Mickey Ellis launched HIT and RUN as the antithesis to what he saw as a creatively barren and the environmentally devastating fast-fashion industry. Having launched his first of numerous independent clothing brands back in 2003 he understood the challenges. The business was created to enable and promote the voices of the creatives striving to make a positive impact and to make some good t-shirts. The brand's aim is to promote artistic expression and cultural awareness while ensuring a minimal environmental impact. Every collection on HIT and RUN is designed by someone who wants to make a difference and to inspire others with their message. They have sourced the best garment suppliers who have transparent supply chains, and ensure wages and working conditions are superior to local standards. The garments are then printed and despatched from London.
In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Mickey Ellis, Founder of HIT and RUN about his fashion entrepreneurship journey which led him to his latest brand idea combining art and clothing. Our host Peter Brooker and Mickey talk about fast-fashion, artist curation, sustainability, made to order manufacturing, screen printing vs digital printing, how London's creativity districts have moved on, and how prior brand Polari went viral among the LGBT community after a recent relaunch.
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Booker. Today I am talking to creative director and designer Mickey Ellis. Mickey Ellis has 15 years experience in brand development and passion design. He's the founder of hit and run, which is the antithesis to what he saw as a creatively barren and environmentally devastating fast fashion industry. Having launched his first of numerous independent clothing brands back in 2003, he understood the challenges. So hit and run was created to enable and promote the voices of the creative striving to make a positive impact and to make some good T shirts, and tell us all about hit and run and another brand that he's got in the works which is Polari. Here is Mickey Ellis in his own words. I mean, I've been in the in the fashion industry, fashion art industry, I guess. Since I began my career really I moved down London straight from university got a job and browns focus and South Molton Street. And that's kind of my my love of fashion sort of star age really. Yeah, I was always interested in style, but for the most sort of interested in proper fashion began and started my first brand very sort of tenaciously after a couple of years there I met a guy while I was working for sleaze Nation Magazine, frankly, dirt German designer, and, and we just a couple of sort of young, drunk creative people just decided to, to start a t shirt brand. And we had no idea what the heck we were doing. But suddenly, we had Japanese stores knocking down our door and buying it. We're like, we're, we're fashion designers now. And it just kind of kicked me into the love of creation at that point, I guess. And it was more the the artistry and using t shirts and garments as a canvas to express art and artistic artistic expression. Rather than a love of sort of pattern cutting and form or anything like that, it was more just that it was more than the sort of subculture and youth and sort of energy and passion. That was the exciting thing for me. And that kind of kick started my career and I went went off from there. What year say 15 years ago? What year are we talking about in terms of getting off the ground? And the the Japanese stores coming? Knocking? Three? Right. Okay. I mean, so. So while ago, Mickey, I think what interests me about this, and especially about the websites, is everybody including myself has had some idea about a t shirt brand. I don't care if you're, you know, a tech giant, or if you're someone who mostly I think at some point along along your career, whoever you are, you've had an idea about a t shirt and a T shirt. And so I guess how do you even start designing T shirts in the aim to make money out of them? I mean, in today's market? Well, yeah, in today's market, I mean, that that gets me into what hit and run is actually for I suppose, because I, when I first started, it was so terribly easy. I remember one of my, one of my childhood friends coming over from Australia, he emigrated to, and I was just sat there and there's piles of paper and things and like I'm selling 200 shops, and he was like, do you what's your plan for the future? I was like, I don't need a plan. That's already here. So when the first layer comes through, and it's a tax man, and we just be like that, what's what's tax now? First, but yeah, as my career evolved, it became harder and harder and harder just to have that, let's just do it attitude. Because back then you could just throw a collection together for very little money, got one of the many very creative trade shows, and have one of the many, many exciting independent boutiques around the world come up to you and go wow, we like what you're doing, we'll take a chance on you. And, and that's just what I knew. And it was I did various brands and that three or four different brands over a 10 year period, where it was just I've got a great idea. And with always with a different business partner, a different creator, because I like working with somebody. And we just go and would sell and instantly we have a successful brand. And then as I think it's that as the sort of hide big brands became more powerful, and then more significantly, the High Street and fast fashion became so dominant. The room in the industry for these young creatives just explode