Red or Dead: Wayne Hemingway
The sharp-suited fashion entrepreneur talks to Startups.co.uk
Wayne Hemingway founded the Red or Dead fashion company with his wife Gerardine in 1982. The couple’s innovative approach saw their designs and stores spread quickly across the UK, then the world, winning them a host of industry accolades along the way.
After selling Red or Dead five years ago, Wayne set up his own fashion consultancy, hemingwaydesign, and joined forces with building firm Wimpey to work on various housing projects. A regular face on British TV screens in recent years, Wayne talks exclusively to Startups.co.uk about entrepreneurship, making it in the fashion industry and moving onto new challenges.
Wayne is supporting the Royal Mail’s new SmartStamps scheme, where small businesses can download stamps and company logos onto envelopes from the internet. To find out more about this exciting new resource, click on www.royalmail.com/smartstamp
You did a degree in Geography before starting up Red or Dead so what was it that inspired you to go down the fashion route?
I didn’t choose to go down it, it’s just one of those things where myself and my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, ran out of money one weekend so we emptied our clothes onto Camden market. We took a load of money and that was it.
It was like a lot of good things, you just fall into it. Absolutely no planning – never has been any planning – but sometimes you’ve just got to follow your nose, which we’re quite good at.
How did you make the leap from selling clothes on Camden market to opening up a store?
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It was hard work and being able to spot an opening – we’ve always been pretty good at that. That’s the main thing, we can work our bollocks off like nobody can, but we’ve also obviously got an eye for spotting things that the public want, or spotting missing things that could do with designing – we’ve always been pretty good at that.
How many of your original ideas did you have to sacrifice to be successful?
In the early days we didn’t sacrifice at all; we’ve got better at comprising to get things done. That’s part of being a designer, you’ve got to be able to recognise that certain things are going to cost too much to do and that you’re pushing it too far.
That’s where a lot of design companies go wrong, they are unable to compromise; and you’ve got to compromise with the manufacturer and all those kind of things.
You expanded fairly rapidly and set up stores everywhere from Manchester to Tokyo – did you do lots of market research into this?
No, I’ve never done any kind of market research, the market research has always just been in our mind. My advice to entrepreneurs and startups is if you believe in something and you can afford to do it, without mortgaging you whole life away so you end up with nothing and a noose around your neck, you should do it.
You should always follow what your gut instinct tells you, and our gut instinct told us to do all those things. With the majority of them, we had more successes than failures and that’s what it’s all about.
Did you ever intend Red or Dead to be such a massive brand when you started out?
No, because we are both from pretty humble backgrounds and we had no idea that it would end up like it has done. It’s always very pleasant when you get happy things happening like that in life.
We’ve never planned to be anywhere at a certain time, we are just the kind of people that just push on and on and if it’s a success then so be it, and if it isn’t you just go onto the next thing. There have been plenty of things that haven’t been a success that we’ve done, but luckily there’s more things that have.
You have said in the past that you haven’t had a fair deal from the fashion press- how do you feel that it affected your business?
They didn’t like us because I’m a big mouth and I criticise them, so I wasn’t looking for a fair deal, I never have done. They didn’t cover Red or Dead in the light that they cover a lot of designers, but that probably served us well because the public never saw us as ‘airy-fairy’ or hyped-up, we were never hyped at all, so that probably helped us quite a lot.
I mean, now, we only have to fart and they write things about us, but back then it wasn’t like that.
What were the main reasons behind you selling Red or Dead?
The main reason to sell it was, number one, it was worth a lot of money and it’s hard to get to that level in fashion where things are worth a lot, and number two we wanted a change. Probably ahead of all that was that we had four kids and Red or Dead had become a bit of a monster.
Is it a decision you regret? Well no, I don’t think you can regret anything that suddenly changes you from having nothing to having millions in the bank! That’s what everyone who has had a business dreams of.
My wife didn’t want to do it, she said it (the business) was like a child, but I said it wasn’t. She gave birth to our children, but for this she didn’t have to open her legs at all! It was certainly no flesh and blood.
You are now involved in housing projects, is that something you’ve always had an interest in?
Well yes, we wanted to have a go at something that needed improving, and modern new-build for the average person in the street isn’t the greatest. There’s no architecture that goes into it, that’s the problem, they just build bog-standard housing developments that are identikit everywhere and it’s the most important thing you buy in your life, so its pretty sad that we have to make do with this. We want to change it, and we are changing it.
You have been involved in several projects that have aided communities. When we interviewed Anita Roddick she said that making money and being ethical are compatible, do you disagree with that?
No, because you have to make money to help people. The world revolves around money being made, so anybody who thinks ‘Oh, you should forget about money-making, just help the community’ is being a bit naïve. A project has to make money.
It’s like building the houses - we have to make sure Wimpey makes the same money that they’d make from just putting bog-standard product out there. If we can do that, we can push them further so that they can help the community. So you still need to make the money, yes.
Do you feel the fashion industry is a good sector to start up a business?
Well, it’s bloody hard!
What would be your tips to anyone starting up in fashion business?
The first thing you’ve got to do is understand that its one of the hardest industries to make money in and then you’ve got to realise that its not all about hype and ‘la-de-dah’ which a lot of people do and then they fail. And then it’s just like anything else, you’ve got to be good at it and you’ve got to live and breathe it.
It’s not a license to print money, a lot of people think it is, but its just not.