Drapers takes a trip inside the world of young fashion brand Hype, where high-profile collaborations and a knack for trend-led products have built a thriving and swiftly growing business.
Drapers meets Liam Green and Bav Samani, co-founders of young fashion and accessories brand Hype, at their new 25,000 sq ft office in Leicester, standing next to an air hockey table, vintage arcade games and a full-size mustard yellow replica of the Reliant Robin from Only Fools and Horses.
Green has his six-month-old chihuahua puppy, Archie – who is wildly doted on by Hype employees – nonchalantly tucked under one arm as he and Samani proudly lead a tour of the new space. Part geek chic, part street-style cool, the offices comprise a warren of rooms where, alongside the growing team powering the Hype brand, there is a gym, photography studio, Hype-branded Coca-Cola bottles – part of a 2017 collaboration – tubs of pick ‘n’ mix sweets and graffiti-inspired murals.
The business has come a long way since its low-key beginnings. As one of the original raft of “bedroom brands”, Green and Samani co-founded the label in 2011 with just £600 between them, launching a branded lighter as the first Hype product.
Today, it has more than 2,600 international stockists with 1,300 in the UK, including high-profile names such as Selfridges, Topman, Asos, JD Sports and Next. It also runs a kidswear concession in Next’s Manchester Arndale store.
While the business declines to provide year-on-year growth figures, for 2018, it is aiming for a net revenue of more than £15m and a profit of £1.5m. It is also targeting an ambitious 70% sales increase.
The influence (and hype) of Hype should not be underestimated and, alongside its own products, it has also worked on a series of high-profile, official and exclusive collaborations, including with The Simpsons, Coca-Cola, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Disney.
Having started small, Green and Samani have capitalised on the initial frenzy around the brand and are evolving Hype into a sustainable, profitable business. The brand is scaling up its digital and international offers, expanding into 24 new markets in 2018. It is also refining its approach to operations. All of this is under the guidance of Mike Thompson, its chief operating officer, who joined in 2017. It may have started small, but Hype has hit the big time, and is an increasingly sophisticated business.
Green, now 25 (and a Drapers 30 under 30 alumnus), and Samani, now 32, met while working for a fast fashion production company in Leicester. When that company failed to pay their wages, they took the step to strike out on their own.
“We had £600 between us and nothing else,” says Samani. “We couldn’t pay the rent – we were struggling for everything.”
Knowing they wanted to start a brand, but with minimal funds, the pair designed a cigarette lighter bearing the slogan “Get your own fucking lighter!” To this day, there is a pot of the lighters in the Hype offices, and they are still given out at trade shows and buying appointments.
Social media has shaped the success of the brand, and Hype truly kicked off when Green and Samani entered a T-shirt competition that a local Leicester printing firm ran on its Facebook page.
“We defaced a picture of Einstein: put ear stretchers in, a nose ring and tattoos, a hooded top,” grins Samani. “We won the competition and sold out of the 100 T-shirts that were printed in two hours. That’s when we thought we were on to something.”
Such was their success with T-shirts, Topman came knocking. After a Facebook message to the brand’s page assuring that “this is not a joke” and a meeting in London, a concession trial in Topman’s Oxford Circus flagship sold £17,000 of products in two days. Hype still operates 75 concessions in Topman stores.
We hadn’t brought anything particular or planned. It was all a bit ad hoc.
Another early stockist was Footasylum – where Green and Samani arrived unannounced at the business’s Manchester head office, having looked up the address on Google.
“We hadn’t brought anything particular or planned. It was all a bit ad hoc,” says Green. “In the boot of Bav’s car we had one of the original T-shirt designs that followed on from the lighter. It was scrunched up in a poly bag – it really wasn’t very presentable. We didn’t hear anything for about a week, and then we got a small order of 120 pieces. We heard that no one in the company wanted to back us apart from the director’s son.”
Stockists such as Topman and Footasylum recognised Hype’s ability to differentiate itself from the growing slew of streetwear brands.
“At the time, men’s clothing was very ‘male’ focused and we were going in with all these florals,” says Green. “It was the complete opposite of what was really selling for people then.”
“Hype originally appealed to an edgy student age group as a streetwear, skate-inspired brand and an alternative to branded sports apparel,” a buyer at one early stockist tells Drapers. “The brand stood out for us because it was doing something different to the rest of the marketplace, and Hype became a go-to brand for the early-adopter festival-goers.”
As social media has exploded, so has the brand, and Hype’s designs all smartly tap into frenzied social trends. It began with floral T-shirts after Green noticed the proliferation of “garish” floral shirts being worn on student nights out and put the print on a jersey top. Now the small design team has a knack for spotting internet-led trends well ahead of Hype’s competitors. Before most retailers picked up on the internet’s obsession with motifs such as galaxy print designs, cats and rainbows, Hype was already selling them printed on T-shirts and backpacks.
The brand’s collaborations with cultural phenomena such as Coca-Cola, Jurassic Park and Disney have added to this – Hype has taken advantage of the spending power of fevered fan communities.
“At the start, we just wanted a brand and we didn’t know what direction we would take it,” explains Green. “We always knew it would be in a creative field, but clothing came home thanks to our backgrounds. We didn’t really plan on doing a clothing line – we knew we wanted to do something like a movement.”
