Embodying a new wave of British design talent, END. sit down with Represent to discuss their 10th anniversary, looking within for inspiration and staying true to their original vision.
Starting life in 2012 as the passion project of brothers George and Mike Heaton, Represent has flourished over the past decade, steadily becoming one of Britain's premier fashion exports.
Blooming with their own brand of luxury streetwear that champions a uniquely British approach, Represent was born as a humble but ambitious college project before transforming into the monolithic label it is today. Combining luxury appeal and distinctive graphic immediacy, Represent now stands as a powerhouse of modern British menswear, cultivating a unique aesthetic point of view that embodies forward thinking design while paying homage to the past.
Exhibiting an attitude of perseverance and authenticity, the brand continues to break new ground with a trio of distinct lines (mainline, 247 and Blanks). Entering a new era as they celebrate their 10th anniversary, Represent journey into the realm of lifestyle, with the Heaton brothers remaining steadfast in their dedication to their original vision.
Sitting down with the George and Mike at their design studio on the outskirts of Manchester, END. take a deep dive into the world of Represent, discussing what drives the brand as they celebrate their 10 year anniversary and their ethos of looking inside yourself for inspiration.
Starting life as a passion project between two brothers nearly 10 years ago, Represent has flourished into a powerhouse in the global fashion circuit. What initially instigated the formation of the brand?
George: I started the brand as a college project - the brief was to make something with our art that would sell. I was studying graphic design at that point, and had done through school. Mike is two years older than me, and I’d always really followed him and what he did. There was a huge explosion of “merch brands” at the time, with small labels just printing directly onto blanks. That was our entry point back in 2010/2011. Especially in the music scene, there were a lot of bands putting streetwear inspired designs on their t-shirts – it all kind of linked together. We were watching youtube videos of brands like Diamond Supply and Shepard Fairey – that really was the calling point to turn our art into something that we could genuinely make a future of.
Mike: At the time, we really just loved what streetwear culture was putting out graphically. That was the catalyst that pushed us into the fashion circuit.
You established the brand while you were both studying at university – what was it that made you compelled to start your own label right out of the gate rather than working at another brand?
G: Really it was just to make an income and to prove to our parents that we didn’t want to go into what they were doing – our dad was in the vehicle buying and selling trade, and we’d go and work there on weekends and nights but it really wasn’t for us. There was no creativity in it and we really didn’t feel at peace doing that. So as soon as we finished college and university, we had to have a job. So we created that job for ourselves.
M: If I remember rightly, you’d been tasked with making a brand for your final major project. Towards the end of you finishing off that project we decided to just start selling some of the designs that you’d made – it just took off from there.
G: We were just selling to friends and friends of friends at that point – then suddenly we realised we were making more money doing that than we would be if we were working normal jobs. There were so many people and brands who started at that time who are still about, who progressed in the same way – but there are also brands that never did. I guess the turning point was moving away from that merch style of printing on blanks to creating cut and sew product as a real, established brand. That took us a long time really.
Our traits are really different, but we share the same vision – it’s the perfect balance and contrast.
Did it take some time to find what you were individually best suited for at Represent or were your specific positions apparent from the offset?
G: I was working on it as a side project at university, but Mike was always the better graphic designer really. I’d come over to him and ask him to help me with the branding design.
M: I just had more patience with it really, which has definitely helped us out. Our traits are really different, but we share the same vision – it’s the perfect balance and contrast.
G: Mike is more hands on with graphic design, product development and footwear. I’m a predictor, always looking for the next thing – I work in the future, whereas you work for now.
M: You’re definitely more business minded and ensure that we keep the pace up. I like to really get into something, spending time researching it and really bringing the best out of it.
What advice would you give to your younger selves when they started out on this journey?
M: Don’t be scared to take inspiration from things that are around you and are true to you in an authentic way, because ultimately that will manifest in a way that brings out your own unique style. Don’t be so worried about jumping on a trend because no one is going to specifically recognise your work for that.
G: To have patience – which is something that I still have to tell myself every day. Back in the day, I really didn’t have any and I always wanted the next thing constantly. I was always looking elsewhere to find the next product or to find the next idea. I wasn’t looking within - I was always looking out. Represent really found its space and became a name when we took a step back from looking around us and actually focussed on what we wanted to do and what we feel like works for us.
I’ve read you, Mike, comment that the “Ghost” Collection was a particularly important one in determining the identity of Represent. What was it about that collection in particular that resonated with you as a pivotal moment for the brand?
M: From an aesthetics point of view, looking at the garments that we put out in that collection, there was nothing around at that time that was close to that.
G: We were a merch brand going into a cut and sew line, but we did it so well for our first collection that it kind of blew everyone away. It stood as a real turning point for us and solidified the look of Represent.
