Jazz Shaper: Georgiana Huddart

Posted on 09 October 2021

Georgiana Huddart is the cofounder of British swimwear brand, Hunza G. London-based, Hunza G is a sustainable swimwear brand, offering classic pieces in their original signature crinkle fabric.

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss where the shapers of the business come together with the shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues and my guest today is Georgie Huddart, Co-Founder of British swimwear brand, Hunza G.  Georgie was 18 when she fell for the original stretch fabric of clothing brand, Hunza and I have read up all about this stretchy thing which is obviously a bit alien to me but I will be finding out more very shortly.  It was no longer a brand in production but famous for designing Julia Roberts’ cut-out mini dress in Pretty Woman – one of my favourite films.  Georgie’s fixation with Hunza continued as she began her fashion career, hunting down their signature fabric to make into new styles from dresses to low-rise swimsuits.  In 2015 after a chance meeting with Peter Meadows, the Founder of Hunza himself, Georgie took him and she says, “A Sainsbury’s plastic bag filled with my samples” and that’s how Hunza G began.  Relaunching the company together aiming to bring its sporty fabric into a modern setting, their brand is now stocked at every major luxury retailer with all pieces produced to order in England with sustainability they say, their number one conversation.    Did you, when you met Peter and the brand was around from the 80’s, did you think “I’m going to be an entrepreneur and I am going to set up my own business with this man”       or did you think, “it’s really good to meet this guy because I really love the fabric and that?”  What was going through your mind then?

Georgie Huddart

Oh no I was, I was intent on setting up the business with him.  I had tried to do it on my own and it was very hard to find the fabric or get the fabric made.  It’s made on very old fashioned machines that don’t exist anymore which was why it is very hard to have it copied.  So he was like my knight in shining armour, I had been looking for him for a long time.  So I was really intent on, on starting the company.  He said that he thought, he wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in it because he had already done it once before and he had seen it peak and he said that he was happy to give it a go but yeah, to do it for a bit of fun.  He said that it would be a fun ride.

Elliot Moss

And why were you so intent?  Because you had been doing a bunch of stuff before then and obviously interested in art history at University, a very tough and challenging time, many hours in the…

Georgie Huddart

Many hours spent in the library.

Elliot Moss

…lecture theatre, many hours in the library.  But then I imagine you have an appreciation for art, for culture, for fabric, for all the sorts of the intricacies of the history of art…

Georgie Huddart

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

…which is actually really fascinating and of course then informs the way that a person who thinks in a creative way might pull together various things going forward.

Georgie Huddart

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

But what got you to the point where you were going, well I am now going to do this?

Georgie Huddart

I think I just thought it was really… I couldn’t understand why nobody had made anything in that fabric, it’s a one size incredibly flattering textured, unique, really tactile fabric that looks great on all different shaped women and it just seemed like a no brainer. I couldn’t fathom why it had been around and then nobody else had done it.  It had not been in existence for about 20 years and I had a few old pieces, I’d bought loads of Ebay and then I had managed to get hold of a bit of the fabric, made some samples in it and every time I wore it the reaction to it was so positive.  All different aged women, some finding it really nostalgic because they’d had dresses from the 80’s or swimwear from the 80’s or people remembered their mother wearing it in the 80’s or people had little baby swimming costumes in the 80’s so I just knew that it was something that people would want.

Elliot Moss

And once you met, did you think on that first meeting, yeah this is going to work or, okay I am really pleased I’ve met but what happens next?

Georgie Huddart

No I thought it was going to work but I didn’t think it would necessarily become like a global brand or I mean it’s, its exceeded all expectations but I knew that there would be people who wanted it but you know, at that point it was just people who I knew, it wasn’t random people, it was friends and family and I thought… and I wanted to make it for myself you know, it’s something I would wear which is always like a good way to start a business is if you strongly believe in it so I think I was just excited to be able to design a whole load of things that I could wear with my friends to festivals and things like that and then it has obviously ended up being much bigger than that but that was kind of the starting point.

Elliot Moss

You know when you are about to start something and you know you want to do it but you don’t necessarily know what that means.  Did you quite quickly learn about production and about sourcing and about pricing and about distribution and about margin and all these things that come very quickly to a young business and if so, how did you learn and how quickly did you learn and were there moments at the beginning when you went, oh I love the idea but the reality is a bit different?

