that you keeping pushing things forward?
GH: I think it goes back to what I said before about us always knowing what we want. We inspire ourselves. As a team, we have a strong vision and it’s just a case sticking to that, really. We’re constantly sharing our ideas and making decisions together to make sure we stay up. It’s not just one person’s idea here, one person’s decision there - we push each other, which in turn pushes the brand forward.
The bridge between menswear and streetwear is an interesting talking point. There are some good things coming out of the UK, but without throwing too much shade, there’s an awful lot of trash out there too. Your brand seems to transcend the best of both markets at the moment, so I was wondering what your perspective is on British fashion in particular?
GH: There’s not much going on here that we really look up to, to be honest. I think on the whole it’s pretty dry actually. There’s maybe three or four brands that I think are relevant right now, if that.
Would you argue that it’s almost becoming irrelevant of where a brand is based? Because of the Internet, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from, because you can reach anyone through that platform. Likewise, you can be inspired from wherever.
GH: I just don’t think anyone cares, really. We’ve got 100 stockists all over the world now, and people from all these different countries buy Represent simply because they like the product. It doesn’t matter where we’re from, to them. 80% of our sales are from outside of the UK, to put that into perspective.
In terms of how you present yourselves though, despite what you were saying about people not necessarily caring, you’re very proud of the fact that you’re a British brand?
GH: Oh absolutely. Everything’s designed and produced here, but more than that, Britain is known for its quality.
MH: It’s funny though, there used to be loads of small British brands - graphic T-shirts and things like that - then everyone started shifting towards cuts and fits and higher end products, and all these small brands kinda died out. A whole scene disappeared.
GH: It’s important to remember that we were one of those T-shirt brands, though. We were part of that scene back in the day. Our taste just changed.
Taste levels change across generations, too. As people grow up, they don’t necessarily want to wear graphic tees all the time. Like what you were saying about designing for yourselves, it kinda of lends itself to that.
GH: Yeah, we’ve seen it change with our age really. We’re mid-twenties now, but when we were 19 / 20, or whatever, that’s what we wanted to wear. I’ve never really understood how brands who design for anyone other than themselves survive anyway.
“IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT WE WERE ONE OF THOSE T-SHIRT BRANDS, THOUGH. WE WERE PART OF THAT SCENE… OUR TASTE JUST CHANGED.”
That’s the thing about these brands that design by simply following trends. They base their whole brand identity on a specific trend or style, and then when people get over that, they’re fucked. It’s transparent and inconsistent.
GH: Exactly, that’s why we focus on timeless quality now. It’s not just about the design of the products, but the materials themselves. We go around the world for our fabrics. Everything is Italian, French, Japanese - all pulled together and made in Britain. You just can’t beat that, especially at our price points.
Talking of consistency though, you showed me what you’ve got lined up for the rest of the year earlier today, and it’s looking stronger than ever. What should people expect from the upcoming collection?
GH: We’ve based the new collection on something that hasn’t really been tackled in our genre before. It’s a concept that began through me going to this really old-school gym, and when you become part of their team, you get a hoody - this super comfortable hoody, traditional ’80s bodybuilding wear. And I wore it to death, until I realised that there’s nothing like it our market. It was just a case of taking that timeless comfort and fit, and producing a contemporary version of it.
MH: We’d already kinda started heading in that direction anyway, with a dropped shoulder on some of our products - but on the gym stuff it was even bigger. It looked cooler too, so we were just like, fuck it, let’s do it.
GH: It’s the first time we’ve had a really strong direction or theme behind a collection, in terms of there being a story and pretext, so we’re going to expose that in the campaign imagery itself. It’s a new perspective for us and I think it will improve the brand as a whole. It will give it more depth.
From the way the brand has been presented to date, you’re ultimately selling a lifestyle here. People replicate what they see in your lookbooks by buying entire outfits straight out of the catalogue, so to speak. Is the intention to keep expanding your product range, to give people all-Represent-everything?
GH: It’s funny, when we’ve posted up lookbook shots in the past, the most common question is always asking what shoes the model is wearing. So yeah, we’re expanding. We’re moving into footwear which we’ll release later this year. We want to offer our customers more and more options. Head to toe, 100% Represent.
MH: It’s better for us too. Instead of simply designing pieces, we can design full looks, which gives us so much more to play with and develop. Each outfit becomes a small capsule in itself.
And finally, you’ve just upgraded to your new, much larger headquarters - but what’s the next big goal on the horizon? Apart from being featured on The Hundreds, of course.
GH: We don’t like to think too far ahead like that, it’s more season-to-season and focusing on putting out the best product we can. I feel like if we focus too much on things outside of that, it clouds our judgement.
MH: It’s also about enjoying ourselves, too.
GH: That, and making sure we stay ahead of the competition.
Represent’s Only The Strong Survive Collection is available from May 15th via their website.