guessing themselves, it became smaller and smaller and smaller all the independence for good business. And it just was you couldn't just wasn't a trade shows weren't noticed he was suddenly became these mega warehouses and Berlin airports and things like that. And it just wasn't a place for, for me a true creative to go with an idea. You need money behind you, you need influence you need contacts. And that I guess is when my slight resentment started to begin and my confusion. So to answer your question, fast forward a few years of off that frustration, I just went, look, I know what it's like to start a brand I know the problems with the money you need to put up from to to buy stock. And how do you what stocks do you buy, because you're always left your extra smalls and your extra larges. And if you're going to buy a range to sell, sort of size range to sell, you can only afford to do certain styles. And I was like, how do I make our brand, our portal of whatever you want to call it and run to have proper true creatives who are the voices for the future, I think, hopefully, and just give them a space to be able to make something that they don't need to worry about the upfront costs of it. It's just about getting it to the consumer straight away, or maybe getting to consumer getting it to the public getting the expression and then seeing, seeing how that transpires from there. And how do you vet these artists? Do they kind of have to meet a certain critique? Do they have to fit in a certain, I don't know, a vision that you have of what a cool t shirt looks like? How does it How does it work? Like yes, it does, you know, I mean, I'd like to think it's completely sort of no censorship, as I say, but obviously, there needs to be some curation to it. So I, for me, it's, it's, it's, it's a very new project, and it's still a labour of love. And it's, I just get really excited if I discover an artist online, or if I go to an exhibition or something like that, and I contact them. So it's my curation at the moment as it stands. As every independent particulars to be obviously there was a buyer or someone that selected what their what their image was going to be and what the expression was going to be. I do wish it was a little more democratic, and it could be for everyone. As it stands at the moment, there needs to be someone who makes a selection and that person is me. Yeah, well, it's got a cut have a free line, I think. I mean, as you know, as varied and creative as you want your artist to be in kind of unshackled, they've also got to have something where people come to your website, and, you know, Portal, wherever it is. And they have to know instantly that this is under a certain remit that they can kind of either have one product from one artist or another product from another artist, but they're not to polar opposite opposite ends of a spectrum. Yeah, I mean, that's one of the first challenges I discovered was that it's it's still very much it was still in the earlier days very much the power of whichever artists was promoting, you know, social media is so important. Marketing is so important and, and for something like this, and like someone like Pam Hogg, for example is so wish this colour, she's amazing. And she's a great marketeer as well. So she'll put something and because the first collection I launched was her pandemic collection right in the middle of the pandemic. So it resonated so well with people it was all these sort of like, slightly funny but slightly angry sort of protest slogans that were all just kind of what people were feeling at that time. I lost my train of thought what was your question? It was more of a theory I think maybe I just just this desist for actually run this by how important is it for a artist to be you know, big and present on social media, like you say, and have some influence to kind of leverage traffic to their to their product, but at the same time, not be overly pushy and promotional where to the point it doesn't actually become cool anymore. Because you're just seeing this plastered and you're seeing someone going, come on, please buy my product. It's a tricky one. And that was the first point that we're making is that it used to be just the person become to buy that product. I need to figure out how to how to cover when a bug can come and buy one brands artists they buy a second one they buy a third one so that was the sort of answer that's that's something that I'm still trying to figure out. But regarding the social media thing, I don't know You know, I'm I'm in my 40s now I find it very still a bit overwhelming the whole thing and you know, it's it's easy to be cynical and God the people that are the most popular promoters arguably are the the most valid cultural or societal statements. that you want people to be absorbing or engaging with. And it's the quieter people that tend to be the ones that have got more to say, yeah. Does it matter to you if an artist doesn't have a social media following or doesn't have any kind of presence online? No, not at all. I mean, obviously, it helps. It's where I'm trying to grow up round here. So it would be nice if it sold. But it's something I always say to people, when I'm pitching it to them. It's like, Look, I just, I want your investment, you might not really sell anything. But I think that your statement is very important on the site, you know, and I think for me, it's, we'll probably move on to this as well. But working in that sort of, like sustainable industry as well, which is just vital nowadays. You know, I don't like to show too much about the