Georgie Huddart

I had Peter which was a real help but also I did learn really quickly and I learnt on the job which is the best way to do it.  I definitely probably made some mistakes, none of them catastrophic but again we started very quietly so there was a lot of room to kind of get to grips with stuff and because we developed as a sort of… we get called you know, one of the Instagram brands where we didn’t put any money into marketing, it was all very organic, it felt very easy and unpressured and natural and that was a real luxury for me.  I am not saying that every business starts like that but I wasn’t having to sit with sort of Board members putting business plans together you know, being really hot on the numbers, there was room for adjustment and learning and development which was one of the real pros about starting it in such an organic way.

Elliot Moss

Did you have any reference points in your own life of people that had gone and done this, people that had set their own businesses up and gone through that you know, giving birth to a new business?

Georgie Huddart

No not really.  I do now.  I had a lot of friends who are creatives and people who I looked to who had, you know, I had worked in creative industries so I did have a lot of really helpful people that I could call upon to ask questions but I didn’t have a like for like similar thing.  I didn’t have many friends at that stage who had brands.  I have more now and also each brand is really different and each company is very different but yeah I had a good network of people who were really helpful and I could pick up the phone and ask them a question but no like for likes.

Elliot Moss

And in terms of your friends at the time who weren’t in businesses, do you think they were going, yeah Georgie’s just you know, she’s away with the fairies, she’s got…, or do you think they were saying, I’m not surprised that you are doing your own thing?

Georgie Huddart

No I think a lot of people said that they always thought that I would do my own thing but then I had one friend who said, oh this sounds like a great idea, terrible name though, got to change the name.

Elliot Moss

Yeah, thanks.

Georgie Huddart

And I, and I remember thinking, I think it’s a really good name, I think it’s kind of unusual, it’s not too literal, it doesn’t mean anything hugely but it also means a lot to people who remember it from the 80’s so its nostalgic and heritage and then just for kind of narcissistic reasons I slipped in a G at the end.

Elliot Moss

Couldn’t resist.

Georgie Huddart

Couldn’t resist.

Elliot Moss

But the, the friends that said, I always knew you’d do that, what was it about Georgie growing up then that they saw in you that would say to them, of course she is going to run her own thing?

Georgie Huddart

I mean at the point where I started working with Peter, I was working with a friend doing interiors.  I had never really had a job where I sat behind a desk all day, they were all quite creative jobs and I always worked quite hard, I always had it together in that sense like I’d changed jobs a bit but I always had a sort of vague direction, I’d always worked quite hard.  From the age of 16 I did lots of internships, I worked every summer, I just had always had quite a drive to work and I am the eldest so like I was probably a slight tyrant so maybe it was like the concept that I didn’t necessarily want to work for other people but I had worked for other people and really enjoyed it.  I think, I think I was just ready to do something on my own.

Elliot Moss

The eldest of five is that right?

Georgie Huddart

Eldest of six.

Elliot Moss

Six?  That’s a bit of inflation for you.  Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper, it’s Georgie Huddart talking about Hunza G which I think is quite a cool name actually because again…

Georgie Huddart

Thank you.

Elliot Moss

...as she said, it doesn’t mean anything, it is whatever you want to confer on it, that’s what it is going to mean.  She is coming back with me for much more about the story of her and her business in a couple of minutes but right now we are going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Suzi Sendama and Emily Dorotheou talk about how fashion brands can be more sustainable while maintaining profitability and what consumers should be doing to support sustainable fashion.

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you’ve got a smart speaker you can ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will find a taster of our recent shows but back to today, the main event, it’s Georgie Huddart, Co-Founder of swimwear brand Hunza G.  So the business gets going and in those early days you mentioned Instagram, now you are 300,000 plus people that are following you on Instagram, followers that’s the word I was looking for there. 

Georgie Huddart

Followers.

