Cardigan, a small town of 4,000 in western Wales, once churned out 35,000 pairs of jeans every week for 30 years. That was in the days before outsourcing, of course. With the closure of the last denim factory in Britain, the people who once crafted the world’s finest dungarees have nowhere to practice their skills—skills that, in some cases, they spent 30,000 hours honing. “In Hollywood, it’s hard to find a waiter who is not going to be an actor,” says David Hieatt, a clothing entrepreneur who plans to set up shop in the centuries-old town. “In Cardigan, it’s equally as hard to find someone who hasn’t made jeans.” Hieatt wants Cardigan’s “Grandmasters” of denim to make jeans again. If he can get his proposed denim label off the ground, they will.
Hieatt is still raising money to bring HIUT into existence, but the people of Cardigan are onboard with his plan to get the factories humming again. “I started interviewing the ‘Grandmasters’ to see if they had the desire to ‘go again,'” he says. “The response was universal. They all told me with a sparkle in their eyes that they were so excited. One lady said to me: ‘This is what I know how to do. This is what I do best.’ I just sat there inspired by them.”
“I believe the notion that we can’t make in the U.K. and still be a successful business needs to be challenged,” Heaitt says.
But Hieatt doesn’t just want to pump out a nice-looking pair of jeans; he also wants to imbue them with purpose and a quality that’s the antithesis of cheap, throwaway fashion. If successful, HIUT will stand as an example of how to give a town life again. It will be proof that factories can reopen, skills can be relearned, and an industry can thrive despite the lure of inexpensive overseas labor. “I believe the notion that we can’t make in the U.K. and still be a successful business needs to be challenged,” Heaitt says.