Ever wondered what it takes to get your designs from sketchbook to store window? James Holder, 43, the co-founder of style behemoths Superdry tells us how he did it...
I was mad into comics as a kid – Judge Dredd and 2000 AD. I’d sit at a table with my dad and he’d sketch out the characters for me. He was an accountant and a ferocious workaholic, and I’ve definitely got that drive to work from him. Not his maths skills, though.
You’d have found me hanging out at Southsea skatepark as a kid. There was a real BMX and skate phenomenon when I was growing up and everyone moved in tribes, turning up at places on mass. I idolised skate teams like the Bones Brigade and Powell-Peralta, and BMXers like Bob Haro – all their VHS video stuff is still so wicked.
This all started out the back of my mum’s Austin Metro. I went to Leamington Spa art college, nicked all the materials and created garments in my old dear’s shed. ?Then I’d take them to BMX contests and sell them from the boot of her car.
I’ve always thought British pubs and the shit weather are the reason why Britain is so creative. If the weather was great, we’d be on the beach, chatting up girls. But because it’s appalling, we’re in the pub, conversing and creating. It’s why the world looks towards this tiny country as the best place for music, magazines and fashion.
My problem is that my favourite pub is owned by my business partner, Julian.
I’m still punching the clock, working all the hours God sends us. I look like crap, with big bags under my eyes, but I love what I do. You can’t fake that feeling.
McDonald’s was the only other job I’ve ever had. I lasted six weeks, but it taught me that trying to do anything ‘normal’ is not my fit.
I’m a massive believer in karma. There’s a lot of business and personal sacrifices to be made, but all things happen for a reason.
I still get a flutter in my heart when I see our flagship store on Regent Street in London. I’m bursting with pride when I’m there. I want people to put on Superdry clothes and think, “Fuck – this is it, this is the one.”
We’re rag-trade entrepreneurs, always looking to push the boundaries. I’m fine with people writing business books – I read the Steve Jobs one – but you can’t be taught the inbuilt instinct you need to succeed.
On our first trip to Tokyo, we hardly bought back any clothes for design inspiration. We came back with cases and cases of drinks cans, stationery, paper clips and packaging. It was a whole new level of detail we’ve never seen before.
It’s like with our windcheater, which has a triple zip. That didn’t exist before we did it. I saw this bloody huge luggage bag with loads of zips on it and thought that needed to be on a jacket. My business partner thought I’d completely lost the plot, but when all the zips are down, it looks so wrong that it’s right. We’ve sold two million of them to date.
I’m petrified of someone being better than us. I’m always watching my back, and to do that, you always need to be one step ahead.
Every day, no matter what country I’m in, the first thing I do in the morning is run. It could be 35°C in Hong Kong, or 6°C in Central Park, but that’s how I always start my day. I’m just as happy being up to my knees in mud in the Cotswolds as I am on a beautiful beach.
I’ve been grafting for 20 years, flat out, and now I’ve got a good perspective on life. You can succeed, bust your balls, work yourself into the ground, but what it’s really all about is your kids, isn’t it?
We’re constantly making mistakes. Mistakes are fine, as long as you immediately admit to failure. If you try to mask it, you’ll end up in a muddy, cloudy environment that lacks any progression.
Driving an amazing car down a country lane is a near-religious experience. Especially on a balmy, late summer evening, with the windows down and a V12 bouncing off the hedgerows. I’m very lucky to have a couple of Aston Martins, and I love to push them to the limit, to the point where I get scared and the blood starts pumping.
It’s never been about the money. Never. It’s all about being the best.
Words by Chris Sayer
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