Revolving around sublimation printed designs, the Hype aesthetic and customer is varied. Menswear is its top seller, making up 40% of sales, followed by kidswear and accessories at 30%, and womenswear, also at 30% – bags and T-shirts are its hero items. In April, Hype extended its footwear offer exclusively with Schuh, and in spring 19 it will see launch its debut activewear collection. It also licenses products – including beauty, underwear and loungewear, homeware and prescription glasses.
“Hype feels youthful and always leads with bold, fun prints that appeal to our 16- to 24-year-old customer,” explains Emma Galbraith Sergeant, ladies fashion buyer at Schuh, speaking about the women’s footwear collection. “Outgoing design married with an affordable price point makes the slides especially an appealing and accessible purchase.”
“Hype appeals to a young, fashion-led customer who wants to buy in to prints, colours and fabrics,” she adds. “This customer wants a wardrobe refresh each season, and Hype is the perfect go-to brand for this.”
Wholesale and licensing make up 84% of sales, and 16% of come from online. Overall, 25% of Hype’s current sales are international.
With an ambitious aim to grow total sales by 70% in 2018, it is the digital and global aspects of the business that are developing most swiftly.
We do more orders in August than we do at Christmas.
International expansion will be the driver for this, and the brand is investing in rapidly expanding its global reach. In the past seven months, the brand has launched into 24 new international territories both in wholesale and online, and will be in 50 new markets by the end of 2019. The Nordics, Germany and Italy are among those where the brand is expected to thrive. Hype has five franchise stores in Taiwan, which opened last year, with additional franchise stores on the horizon in countries including Iran and Israel.
Hype is working with partners to enter these international markets, and Samani describes their entry into new markets as a “360-degree approach”.
“In the past, we’ve made loads of mistakes because we’ve gone with people just because they’re cool,” he says. “But most of the time, cool didn’t really do business.”
Digitally, Hype is aiming to increase the online share of sales to 25% by the end of the year. In addition to a large-scale marketing campaign, timed to target the brand’s August rush, a shopping app will launch imminently.
“We do more orders in August than we do at Christmas,” explains Samani. “It’s backpacks for summer and back-to-school.”
The app is still in development and an exact release date is yet to be confirmed, but it will serve basic shopping functions, as well as sending users notifications when they pass a Hype stockist and potentially opening up discounts when the app screen is shown to participating retailers.
As with all things Hype, Green and Samani are adamant the app should be perfect before launch. “We developed an app a few years ago, which was shocking, so we didn’t go ahead with it,” says Green. “That’s really important. We see people out there who will just release stuff because they need to hit milestones. But you need to be careful with the brand.”
This pursuit of perfection is also seeing the operations side of the company’s push to develop an infrastructure that can support its future plans, and now the product is established, back-end refinement is key. The business has taken the smart step of identifying and acknowledging its weaknesses and bringing on board people and processes with the expertise to help iron out inefficiencies.
“We’re replacing inefficiencies with systems,” says Green. “On the front end we’re really strong, but on the areas where we may fall short we’re getting in experts or putting new systems in place.”
ft online sales warehouse sits close to the head office, where the recent implementation of a new inventory management system, Peoplevox, has led to a 90% drop in customer service emails, and provides a pick rate accuracy of 99.8%.
The wholesale warehouse is in the process of being moved from the current Leicester headquarters to a 100,000 sq ft space in Essex, as part of a logistics deal the business signed in March this year with electronics giant Samsung C&T UK, the company’s logistics arm.
This is all in addition to the impressive new 25,000 sq ft head office, which is home to most of Hype’s 54 staff. Bought as a derelict shell in 2015, the former warehouse on the outskirts of Leicester is now the model of a modern office, having been redesigned and renovated in an entirely self-funded project.
Once the wholesale warehouse has been fully moved to Essex, the newly free space in Leicester will be transformed. “One of the warehouses will be a mock-up of our franchise store models, for the different tiers of the stores,” says Samani. “From a department store set-up, up to a top-tier, fully kitted-out store.”
The other warehouse will help support Hype in its continuing social media focus. Plans for a basketball court and “Hype Arcade” are in the works. The office already includes numerous selfie moments, alongside Archie the photogenic Chihuahua, and the retro flooring, exposed brick walls and open-plan office all make for a super-trendy atmosphere. Added to that are a skateboard wall, humongous flatscreen TV and, tucked away in the showroom, an uncanny replica of a traditional English pub – “The Hype and Hounds” – complete with dartboard, pub sign, 1970s carpets and Jägerbombs on tap, which are presented to unsuspecting visitors (Drapers included) as a mandatory pre-meeting ritual.
“When we do appointments with influencers, we want it to be an experience,” explains Green. “Not like a normal meeting. We want it to have talkability.”
Despite the rapid growth and increasing business prowess, what is clear when exploring the offices is that the entire business is underpinned by a sense of youthful excitement. Green and Samani are warm, chatty and fun, constantly joking and teasing each other with brotherly warmth – the photo shoot following our interview briefly descends into chaos when a can of silly string appears from a props cupboard – but both have a sharp eye for business and a smart, pragmatic approach to growth. As they continue to push forward, the business’s eye for a trend and acknowledgement of its own capabilities will fit it well to deliver on their ambitious future plans.