11 February 2013
Matt & Dan Withers, The Greatest Of These clothing
Matt and Dan are execs of The Greatest Of These fashion enterprise. Dan did an apprenticeship in garden landscaping and has been building awesome gardens ever since. He's passionate about heavy music, jogging, competing in marathons and attending punk-rock gigs with Matt. Dan knows loads of sports trivia; if he was invited to go A Question Of Sport he'd "wipe the floor with all of them".
Matt studied graphic design at the University of Gloucestershire and since graduating has been a freelancer, mainly designing for the music industry. He's also passionate about heavy music, enjoys playing the drums, performing and attending punk-rock gigs with Dan. Matt has long fingers, sort of like E.T.
What did you want to become when you were children?
Dan wanted be a football player. He had high hopes to play for Manchester United, but was graciously willing to settle for playing for Arsenal or Chelsea. Matt wanted to design football kits.
How did you end up in the fashion business?
Matt spent his first year of freelancing designing tour t-shirts for music bands. In the summer of 2011 we went to a music festival called Hevyfest, where we saw lots of merch-stalls and festivalgoers wearing t-shirts Matt had designed. It sort of became a game to count how many people we could see wearing them.
Earlier in the year, Matt had printed and sold a t-shirt with 'But the greatest of these is love' written on it. Without any branding or publicity, it sold out. This, coupled with seeing lots of people wearing other things Matt had designed at Hevyfest, we were encouraged to launch our own brand.
Which bible text, narrative or character shapes your vision for business?
The verse our brand's named after is 1 Corinthians 13:13. We try to apply it to all of our designs. We've thought of releasing some t-shirts with just our logo on, but we've decided against it because it doesn't relate to 1 Corinthians 13:13, and our logo alone won't promote the qualities of faith, hope and love.
And also another that's particularly relevant at this time is James 4:15: 'Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."' We're still in the early stages of our brand, and it's only going to succeed further with God's grace and will.
Who is your entrepreneurial hero?
Johnny Earle, the man behind the clothing brand Johnny Cupcakes. The story behind how his clothing brand came to be successful is really interesting and inspiring. And the clothes they make are awesome.
What was the best and worst fashion design of 2012?
It seemed like in 2012, everything in major high-street shops had a crucifix on it?! Which in some ways is great, although quite a few of these crucifixes were upside down, especially in the heavy music scene. When some people wear an upside-down cross, it's worn in a mocking and spiteful spirit. Not cool.
And as for the best; any merchandise by the band While She Sleeps. They've always had awesome merch and the things they released in 2012 were as awesome as ever. It seems they completely understand their fans and what they'd want to wear.
How does the age of austerity shape your business?
We launched a little over a year ago, so we launched head-on into a recession. It's all we've known. Perhaps if the country ever gets back to normal, we'll see a change in the way we operate.
What is your most/least green credential?
We're very aware of how our clothes are made. Our current suppliers annually reduce their energy intensity and 27% of their energy consumption comes from renewable sources. However, the ethical attributes of a company are as, if not more, important to us and we take this very seriously into account when addressing our manufacturing options. Our current manufacturer's employees earn significantly more than the legally-mandated minimum industry wages in all the countries where they operate.
Our least green credential is probably driving 10 minutes to the post office to dispatch orders, rather than taking the 30-minute walk. Lazy.
Does the devil wear Prada?
Interesting one. I'm sure there are some people who would argue the devil wears The Greatest Of These, in that it is a desirable brand and encourages some to find fulfillment in fashion, rather than God.
Perhaps there's no way for a 'Christian clothing brand' to be TOTALLY Godly; the nature of a clothing brand and making people want what they don't need is perhaps sinful. But then again, if clothing brands like us didn't exist, then that's a huge industry with no one representing God and love. Perhaps it's better that we do exist, be culturally relevant, be flawed and work towards God's kingdom. Just like Christian people do.
But, does the devil wear Prada? Depends on your theology.
What advice would you give young people starting out in design?
Spend time on design blogs to see what's popular in the design world and to keep up to date. It helps you stay motivated and interested. You don't have to copy or follow trends if you don't want to, think of it as a 'how are you supposed to break the rules if you don't know what they are?' vibe.
What is your greatest achievement thus far?
In the summer of 2012, we had a stall at a music festival called Field View Festival. After we spent some time talking and joking with one guy, he said we seemed too cool to be Christians. We think that's a great achievement, NOT because we think all Christians need to be cooler and because of us this guy was now off to a church to spend the evening repenting, but because this guy had a negative idea of Christianity and God which we've helped towards breaking down. A tiny cog in a bigger machine. So helping people to change negative opinions of Christianity and God in general is our biggest achievement..