Hype founders Bav Samani and Liam Green on 10 years of building a fashion empire
Earlier this month saw Hype open a 2,700 sq ft flagship store at 5-7 Foubert’s Place in London’s Carnaby area, and last week a second 1,195 sq ft store was added at Highcross shopping centre in Leicester, the home city of founders Bav Samani and Liam Green. A new 2,236 sq ft outlet store is also imminent at Gunwharf Keys Designer Outlet in Portsmouth.
It's a long way from 2011 when they set up on their own in the same building as a fast fashion supplier and T-shirt printing business in Leicester they both worked for, following a dispute over unpaid wages. They pulled together savings of just £600, got a six-month rent-free period from the landlord, who thankfully saw their potential, and went about creating Hype.
Their first product was a lighter emblazoned with the slogan "Get your own f***ing lighter", which they sold thousands of when it went viral online. Then they entered a T-shirt competition with a company on Facebook, which they won after defacing an image of Albert Einstein – complete with nose-ring, ear-stretchers and tattoos. The prize was to have 100 free T-shirts printed. They put them on their new website and they sold out within two hours. “We thought we might have something here!” said Samani. It also prompted a buyer at Topman to contact them on Facebook asking them to go to a meeting. “10 years ago people weren’t messaging you on Facebook to ask to come to an appointment, but the buyer added ‘this is not a joke’ on the end of his message.”
They went to the meeting and got asked to make a collection including T-shirts, vests and jackets. They said yes to everything, despite not having made anything. “We got the collection made locally in Leicester within two weeks and delivered it in-store to Topman on Oxford Street. The collection took £17,000 in two days,” explained Samani. Within six weeks they were in over 150 Topman concessions.
That was the kick off. They then went uninvited to Footasylum’s HQ, turning up with a floral print T-shirt in a scrunched-up poly packet. They got turned away, but waited in the car park and pounced on the director’s son, who was the only one willing to back it. They got an order for 120 pieces two days later, and delivered it in three days. Footasylum sold out of the T-shirt over one weekend. “After that it just exploded, and we had 100 different sku’s in store at any one time,” said Samani. ASOS, JD Sports, Next, John Lewis, Schuh and House of Fraser all followed placing orders.
Their first licencing deal came in 2017 with an arrangement to use The Simpsons on their products, which Green said saw them “practically shut down Boxpark in Shoreditch” when they launched it as it was that popular. Other big collaboration licence deals followed and their most recent, with Looney Tunes, launched last week, with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck characters greeting customers at their Carnaby store last Saturday.
While Hype backpacks remain as popular as ever with teens and tweens alike, with every other school kid on the block seeming to have one, a more adult-friendly Just Hype clothing collection was introduced a couple of years back to give a point of difference.
Green said: “If you go back about four years, I’d say the business was heavily skewed towards kidswear, but since we’ve re-positioned with Hype and Just Hype there is now more of a healthy balance. I think we needed that segmentation. It’s now more like 60/40 in favour of kidswear, as the adult offer has picked up, especially on the womenswear side of things where we’ve done a lot more product development, including denim and a lot more jackets. So, it’s not just the hoodies and backpacks, though they remain very popular.
“Kids to adults is now moving more towards being 50/50, which I think it will become next year as we move in to more territories. Just Hype got a strong reaction when it was properly launched just over a year ago as we got a lot of the big TikTokers introducing it to the market.”
Hype currently has 430,000 TikTok followers and it is one of the first fashion retailers to pilot the video-sharing platform’s in-app purchasing software. Green said: “That’s in its infancy but we’ve seen early success with it. It will only grow as the digital space grows alongside it.”
Hype now employs over 200 staff over four different sites, with about 2,000 points of sale around the world. However, just like everyone else, Samani and Green’s world was rocked when Covid-19 struck.
Previously their business had been 80% wholesale and 20% direct to consumer from their website, but coronavirus meant they had to flip it fast. And flip it they did, as wholesale is now more like 30% of the business as the emphasis has shifted to online sales.
Samani commented: “In the first week of Covid we faced about £3m worth of cancellations from our retail partners. I thought we had a big problem. We put everyone on furlough, but a week later we brought everyone back. Our online business skyrocketed 235%. The website was on fire and continues to be.
“We moved in to a new 50,000 sq ft warehouse, and added another 40,000 sq ft mezzanine. We moved all of our wholesale stock out to another site with 150,00 sq ft, so everything is now separated and we’re concentrating a lot of our time and energy on growing our online presence. We’re seeing amazing growth with it.
“We also thought that our wholesale business would die down, but the numbers are now about 12% - 15% up on 2019 levels. So, we still have a very healthy wholesale business, as we’re seeing the big five or six retailers still back the brand in a big way. We’re also seeing a lot of business come from Zalando – in 17 territories, through their partner programme.”
The UK currently represents about 70% of Hype’s business, but Samani says that next year it will be more like a 50/50 mix with the European territories as they grow, and the US is firmly on their radar with a direct-to-consumer website planned there towards the end of 2022.
Green commented: “Our main focus now is to grow the brand internationally. I think we’ve built a massive fortress in the UK and a good stronghold, but though we’ve had early success in the likes of Germany, we’re still only really dipping our toes in – there’s so much more to go at. I think America could be a huge one for us. If we build that market right we could potentially double, triple or even quadruple the brand overnight.”
Though Leicester’s dynamic duo now have 10 years under their belt they still talk like they are just starting out, and on current form not many would bet against them conquering the world.
Hear more from Bav Samani and Liam Green on our In Conversation podcast, produced in partnership with Klarna. Listen on demand here.