Elliot Moss

Followers, that’s the parlance there, it’s very good.  If you had opened a shop and there was no internet and you had been you know, somewhere in the centre of London, I imagine that would have been a very different experience for you but there would have been the lack of the… I mean you must have felt quite connected in a funny kind of way even though it was digital, to this audience that was growing, to this audience that was saying, we really love this stuff that was starting to share it, starting to talk about it.  How did you harness all of that goodwill in the beginning?  Did it give you… and what did it give you?  That’s my question.

Georgie Huddart

I think the amazing thing about social media, I mean there are loads of pros to it and loads of cons obviously, is that the feedback is really clear, you communicate with people really clearly you know, having a shop is great but the person is not going to buy your swimwear and then come back to the shop to tell you whether it fit perfectly or whether they think there could have been an adjustment made or whether they thought that you know, this element of it worked but this other element of it didn’t work or are you ever going to do it in this colour, you know that doesn’t happen.  Whereas with social media it was kind of amazing, we were able to take all the information that we got from customers or followers saying you know, next season do you think you’ll do this colour, I really like this shade or like, I think the cuts a little bit high on the blah, blah, blah, do you think you are ever going to do a longer body shape and I took all that information and tried to build a really strong collection of pieces that would work for most women, as many women as yeah… and that was, that’s an incredible tool to have at your hands.

Elliot Moss

It almost sounds like they are an extension of the creative department, they were kind of saying what about, what about?

Georgie Huddart

100% and then any negative feedback you know is always really helpful and being able to communicate again directly with people if they think you know, that the experience in some way could have been better.  I mean that’s an incredible thing yeah, an incredible thing to be able to utilise.

Elliot Moss

And in those early days or years, was it quite hand to mouth in terms of having enough money to go and explore different variants, different parts of the range.  The reason I ask is I was speaking… interviewed Adam Brown of Oriebar Brown and he was saying it was really boot strapping for quite a while before he ever got other investors involved and before the scale thing happens and you’ve talked about scaling…

Georgie Huddart

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

…as well.  Did it feel tricky at the beginning or were you always confident at some point you would get some serious critical mass?

Georgie Huddart

I think what we did which worked for us which I often suggest to people when they start businesses is we just didn’t spend a crazy amount to begin with.  We did kind of a soft launch you know, we didn’t spend tons and tons of money on a website, Instagram doesn’t cost anything.  We did relatively inexpensive shoots and we just kind of tried to work out who we were and what we were before we were throwing tons of money around on branding and things like that and that works for some people and other people you know, they need to do that in order to get it off the ground, they need to invest a whole load of money into it because that’s what it needs but for us we didn’t need that so it was quite tight, but like I said, we were doing it really organically, we were just kind of seeing what people liked, how it worked, what the feedback was.  It was more of sort of like interactive thing with customers to begin with and then I would say about a year and a half, two years in, we started to get serious orders from wholesale clients and that’s when we sort of really pumped a bit more money back into it.

Elliot Moss

Tell me about the people and when you made your first hire and your second and your third.  You talked about actually being comfortable working for other people because you had done that but actually it is quite nice running your own show as well.  What’s it like when you are running your own show and then you’ve got human beings who you are paying, who have you know lives to lead and all that.  Did it change you without sounding sort of religious about it?

Georgie Huddart

Yeah I think the first you know, that I would say has been one of the most interesting learning experiences for me, is being a boss and I was probably not that good at it to begin with and just by that I mean, you know, making sure that you communicate really clearly.  I was quite relaxed and so was always like, yeah just get on with your own thing, and didn’t provide much, much structure in the beginning and then obviously as we grew that became more and more important and I had to really sort of focus and think about how team meetings would work and HR and communicating with people, doing reviews with people.  All those thing that had never really crossed my mind which is a job in itself and feeling responsible like you said, for people’s lives because it’s their rent, it’s their living, it’s everything.  I am really lucky I’ve got an amazing team of girls who have just been incredible but yeah it’s a difficult thing, finding the right people is really hard, interviewing people is long, sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong, sometimes people are right for the job, sometimes they are not but overall it has been a really positive experience.

Elliot Moss

Is there a type that you have hired in terms of their, their values or their characteristics do you think?

