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Represent: Manchester streetwear label
Courtesy of Represent

How two alt-kids from Manchester built a million-dollar streetwear brand

Starting life as a college screen-printing project a little over a decade ago, Represent is snowballing right now. Here, founders George and Mike Heaton talk about its next chapter

It’s late afternoon when I knock on the heavy-duty door of a former industrial space in Downtown Los Angeles on a blazing hot April day. Inside, the founders of runaway streetwear success story Represent – whose t-shirts you’re likely spotting everywhere right now – are topping up their already pretty extensive collection of tattoos. George Heaton has just finished a session with Drake’s go-to (and uber-hard to pin down) tattooist Noah Lee, while brother Mike is getting settled under the needle in the artist’s stark white studio. Other members of the close-knit Represent team, including the Heatons’ longtime friend and brand director John Aquino, are hanging about chatting and tapping on laptops as Noah’s tiny cloud-puff of a dog Kiki runs about the floor between people’s legs.

This time around, the boys are having a newly designed emblem inked: that of a majestic flying horse. It looks a bit like Pegasus with its broad wings spread out behind it, and was originally illustrated by Mike. He’’s largely the creative one behind the label – the heavy metal-vibe band tees and Varsity-style motifs, as well as the brand’s forays into footwear, are mostly his work, and as the younger of the two, George admits he’s probably the reason he got into music and fashion in the first place. George, though he admits he “wasn’t very academic in school”, is the more business and product-minded of the two, and steers the brand on its seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory.

More than just a cool tatt, the winged horse both are committing to their bodies is also set to be a new logo for Represent. Plenty of people would likely imagine the brand is an explosive overnight success story on account of just how popular it’s become in the last few years – in London alone, you’re surely never more than a few metres away from one of their recognisable logo tees at any given moment – but that’s far from the truth. Instead, Represent is a result of over ten years of hard work, and so this new logo, and actually this trip to LA, mark a transitional moment for the label – originally a college project which saw George and Mike hawking limited edition screen-printed tees for £150 a piece in their hometown of Manchester, it just hit almost £50 million in sales.

The trip to Los Angeles is something of a homecoming, too. “When we were kids we were just obsessed with LA,” explains George, who’s positioned himself on a white leather sofa as he watches Noah work on Mike’s arm. “Growing up in Bolton [close to Manchester], we’d get the piss taken out of us for what we wore: band t-shirts, skinny jeans, and Vans and stuff like that. But we loved the LA style and it’s always been a real inspiration for Represent.” Now, the extended Represent crew spend a couple of months a year here, renting some of the massive modernist villas dotted across the Hollywood Hills for weeks at a time. There’s a lot of hikes, a lot of gym sessions, plenty of business meetings, and a handful of nights out at some of the city’s buzziest destinations, like louche celebrity hangout Delilah.

“We really listen to what our followers have to say, whether that’s through comments on social media or when we get to meet them in person. I think that’s what’s helped the brand become so successful” – Mike Heaton

On this particular occasion, they’re also here to celebrate a new collaboration with 90s LA rockers Motley Cru. With Mike reimagining their logo and the brand plastering it across oversized hoodies, slouchy tees, and cut-off vests, the collection got its debut the day before this interview at legendary nightspot the Viper Room. Dimly lit and dotted with mannequins and rails racked up with the new pieces, the Sunset Strip club saw Represent’s Stateside acquaintances, friends, and die-hard Motley Cru fans filter in and out from the sunny street across the course of the day.

Both George and Mike were there throughout to chat to people and talk them through the offering, or otherwise, if they were particularly interested, show them the infamous backroom where some of Hollywood’s biggest stars would sit and do coke behind a one-way mirror before it got busted in the 90s. Mostly, it was a great chance to get some feedback from their fans across the Atlantic, with both brothers emphasising how important it is to them to understand what Represent’s community want to see. “We really listen to what our followers have to say, whether that’s through comments on social media or when we get to meet them in person.” says Mike. “I think that’s what’s helped the brand become so successful,” George agrees.

With Represent revealing a revamped logo and turning the page to a new chapter in 2023, it’s clear that neither George nor Mike are ones to rest on their laurels. The brand has countless more projects coming back home – some of which they can talk about, others they have to keep quiet for now. With a massive dedicated space in Manchester’s Selfridge’s outpost secured in 2022, plans are well underway for a central London flagship store, and when that’s flung open its doors, another in LA. “So we’ve got a proper excuse to keep coming back,” Mike laughs, as Noah puts the finishing touches to his art.

“Growing up in Bolton [close to Manchester], we’d get the piss taken out of us for what we wore: band t-shirts, skinny jeans, and Vans and stuff like that. But we loved the LA style and it’s always been a real inspiration for Represent” – George Heaton

Collaboration will continue to be a key focus, too, and the pair have a near endless list of ones to get excited about. In early summer, Represent will be kitting out kids for the first time, with a ‘mini’ Owner’s Club line slated to drop in early June, before it links up on an exclusive, limited edition collection with Stock X in July. Later in the year, Harrods is on the hit list, as the label joins forces with the boujie Knightsbridge shopping mecca to create a co-branded offering featuring the store’s recognisable teddy.

It’s the collabs with the people they grew up obsessed with that both admit are most exciting of all, though. With a link-up with Oasis legend Liam Gallagher under their belt, and this new Motley Cru one now out in the world, the cogs are already in motion for another big one to be debuted during Art Basel in Miami in the winter. “Who is it?” I ask, expecting a cagey response at best, and none at worst. “Guns and Roses,” blurts out Mike. “I probably shouldn’t have said that though,” he quickly follows up. “Nah, leak it, why not – it might help secure it,” George responds with a laugh. Axl Rose: the ball’s in your court.