Note: I drafted this last year, having had the good fortune to talk to Richy at the Cheltenham Design Festival. For one reason or another it was never published. And while the share price has had its ups and downs, the Superdry brand still holds its own!
Richy Baldwin stands next to a coat rail of t-shirts. Wearing jeans, a checked shirt and baseball cap he could be the bloke who brought the t-shirts in. Or a part-time musician. Or a sign painter. He is, in fact, all of those things.
He’s also Head of Graphics at Cheltenham’s success story, Superdry. Which means he’s responsible for every single logo and design that has appeared across the clothing range since its inception, 8 years ago. “How do you draw them,” I ask. “With paper,” he says. “And a pencil.”
While this may sound like a dialogue from the church of the bleeding obvious, it makes a welcome change from the world of Wacom tablets, airbrushing and CGI that seems to fill the pages of today’s creative magazines. We look at oil cans, made up to look like they’ve been filched from the back of some Grandpa’s garage, complete with bashes and brown stains. “Black coffee and a paint brush,” says Richy.
It’s all such a long way from technology evangelists and their wild claims about how the latest big thing is going to change the world. Superdry’s story is about a couple of blokes and a minor epiphany that inspired a clothing brand, marrying Eastern graphics and lingo with classic fashion.
Richy was one of the first on board, and has seen the company grow from a back room to a global brand. The well-documented story includes how David Beckham’s love of a certain Osaka design undoubtedly catalysed the company’s success.
What the story doesn’t cover so much is how the business continues to be run in much the same way, with the same people. And without the need for all that clever gubbins around social media monitoring or targeted ads. Indeed, the company doesn’t advertise at all – it doesn’t need to, as its customers are its best advocates.
All startups can learn from this. Not that technology isn’t useful – it can be fantastic. And not that the company ignores the potential of the Web – it employs a social media manager, for example. But that when business is done properly, based on an innovative idea executed properly, technology takes a supporting role.
A bit like a piece of paper. And a pencil.