Georgie Huddart

We’ve got a really diverse range of people at Hunza but I would say the kind of overriding characteristic is enthusiasm to the brand like you need to have people who really believe in it and who are really good at their job but if it is a start-up you need people who feel emotionally involved and really want to give it their all and I think we’ve got that with everybody who works there.  Yeah.

Elliot Moss

I half joked about the fabric and obviously the fact that I’m a man versus a woman, it makes no difference I have met some incredible people here that make jewellery or they are in the fashion business and it is genuinely fascinating.  We talked about the tactile nature of this material.  Do you want each of your team to also kind of lose themselves in it and get into it to the point where you know they are in flow and they are just going, what about, what about or are you more protective about who has the creative leadership in this business?

Georgie Huddart

I do most of the creative stuff solo but I involve everybody if that makes sense.  So I don’t have a design team at Hunza, I do all the designing, I have a really great person who helps me CAD it all up called Amelia but I get everybody’s opinion on whether they think that styles I have designed are right or whether they like them and everybody tries them on because they are like I said, a diverse range of women which is our customer, it’s not, it’s not supposed to be a specific woman, it’s supposed to be different ages, different body shapes and so yeah I try it out on all of them and the feedback is so helpful.

Elliot Moss

I mean you say you know, different women and all that, you also happen to and I always find the celebrity thing fascinating, you happen to have a fair few celebrities who wear your stuff.  Is that a double edged sword or do you just go more the merrier?

Georgie Huddart

I think it’s great, again that’s been relatively organic.  We didn’t gift very much in the beginning, we make everything in the UK so we didn’t have huge budgets for gifting stuff and also I think it gives it a bit more of a real feel if it’s not like lots of influencers posting because they’ve been given a free swimming costume but yeah we do have lots of celebrities which I am really lucky about.  In a way it could be a double edged sword because you don’t want the average person to not feel like they can relate to the brand which is why we try and make sure that there is a good mix of both.

Elliot Moss

But at the same time obviously if someone famous is wearing it and you want to aspire to be that person well then…

Georgie Huddart

At the same time, yeah if Rosie Huntington-Whiteley or any of those sort of women want to wear it then…

Elliot Moss

You’re quite happy.

Georgie Huddart

…we are relatively happy with that yeah.

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more, actually it is my final chat with my relatively happy Business Shaper today… she’s very happy, Georgie Huddart, she’s my Business Shaper and we’ve got Hugh Masekela and his particular magic to put a smile on your face, that’s all coming up in just a moment, don’t go anywhere. 

Just for a few more minutes Georgie Huddart is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about the business of Hunza G and of swimwear.  We touched a little bit on making and you talked about the CAD drawings and you talked about the creative process.  One of the things that’s really important to you is the sustainability piece and is also the charitable bit.  I was reading about the fact that a percentage of your gross profit goes to Street Smart, I think was one of the charities that you support and you look at how sustainable you can be. Was this pre, and you can lie to me or be honest if you like, you seem like a pretty straight shooter, was your own belief in the sustainability thing already there or has this been a, I can’t really set up a fashion business now without being sustainable?

Georgie Huddart

Interesting because we, we were one of the sort of first one size fit British made, sustainable brands because this was before sustainability was the number one conversation, so it was much more unusual than it is now, everyone is you know, moving to or is sustainable now but this was seven years ago and I have to say that predominantly came from Peter and I didn’t know much about it and I was very into the idea and it was like a natural, a natural way to begin but it was Peter is very environmentally conscious and he wanted it to be sustainable and I said, that sounds great.

Elliot Moss

And what does sustainable mean for you in the supply chain and the process?

Georgie Huddart

So it’s developing more and more but in the beginning it meant that everything was produced in the UK which is ethical and sustainable.  We did used to make to order which meant there was no stock so no waste.  We now can’t make to order but we sell out so we make stock of our best sellers and then we make very small quantities of our slower sellers.  We use all the old fabric to make the scrunchies and then last year we became carbon neutral which was really exciting so we used a company to do due diligence on us as a brand, how you know, down to the smallest things, how everyone gets to work, whether people are vegetarians or not, you know, to offset our carbon footprint and that was really exciting.  We have a thing at work called Conscious Club where we meet and we chat about everything in the office so there is no plastic in the office.  On Mondays it is meat free days, I mean you know, it’s everything, it’s for us more about a kind of mind-set.  Obviously we are not going to change the world by not eating meat on Mondays but it is getting everybody in to the same sort of mind-set.  Everything we use is recyclable packaging.

