For Brisbane brothers Doug and Alex Hainstock, it all started when they grew tired of seeing the same logo-stamped t-shirts trotted out every Saturday night.
The goal for many young guys is to stand out, not melt into the pack. At the time still in their teens, the brothers decided to start designing and selling the types of t-shirts they wanted to wear, and their label DVNT was born.
“DVNT is short for deviant – and the definition of that is something which differs from the mainstream. And that’s essentially what we’re trying to do with our stuff,” Doug says. “This all started in our spare time, our friends put orders in, and their friends, and before you knew it we were spending weekends dropping stuff around to people or posting orders out, so it grew from there,” Doug (pictured left) says.
In 2008 their brand came to life, and the brothers put their first range together. By early 2010 DVNT was stocked by their first retailer, now growing to some 100 stockists nationally, with an online store up and running since day one.
But their small business journey hasn’t been all beer and skittles. The pair jokes that they have made, and learned from, virtually every mistake in the book.
“When we first started, the very first run of shirts we made was possibly the worst ever made. We bought some cheap blanks, and then got them screen-printed. I was in my first year of graphic design, but I didn’t know how to prepare the artwork properly, lots of things like that,” Doug says.
Not yet realising their first run of shirts were destined to shrink by 10cm, the brothers went along to a party one night with the box of t-shirts and ended up selling all of them. “From there we obviously didn’t just jump in and start going full time or anything, we’ve been growing slowly, but from there we really started to think ‘we might have something here’,” Doug says.
“Then a few months later we had friends coming back to us and saying their shirts had shrunk because the quality was just so bad. And so that’s when we started to really think about our options and what’s actually involved in the manufacturing and what standard it needs to be. And it’s really embarrassing when you’re trying to get something out there and the quality just isn’t up to scratch. We had to learn a lot of stuff, and we had to learn it pretty quickly,” Doug says.
The brothers started using an offshore manufacturer in Vietnam, and while the relationship later soured due to quality control issues, the jump was a milestone for the business. “We didn’t have to buy blanks and get it printed locally anymore, everything was arriving completely bagged, tagged, and ready to go, making us more professional when we were dealing with stores, and sending orders out,” Doug says.
“[But] we weren’t strict enough with quality control and were trusting them a bit too much. Allowing them to slowly slack off on quality, and you might get one order where a couple of threads are loose, and then the next order it might be that problem plus something else, and before you know it they build up and the stuff you get is just useless,” Doug says.
“If I could go back I would not use our suppliers in Vietnam as they were so bad it was humiliating, but in saying that we learned early what is important in quality control and if quality is not up to scratch then to not accept the product,” Alex adds.
As for most entrepreneurs and small business owners, balancing the books has been a slog. It was mid-last year when the brothers felt they had reached the point where they could leave their full-time jobs and put all their time into DVNT.
Working so closely with family, one might expect arguments to be the norm between brothers. But mutual respect and compromise keeps things above the belt. “We both have such a clear vision of where we want the brand to go – and [any issues are] never about the running of the business, it’s more, ‘Oh I wanted this design to look like that’ or ‘I was hoping that shirt was going to be this colour’ – little things like that, and it’s easy to say ‘Look, we’ll do it in both colours’. We compromise and just come to an agreement,” Doug says.
Alex adds this his brother’s support helps him to resolve any issues he has, and he tries to do the same.“It’s great to keep things in the family,” he says.
The future of DVNT is looking bright. With plans to expand into the female clothing market, as well as their current menswear range, the brothers’ determination to make this business a success is palpable. “Essentially we want to get to the point where if someone wanted to dress head-to-toe in DVNT, they could. So we’ll keep going, expand, and ensure that quality-wise, everything is there. Because we feel like quality-wise we’ve finally got to a stage where the standard is exceptional, and we have stores rave about it and ask where we get our blanks t-shirts from, not realising that the sizing and everything is something we’ve spent years perfecting,” Doug says.
Alex adds that for DVNT, it’s not about saturating the market – they would rather have their brand stocked in one quality retailer in every city in Australia than being available in 40 stores in Brisbane and nowhere else.
For other would-be entrepreneurs out there, Alex is emphatic on the most important point. “Save money. It takes a large amount of money to launch your own business. Secondly, do you homework and research the market. Then once you have done that, go back and do more research because you have no idea. Finally I would say put yourself into a professional environment. No matter how small you are trade as if you are a worldwide company. We did our first trade show earlier this year and we found that it was the most beneficial thing we have done,” Alex says.
DVNT will be exhibiting at Fashion Exposed in Melbourne – an event held over three days from August 25 – 27 which brings together 300 diverse wholesalers and retailers.