sustainability thing, because it's just like, it just needs to be like that. No, it shouldn't be, it should be the core of your message that you're doing something good for the environment is like it should be the, why aren't you doing something good questioning the big boys there is the more of them the more important thing. But I think that when it comes to if you're going to make one more t shirt, it might as well be one that's produced by someone who has something relevant to say, that might inspire somebody else, to go and do something else. That means better someone else. It starts at hopefully, I just done more creative, proactive core of what people are doing rather than just a sort of like feedback loop of reacting and sort of confirmation bias. I think people are really guilty off know, when it's social media and culture in general, I think it's giving voices to the smaller people who are more likely going to be the people that are going to make significant changes are influenced to to the greater good, hopefully, where the T shirts made making. That all printed in the UK. And talk to me about some of the printing styles on the website is a great breakdown of this, by the way, I will leave all the links over on the show notes. But you, you talked about the digital printing Sir the G OTS accreditation, maybe you can just drill down on some of that. Yeah, it was something that I had to make a decision about back at the very beginning of this because I mean, this is an idea I had 10 years ago. But back in those days, the quality of the garments wasn't good enough. I mean, everyone listening is going to know that thing with a by a band t shirt, and they're really excited by the wash it once and it becomes fit for their dog and nothing much else. So that's moved on a lot. And there's some really great brands out there that do completely transparent supply chain, all organic cotton's recycled polyesters. So that's the one of the main brand that I use. I use a few brands at first, but this is the one that I focus on now to us, we've got a great, great story themselves a great offer of colours, and then the quality is spectacular. The quality is incredibly good. And so because at first I was like, should I be making my own garments? Do I want to be buying garments from somewhere else who's a bigger, bigger corporation. But essentially, the way I look at it is these brands, these garments are as good as they can possibly be while still making more clothing. They're all we're hosting the UK. So there's no more production, these are going to be bought by somebody, there's no more production happening. So if I don't sell it, buy it, print it and sell it, somebody is going to do it. So that means my footprint there is as small as I think it can possibly be. And then because everything is completely printed to order, and the UK, there's no there's no flying things around or anything like that. There's no stock at all. And as you said, all the inks that we use are are non toxic. It's digital printing No, because screen printing, although a beautiful art form. And I would say nothing against it. The inks and the cleaning fluids used are incredibly toxic as well. So what's the difference between that then so screen printing versus what you're doing? Screen printing, as as it says it's up, it's a silk screen frame that you pull ink through that pushes it onto the onto the t shirt and that's when when that's the majority of T shirts you will have from sort of pre 20 I don't know 1990 22,000 Maybe late probably mid 2000s are definitely going to be screenprinted then digital started to come in and at first it was rubbish, you know? Yeah, you got your digitally printed t shirt which is essentially just a big printer. It's a big home printer. But it used to be you'd get it and then wash it once and your printer would be gone but no they've evolved and they're evolving every month these printers and they're now the quality of the colour fastness is perfect. They don't wash out at all. And the the strength of the colours the vibrance of the car As beautiful as so it's as good a product as screen printing. But it means that you don't have the upfront costs of having to pay for screens, which if anyone has done it before noise that to print out four or five colour t shirt, if you only want to do one of them, it's going to cost you about 300 Quit. So, yeah, that work if you're starting off in the business and you want to do 10 designs, you know, that's, that's not attainable. And are you able to talk about what brand this is? Or is this like a nice that you have up your sleeve? I'd rather No, it's not like a mad secret or anything like that. But I'd rather focus on promoting my understandable Mickey I try. I had to try. Euro in so you mentioned off, Mike, you're out in Hackney? Yes, correct. So what's the scene like there? I mean, I mean, we touched upon this just briefly offline. But there the whole east London for people that come to London or maybe new East London about 1015 years ago, would have known it as quite a keen hipster area with lots of boutique Yeah, fashion stores, market stalls. I think there's still a lot of that going, but not nearly enough as I used to be since the gentrification of Shoreditch and I feel like all of these artists are now kind of getting kicked slightly more further east. You've been in London about 15 years what have you seen change down that? Well, in 25 years I've been it's changed enormously and I think that it used to be that cloud played in bands my whole life as well. And it used to be a lot easier for a Buncher skin