Elliot Moss

I mean you say it’s not going to change the world but if no one does it then nothing changes right?

Georgie Huddart

Of course.

Elliot Moss

So if you are doing your bit and it’s in the DNA of the business then that is going to make a difference and I am sure, and I like the fact that it was seven years ago and you are right, there wasn’t… if you talked about sustainability in the boardroom people were like yeah, yeah, sure.  Whereas now it is possibly the number one point around, well what are your ESG credential so I think, I think that’s fab and for you, now that you are seven years in and you’ve brought the baby of Hunza G into the world and now here it is and it is growing up and its, it’s pretty well known, very well-known and it’s in the nice places and you know, you look and you must go, wow or do you just say, no, no, no I am only a couple of chapters into this story and we’ve got a long way to go?

Georgie Huddart

I say both, I say, wow, and also, we are only a couple of chapters into the story, we’ve got a long way to go and that’s the hope but who knows.  Sustaining a brand I think is… sustaining anything is more difficult potentially than the climb and keeping people interested and being engaging and keeping current but I hope that yeah, this is the beginning of many more chapters.

Elliot Moss

And in terms of the next chapter, the next few years, if there was a headline for the chapter, what would the headline be?

Georgie Huddart

Oh gosh that’s a difficult question.  I think we just want to continue to make products and we probably will move into, we’ve got… there are a few ideas in the pipeline but one size fit products for women that make them feel great that are comfortable, flattering and within a relatively reasonable price point, made in the UK – that’s a long, long heading.

Elliot Moss

That’s a long headline but it’s your book so you can write what you like.  You’ve covered the bases. I know exactly, it’s very clear.

Georgie Huddart

Yeah.  That was long but yeah that is, that is…

Elliot Moss

That is what it is.

Georgie Huddart

That is what it is, yeah.

Elliot Moss

Good luck delivering that is what it is.  It’s been lovely to chat to you.

Georgie Huddart

You too.

Elliot Moss

And congratulations…

Georgie Huddart

Thank you.

Elliot Moss

…on everything that you have achieved so far.

Georgie Huddart

Thank you so much.

Elliot Moss

And things that are to come.  Just before I let you disappear, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Georgie Huddart

It’s Stan Getz, The Girl From Iponema.  This is just a song that I’ve always found really nostalgic, my parents played it a lot when I was younger, my grandparents used to occasionally play it, I just love it.

Elliot Moss

That was Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto and The Girl From Iponema, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Georgie Huddart.  She talked about growing organically, having a sense of who you are and what you do and who you serve before you start investing huge amounts of money.  She talked about hiring people that were enthusiastic, that are really into what they do because that’s absolutely what you need in a young business.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Originally born as Hunza in 1984 under the direction of Peter Meadows, the swim label enjoyed mass success with its signature crinkle-stretch fabric and unique high-leggy cuts. The Hunza Dress became an icon of the eighties when worn by Julia Roberts in the famed film “Pretty Woman”.

Hunza G sets out to provide swimwear for all - a one size fit inclusive approach made possible by the fabric’s inherent stretch and support. The brand is now stocked at every major luxury retailer and has demonstrated its key commitment to sustainability throughout its journey.

Highlights

It’s a one size incredibly flattering textured, unique, really tactile fabric that looks great on all different shaped women and it just seemed like a no brainer

It’s something I would wear which is always a good way to start a business…  if you strongly believe in it.

I definitely made some mistakes, none of them catastrophic but again we started very quietly so there was a lot of room to kind of get to grips with stuff.

There was room for adjustment and learning and development which was one of the real pros about starting it in such an organic way.

I just had always had quite a drive to work… I was just ready to do something on my own.

With social media, it was amazing, we were able to take all the information that we got from customers or followers… that’s an incredible tool to have at your hands.

We just tried to work out who we were and what we were before we were throwing tons of money around on branding.

We’ve got a really diverse range of people at Hunza but I would say the overriding characteristic is enthusiasm to the brand – you need to have people who really believe in it.

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