Hieatt’s first steady job was at renowned advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi London, which he joined at 21, having previously run a market stall selling trainers. ‘If you want to know what I truly learned there, I learned the importance of storytelling. How to write like you talk. How to stand out. You don’t need the biggest budget. Hard work is rewarded.’ It was here that he cut his teeth as a creative, and a brand-builder. He left Saatchi after eight years to join another influential agency, Abbott Mead Vickers, where he stayed for seven years and was promoted to the board.
Aged 36, Hieatt left the agency world behind and went on to found an ethical outdoor clothing brand, Howies, which uses organic, recycled or natural fabrics in all its collection, rather than the synthetic materials commonly used elsewhere. ‘We wanted to go back to Wales and to have outdoor clothes we could feel comfortable wearing,’ he says.
Hieatt started the business with four T-shirts, but it grew quickly, winning awards and voted into the top 50 brands in the UK year after year. He sold it to Timberland in 2006, but regrets the decision. ‘We realised that a business needs its founders to complete the mission. Leaving Howies we felt like we’d only half completed what we set out to do.’ Hieatt tried to buy back the business three times.
Then came Hiut Denim. ‘After we sold Howies, Clare and I understood that we could build brands that reflected our own values as individuals,’ he reflects. ‘But, when I sat down to write the business plan for Hiut, I sat on it for a year thinking, “I’m not sure I want to run around the same track twice.”’
It was a conversation with a friend that changed this perspective. ‘They said to me, “It’s not really about you, Dave. It’s about the town. If you don’t reopen the factory, all those skills will be lost.” So, I started thinking about running around that track not just for me, but for Cardigan, and that started to feel like something I could do.’
Another vital lesson that Hieatt learned during his time in advertising was that a business with a clear mission wins. ‘Companies with a soul are so much more interesting than companies motivated purely by profit,’ he says. ‘Patagonia has a mission to help inform you about the environment and the damage we’re doing to it. Yvon Chouinard didn’t start out thinking, “Let’s go and build the most profitable outdoor clothing brand”, he thought, “I’ll create a company that cares as much about the environment as I do.”’