A recent discussion among watch enthusiasts got me thinking about my business, and my brand, especially as we approach the fifth anniversary of our first sale (coming up in April - woot!).
Brand is a small word with big meaning, judging by how often it gets discussed, and how many different views people have about the power and value brands have.
If I could sum it up, brands are a way to create, capture, and conjure up a story in a single phrase or image.
I say “Armani”, and you instantly have a mental image, along with a bit of narrative to go with it.
“Levis”, “Marlboro”, “Stetson” – tell me you’re not picturing a cowboy against a western landscape.
Some of my friends have great brands. Straton is all about vintage racing. Gruppo Gamma is all about vintage Italian military diving watches. Melbourne is all about, erm, Melbourne (Australia). The themes get carried over in the designs from one model to the next.
My brands? Not so much, or at least, the themes are a little less clear, and the story may be harder to instantly grasp.
When I started Lew & Huey, I was out to prove something, mostly to myself. I’ve always said the philosophy behind the brand is inherently optimistic, and it is, although, if I’m being honest, for me it was always optimistic in the Sparta vs Persia, “we’re outnumbered, not out-manned” sense.
It’s said that King Leonidas defiantly shouted “Molon Labe”, or “come and take them” in reply to Persian King Xerxes’s demand the Spartans lay down their weapons. I love that sort of thing - courage in the face of looming oblivion.
For me, the Chinese Mandarin phrase “luen huey”, for rebirth, always meant “You can beat me down, but I’ll keep coming back. You’ll never destroy me. Eventually, inevitably, I’ll win.”
That’s not the sort of theme which easily translates to the design of a watch, not literally.
Figuratively, it was the dog logo, which I always saw as being equally ready to meet friend or foe. It was the wild colors. It was the complete disregard for convention. It was me telling everyone who challenged me to go pound sand. I took great pleasure in proving all the doubters, haters, and trolls wrong.
A friend may have said it best, when he recently told me, “You need to be the Johnny Cash of wristwatches – American, talented, slightly dangerous, but unmistakable.”
I don’t know if he meant that’s what I should be, or that’s a literal need I have, at a biological level. It may be both.
But, eventually, even the greatest of warriors needs a respite from the battle. Johnny eventually got sober, married June, and looked after his health. He was still the “Man in Black”, but he avoided dying young, when he still had songs to write. Elvis was a legend. Johnny was a living legend.
There came a time when I felt a need to find the “spiritual center” for myself and my business, a refuge of purity, removed from the controversy which had always swirled around the Lew & Huey brand.
I looked inward, and asked what I was all about, and what I wanted to say to the world through my work. It wasn’t an easy question to answer.
When I looked inside myself, I saw that dog, the one who inspired the Lew & Huey logo, an undersized pit-bull mix who loved everyone, but backed down from no one, as playful as he was protective of the people he loved.
I also saw the contradictory sides of myself, the respect for history somehow coexisting with utter contempt for tradition, the undisciplined yet effective warrior, and a fundamental need to find challenges to overcome, because nothing easy ever seemed like something worth doing.
The NTH brand was started as a way to explore some of those other sides of myself, and give them a voice. Ostensibly, there’s a “vintage” theme to the brand, but it was never meant to just be a brand for paying homage to classic designs in an obvious way.
We want to take inspiration from history, not necessarily repeat it. Records are made to be broken, not merely matched. Let’s see how far we can push things. Let’s find our Mt. Everest, our Xerxes, our true test.
But there again, it’s not exactly a theme which easily translates to watch designs.
So, what is it this business and these brands are all about? What are we planning to do next?
All I can tell you is this. I don’t know exactly what we’ll be working on next week, next month, or next year. I don’t know what it will look like, what the specs will be, or what it will cost. All I know is it’ll be as pure and as awesome as we can make it.
Because what inspires me isn’t auto racing, the city I live in, or iconic style. I’m inspired by legends. I’m inspired by kings who defy gods. I’m inspired by Johnny effing Cash, who never stopped asking June to marry him until she said yes, whose defining performance threatened to crumble the prison walls, and who made a career out of comebacks.
Stick around. Enjoy the show.
Janis Trading Company
1 March 2018