girls or boys to just find a draw your hair so space and say out there and express themselves. No, all of these spaces have been taken over and bought. And it's the same as artist studios as well. It used to be very easy to to find some random room and paint and and forget, forget yourself, but I don't know. I don't even think it exists in Greater London at all anymore. I don't know because I mean, I went from Shoreditch up to an amazing warehouse that you still live in just across the street from where I am now was one of the other brands that I did with a great friend of mine called Matthew Crowley called the brand because licentious. And we were you could do this with we basically decided that we're going to be Edwardian dandies for a couple of years and just dressed up in the most ridiculous outfits. Foxford canes, top hats, drank a lot of gin and designed the collection every six months to cut off to Paris and sold it to a lot of clothes to Japan material with tiered sorry, we did catwalk show over there. It was insane, but it was we had a warehouse space that was enormous. And we called it the lair and we just had this like dark, weird place that people will just come and hang out and live our strange, dishevelled Edwardian drunken vision. But yeah, you can't do that right here anymore because everything's been knocked down. So luxury flats that are growing up around me. And even Hackney Hackney Wick, no, you know, Hackney workers. It's taken a while, but virtually no warehouse isn't happening, either anymore. So I don't I mean, I don't really know, south the I guess people went south and they went to pick him up. Yeah, I think there's still a bit of a community to arts community down there. But certainly this side of East, it's mostly gone. And you mentioned you might be up sticks, or you will be up sticking and going to Edinburgh back to your hometown. Do you think there's more opportunity for artists there these days? Are you just gonna possibly possibly it's, I'm just, I'm exploring the idea of opening our physical and run gallery space up there. Which I'm still sort of trying to figure out the ideas. But I've actually recently I launched the work of an amazingly talented artist who calls herself self and she is our Gosh, it's it's quite hard to explain her process but essentially she she meditates with another person and gets into this complete state of connection with them, and then tattoos them and just whatever she feels the connection and she'll just do these very they're just moving these images these marks she makes on the persona house, we have one of them in the background. You can see it but no. And she's the first person I've actually get represented as an artist on hit and run. So I want to explore obviously, the the match the product is something that's really important, but I do like the idea of of growing this to be something that's more about individual pieces as well as individual garments, too. So I think A physical gallery space in Edinburgh where this is really quite a revolutionary idea, I guess. And then having the ability in there to go in and buy a hit and run t shirt, but what they wouldn't exist there, but we'll build some sort of, I guess it'll just be a sort of touchscreen wall where you can go, and you can browse the collections and buy there, and it'll be the same process, it'll get produced and sent to you in a few days. But for me, I think this is a very important new way of consuming clothing. Because the old process and the fashion industry, I think is, I mean, obviously, you have, there's a lot of very successful brands out there, but the process of spending hundreds of 1000s of pounds on sample collections, they spend hundreds of 1000s of pounds ensures to then hope that someone's going to buy it. And then they hope that someone's going to buy it from the end consumer, it just seems a little bit risky. And just a bit like a bad badly designed model. So I know that there's a lot of a lot of brands or designers just showing digital, digital lookbooks to their buyers now because the the technology is good enough to be able to produce a digital card of a garment. They don't need to see the fabric because they can they know the brand, they know the objects already. So I think the idea of the consumer then having that idea, it's a t shirt, here's one that you can touch. Yeah, you don't need to see it to buy it. And you're, you're helping build a new model that will be vastly more environmentally friendly at a time where the fashion industry is incredibly bad at the problems that we have at trying to destroy our Earth in the next 50 years. It's interesting, I again, I've only just had this for listening to that because I feel like you're giving a great opportunity to artists to give like a maybe a physical space, maybe something's going to happen. And maybe there's going to be an opportunity for a customer to come into your shop and interact with somebody out that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do that. So you think in on one hand, there's a great opportunity. On the other hand, there's also a lot of other people doing the same thing. There's a lot as in, there's so many people that are kind of trying to create, especially during the lockdown, they've kind of turned their hand to doing their scribbles. I've been one of them. Thank you. My art is crap. But it's okay. Because it's therapeutic. And I know it and my girlfriend reminds me of it every day. But how do you break it to people that come and go, Hey, Mickey, I've got a great idea for T shirt. Here's my design. You look at it, and