In this article, User Experience Director, Chris Jones, shares with us some of the brands that inspire him. Some of them you may be slightly surprised by, some you may never have heard of. Chris shares his passion for these 'little guys', and why he feels they're worthy of inclusion of his showcase of brands he loves. 


Over to Chris


I wanted to write a blog this month about a brand that we love. The usual suspects ran through my mind – Starbucks, John Lewis, Nike – but then I thought, “As impressive as they are, does the world really need another blog about these behemoths?” We’re lucky to work with some big brands at Blueleaf, retailers who shift squillions of pounds worth of product every year (or in a single Black Friday weekend even), but sometimes it’s good to look at what the little guys are doing too; the innovators, the upstarts, the artisans.


Hiut Denim

Welsh jeans brand, Hiut Denim have a beautiful story to tell. In their own words, “Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades. Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do. That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.”

I was hooked straight away. The Hiut brand is based on an unswerving focus and dedication to make the best jeans that they can. They pride themselves on their quality over quantity approach and the fact that the only thing they do is make jeans. This strength of message is building up a passionate following, with customers even willing to place pre-orders for jeans and wait a few weeks whilst the factory catches up with demand.

Their philosophy is “Do One Thing Well” and this runs through everything they do. Their enewsletter is one of very few that I haven’t unsubscribed from. Why? Well, it’s not the usual SALE! or 50% off stuff, it contains fascinating articles covering just about anything, but all along the theme of focusing on doing one thing very very well.

Other quirky loveliness that Hiut have dreamt up is a Denim Breakers Club where members are sent a pair of jeans to wear for 6 months in return for a small deposit. After 6 months (when they’re fully worn in), they send them back and Hiut put them on the website for sale. The member receives 20% of the sale price. This idea has come from the fact that they know that many customers don’t like brand new jeans, preferring the ‘worn’ look. They could just machine distress them of course, but this sort of attention to detail is important to Hiut.

And don’t even ask about the No Wash Club…


Brewdog

Including the UK’s fastest-growing food and drink brand from the last three years in an article about the little guys might seem a bit odd, but they have a fascinating story having gone from a startup in 2007 to turning over £29.3m last year and employing 358 people (+ 1 dog). The reason for their inclusion here is that their approach today is as uncompromising as it was when they started.

Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie started Brewdog to be the antithesis of the mass-manufactured lagers that dominate the British market and have upset the establishment in doing so. Not that they care, in fact they thrive off it. It’s an approach that I admire massively – they know that you don’t have to produce something that everyone loves to be massively successful – know your customer and make something specifically for them and you’ll gain a passionate, committed following.

They’ve been real innovators in the brewing business, not only with their full-flavoured craft beers, but also with how they go about their business. In 2010 they broke with convention and launched Equity For Punks, where customers could buy shares in the business online. They currently have a community of 14,500 shareholders, whilst retaining all-important control over the future of their brand and business.

Their website is a lovely place to spend some time reading stories, looking around the brewery (and booking a tour), and of course buying beer and a host of other branded products. They’ve built a great brand with a great following and continue to be a fascinating company to follow.


Hard Graft 

I came across Hard Graft recently when I was doing some research. Started in 2007, they design and make beautifully simple leather goods. I loved the products straight away, but what particularly struck me was how their ecommerce site perfectly reflects what they do.

The bags, wallets, phone cases etc that they sell are highly visual products that deserve to be shown off in all their glory without clutter to detract from them. For this reason, the homepage is what you’d usually expect an ecommerce site list page to look like, but stripped back. It shows the power of beautifully-photographed products, laid out simply. They have the advantage of not having a huge product range of course, but even so, the way they present their products takes some beating for creating desirability. Users can add products to the bag direct from the homepage or are a single click away from beautifully designed product pages that major on more fantastic photography.

Hard Graft know what they do well – high quality, hand-crafted products – and they don’t let anything get in the way of it.


Summary

It’s perhaps inevitable as brands grow that they lose a bit of edge, a bit of personality, what made them unique at the beginning. But it’s important to look at the little guys every now and again, what ideas have they got, how are they disrupting things and making ripples.

What Hiut, Brewdog and Hard Graft have in common is a story – a story that’s communicated brilliantly through their brands and ecommerce sites. Certainly in terms of best practice UX, there’s plenty they could do to improve their websites, but I have to admire their personality and uncompromising approach to things.

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