How Giles met the Iron Heart boss.
Marc: How did you meet Shinichi Haraki?
Giles: I’ve always loved denim — I grew up wearing proper Levi’s 501s. Sometime around 1980, the quality of the product dropped off but I still kept trying to buy them. I wasn’t savvy enough at the time to understand what had happened. I put every pair I owned up in the attic on the basis that my son would inherit them.
One day, I went to the attic and there was a shit-load of 501s in various stages of disrepair. I thought I should just see what these [were] worth. During my research I found this whole subculture in Japanese denim that I knew nothing about. I discovered about six brands that I thought were good and that weren’t represented outside of Japan.
So I contacted each of them including Iron Heart and luckily one of Shinichi’s good friends spoke English. They replied and he agreed [to meet with me]. I met him in Los Angeles and we got on quite well. His first qualifying question to me when we met in Los Angeles [was] ‘do you ride a bike?’ Not ‘do you know anything about denim?’
Giles expanded the Iron Heart brand outside of Japan
Marc: What was the initial step you took when you were presented with the task of taking the brand worldwide? Did you seek out retailers or did they find you?
Giles: No, I never have looked for retailers. I let them find me. You can only deal with retailers who understand [that] the margins are not as good as they are used to with non-Japanese brands. I always had to find companies who understand that there is a difference, that having Iron Heart in their portfolio is good for their image. They may not make the margins they like, but it’s good for their image.
We are a relatively small company and we haven’t wanted to grow too fast. Had I managed to get 100 retailers we would’ve broken. We would run the risk of the quality dropping or we just wouldn’t have been able to meet demand. Neither of which were options, and we haven’t wanted to grow particularly fast. We like growth, but we have to grow within ourselves.
Listening to the people, Iron Heart grew even more
Marc: Do you feel that the customers played a role in the shaping of the brand?
Giles: They’ve helped shape some of the things we do. I have to be very careful that I don’t de-Harakify the product because this is Haraki’s product. People buy the stuff to a great extent because Haraki’s behind it and his heart and soul is behind it. I have to be very careful not to dilute that essential element.
Marc: Speaking about the customers, were there always plans to have an online forum?
Giles: Nope, it was compete accident. One of my customers suggested that I did it. So I spoke to a few of my trusted customers at the time asking them if they thought it’d work. Unanimously, they said ‘no, it won’t work.’ Then one of them came back to me a week later saying ‘no, I think it will work, give it a go.’ We gave it a go and it has been just incredible. It’s really changed the nature of the business.
Marc: Lastly, would there be any words that you would want say?
Giles: Yes. We fundamentally want our customers to look as good in twenty years as when they first purchased [their denim]. We don’t consider ourselves a fashion company because we don’t follow fashion. We try to create timeless pieces of clothing that people will feel comfortable wearing for a long time.