you go well, that's I don't even know what to do with it. Is there a little late, gently? Yeah, it happens. It happens remarkably often. But I can spin it as a positive to sort of go look, I've been in this business for a long time, I can see straight away if something's going to sell or not. I might be surprised every now and then. So let's really tweak it and make it a little bit more. But yeah, there's certainly I'm yeah, there certainly times where I I'll see a projects that we're going to launch. And I'm just going to be like that this probably isn't going to work. But also, it's not for me to say no, you know, if I think they've been approached because they are, I think is is great. If it works on a t shirt or works on a t shirt, it doesn't it doesn't. And because of the way it's set up, no one's really losing anything. And it still the gains from it are still bad, the whoever I'm working with is still promoting themselves. And we're building this community. And going back to what we're speaking about earlier, ultimately hit and run is still only 18 months old. But I want to get to the point where I've got a much wider reach of customers that come on to the site and see something they might they might not have ever seen before rather than the artist haven't promoted themselves. So you know, ultimately, it's a work in progress. So it's just building this sort of this community of artists who may inspire each other who me who may, you know, it's about opportunities, not definitives. Because I think when everything's definitive, it just becomes a bit sterile, I think, I don't know. I don't know what that really means. I just said a touch that I think there's some some grain of truth in there somewhere, possibly. Interesting, maybe switching gears for a minute. You're also one of the founding members of Polari. What is Polari? Interesting. I mean, starting at the beginning, it was a brand that I started with a couple of good friends a few years ago now. It's a fabulous idea. Polari is our ancient language that's been spoken for about 300 years, and by people that exist within the fringes of society, whether it be a match the sailors used to speak at fairground folk used to speak Kept travelling community loose to speak. And it's it's a lot of Italian and it's in its heritage. But it was it was taken on by by people who wanted to speak openly without being vilified or attacked, essentially. And it was taken on a lot very, very much so by the geek community in the 60s, and made famous by or forgotten his name. Oh, that's terrible. Anyway, it was made famous in the 60s. Walking by the gay community, and there's so many words that have filtered into modern parlance from their left, for example, to use yourself as an old Polari word. And we just thought this was this great premise for a brand that that was the language of the subversives, we call it so it's it's a it's really Stephens was like the guy's name? No, no, I'm sorry. It was, oh, come to me what we're chatting. All at once. And yeah, it's as it's evolved, good, we started and it did, it did quite well, and then kind of just kind of petered out a little bit. And it was only crazy. Like, last November, like three months ago, I decided to relaunch it again. And it went viral. It went viral, and a small community of young LGBTQ plus people who really resonated with the fact that this was a safe space. And I started getting inundated by these kids email and just going, we love what this stands for. And I think it's, it's less about what we thought it was at the beginning. And I've become conscious of the fact that it's about identity, because identity is so incredibly important now, and how people identify themselves and how people identify with them. And I think Pilates just become this. Because it's this sort of expression different, a different form of expression, its core people that just gravitate towards it. And and it's it's new, as I say, it's only in the last sort of couple of months that this has become the case but it just I've really seen it as another way of doing something good for people who might struggle you know, I woke up this morning to an email from someone God knows where in the world they are. Just say thank you so much. You've allowed me to be more confident with who I am because I'm a queer girl. And I didn't know how to speak to people and just your brand has given me the the the confidence to just be myself and that's it humbling. London wake up like that. I think there's some young girls somewhere in the world because you're posting an Instagram and sound with a marriage, you might be able to change their life in a little way. God, I mean, there's a lot of crap happening woman and doing some cases saw as a humbling thing for me to do it. Well, those are the sort of testimonials that you put on the website. Yeah. Brilliant Mickey. I've really enjoyed talking to you, man. And Mickey Ellis, founder of hit and run, and one of the three founders of polo, I will put all the links sorry Polare. I'll cut that in post. We'll put all the links to the websites over on the web on the menswear style site, but hit and run dot Ltd. and polarity polarity.com Is that a place people can find it? Thanks, Vicki. Thank you so much indeed. You've been listening to their menswear style podcast be sure to head over to menswear style dot code at uk for more menswear content and email info at menswear style dot code at UK if you'd like to be a future guest on the show. Finally, please help support the show by leaving a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Until next time