Reflecting on that moment, how has the brand changed since that offering 8 years ago?
M: With our mainline product, the silhouettes still remain true to that original vision, but they’re considerably more refined now – which comes naturally with the experiences we’ve had throughout the past eight years, really learning how garments were made, the fabrics, the fits and the process of design and production.
G: The fit, the fabric, the drape – everything has matured as we have matured as designers ourselves. It’s grown with us. We started off not really knowing too much about garment design and it showed in the product. Ten years on, we’ve learnt a lot and you can tell just by looking at the garments on the website. You can understand and clearly see that we’ve been doing this for a long time now and we’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t. Like Mike said, by going into the fabrics and fits.
M: We also now offer different tiers to the brand, with our mainline, Blanks and 247 lines.
G: We’re hitting different areas of the consumer’s life but staying true to the aesthetic that we’ve always had and built over the last ten years. For us, it's a lifestyle brand and we focus on health and fitness, as well as looking good. We’ve got to have product that works in all areas of that and that’s where 247 comes in. We only launched that last year, but it is doing phenomenally well at the moment and has a really good future that we’re planning on building out more.
There's so much inspiration found within Britain and, especially in streetwear, that wasn’t being portrayed or tapped into by anyone.
In a world where brands come and go all the time, 10 years marks an impressive milestone on the overall Represent journey. What have been your proudest moments with the label so far?
G: For me, the proudest moment has been launching the 247 line, because it means so much to me on a personal level. That was the first time that I really designed something that had a true function, meaning and purpose. It took a really long time to get it to the level that we were happy with, so when we released it we definitely had high expectations for it – it then became our best-selling product that we’ve ever put out there. It’s amazing to see that one thing, that means so much to me, doing so well.
M: For me, it was the moment of becoming an all-round brand and making footwear – taking our product to the shows and putting our parents in the front row and having them come and see this thing that we’ve created. I’ll always remember that moment.
Represent presents itself firmly as a British brand – how do you distil that specific British identity into the label?
G: We started doing that from the get-go – there's so much inspiration found within Britain and, especially in streetwear, that wasn’t being portrayed or tapped into by anyone. We’ve used union jacks and taken inspiration from British motor engineering, really just taking everything that was luxurious from past eras, from the times when Britain became known for progress in those areas. We pay homage to that through our graphic design, and the way we’d talk about the clothing. It’s an homage to where we’re from really.
M: We’re proud to fly the flag really. In terms of British manufacturing, you get a really honest product, even more so when it is combined with British fabrics. You have that level of control over production, for example, that you typically wouldn’t get if you were making the product overseas. In the beginning, when we were doing shows, that was really important to us – that we were able to make regular factory visits without having to get on a plane.
On the whole, British brands seem to still be playing catch up with our American counterparts – with Represent blazing the trail for other UK-based labels. Why do you think that British design has taken longer to catch up in the realm of luxury streetwear?
G: I don’t really know to be honest – perhaps they are focussing on using inspiration from other places rather than looking within, fixating on trying to be like brands that they see in the US or Japan, wherever it may be, and they go down that route with their design, styling or prints. The issue brands have is that Britain is very small, and there is not a lot of inspiration in terms of the fashion industry as such - in the realm of luxury streetwear - you can name a handful of brands that have done well. It’s not like the rest of the world.
Putting Manchester on the fashion map, you were both born and raised in the region. How has your home city influenced the brand?
M: I think it has definitely influenced the brand over the years – of course there are a lot of huge bands that have come out of Manchester, and we’ve taken inspiration from those bands that we idolised. We shot a campaign in Rockfield, where Oasis recorded “(What’s the Story?) Morning Glory”, with Liam’s son, Lennon.
G: We try to make stories that are close to us and close to home – our campaigns really show that.
M: It’s who we are and it's where we’re from – it’s very authentic. It comes through in the campaigns and the look books when it’s shot on a British landscape.
Within streetwear and fashion culture on the whole, transiency is seemingly an inherent part of the culture, with the pressure being on continually changing season after season. What are your thoughts on the seasonal cycle of fashion?
G: Over the past 18 months it has changed – for every single brand – and it's not just us who has to change. When the pandemic hit, we adapted from relying on wholesale to becoming a direct to consumer brand, changing the way we worked and how we deliver our seasons. Instead of gathering x-amount of samples to show at this time to then deliver six months down the line, resulting in it being a 12 month process overall, we decided to chop and change everything, so we could be releasing product every week and engage with our consumer much more in a direct channel, while still being able to offer our wholesalers exclusive product and special launches.
M: And like you’d mentioned before, with the 247 line, it's design with purpose in mind rather than with a season in mind. With that attitude you can create a more timeless flow of product and lasting positive impact. It’s a much more modern way of working.