The streetwear brand’s LA tattoo designs have managed to get under the skin of youthful UK shoppers
Celebrity endorsement is “so, so important” to Ed Hardy, says Christopher Varnavides, co-owner of sales agency Valorous, which handles seven of the streetwear brand’s 40-plus UK product licences. “We put a lot of effort into getting as many actors, personalities and footballers as possible wearing the brand. Rihanna, Zac Efron, Madonna, Katie Price - it’s our way of doing PR.”
Based on tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy’s designs, the label was launched five years ago when Christian Audigier, a former employee of skate brand Von Dutch, where he held various positions including in design and PR, licensed Hardy’s designs and started out selling a few skull-print T-shirts in Los Angeles.
Two years later the now-defunct fashion agency Gorland brought the brand to the UK. Says Varnavides: “I thought I could make a big name of it in the UK, but Gorland already had it.”
Varnavides pushed Ed Hardy’s US HQ to let him take on the UK distribution rights. But with no office or company name, the management team were sceptical. After Gorland reportedly turned down the UK distribution rights for the denim licence in May 2007, Varnavides saw his way in. “As soon as we found we had the denim licence, we flew straight to Hong Kong to pick up samples - we wanted to show them we were totally serious about our commitment to the brand.”
When Gorland fell into administration and began offloading its brands, Valorous pounced on its remaining Ed Hardy licences. “We took on the mainline, which consists of T-shirts, jackets and caps, in November last year,” says Varnavides. “We are so pleased with how it has performed. We expect it to make up 70% of our sales going forward and see it tripling profit for the next year.”
As well as the mainline, Valorous also has the licences for Ed Hardy footwear, knitwear, denim, belts, outerwear and leathers, the women’s range, and diffusion line Smet. “We make a real effort to buy UK-relevant product,” says Varnavides, who plays a part in design via email. “We pick the washes, graphic placement and fit of the denim,” he says. “This is important as the US favours a more baggy fit that wouldn’t work here.”
While the similarities are obvious, Varnavides is mindful of not letting Ed Hardy become a flash-in-the-pan brand like Von Dutch. “We’d like to strengthen our presence in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, but we’d rather not oversaturate the market. Keeping some exclusivity in the brand will definitely help with its longevity, particularly as other LA brands start to enter the UK,” Varnavides says.
£29 Starting price for printed T-shirts
80 Number of UK wholesale accounts
40 Number of separate licences for Ed Hardy product
- Ed Hardy 020 7272 7277 www.valorous.co.uk