Once you get going, it can be hard to slow down but we can't forget the tales of our childhood. You can't rush success. Slow and steady wins the race. Such is true for Josh Heares, founder of New Zealand based clothing brand Porter James Sports, who has spent the last two-and-a-half years carefully crafting his label. With a clear path ahead and a mind that has never been more focused, Josh is on his way to becoming one of the most stand-out menswear street brands in our opinion and we got the chance to chat with him about his journey from advertising to fashion, how he plays the fashion game with an analytical mindset and where he hopes to take the brand in the future. Read the full interview below!
Hi Josh, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. For those who aren't familiar, can you tell us a little about yourself and how your brand, Porter James Sports, came to be?
Thanks guys! I started Porter James out of my living room in Auckland, NZ about 2.5 years ago, in December 2020. Before that, I spent my career in the advertising and design space so I was new to fashion taking on this project.
Today, I would say PJS is the convergence of menswear and streetwear and the values we champion are 'simplicity' and 'timeless design'. We try to be accessible but from day one, I was really keen on ensuring that we didn't look like a 'part-time' fashion brand. I have a high bar for the brands I wear as a consumer and PJS had to match that.
With no prior experience in fashion, what was the motivation to pivot from your career in advertising?
In my mid-twenties, I got a promotion at my advertising agency and was really excited. At the time, I thought this was my dream job, blending business and creativity together but one day realized that I didn't see a long-term path for this and felt like something was missing for me and wanted to create a change.
A mentor told me about this idea of envisioning my dream day instead of my dream job and that changed everything for me. I started thinking about the things I value most like making my own schedule, being able to be creative and work with other passionate people instead of large corporations, and then being able to work from wherever I wanted. Fashion checked a lot of those boxes so I started spending a lot of time looking into how to make that possible.
So from there, how did you get started?
I threw myself in the deep end. I got an agent out in Guangzhou, China and flew out there to meet him to speak about product development. Luckily he was from New Zealand and spoke perfect English which was a huge help. From there, I just asked a lot of questions. I brushed up on all of the product development information, figured out how much money I would need to start everything. On the other hand, having worked in advertising for so long with brands like Mercedes-Benz, I knew what world-class delivery looked like and had a benchmark for what I wanted to try and hit with my own brand.
The reality of leaving your job and starting a brand is that money can get tough. How did you manage there?
Absolutely! I knew that I was going to need income from other sources so I started a consulting side-hustle, which allowed me to sustain enough revenue once I left the agency job. I still do it now and it's a great extra job, allowing me to use my past experiences and help others develop their brand plans. I know the brand is strong and will continue growing but it obviously takes time so I didn't want to put all of my eggs in one basket from the beginning.
You seem like you're very patient, which doesn't always come so easily to entrepreneurs.
I think it's important to look at things like a sliding scale, not a light switch. Success won't come overnight. I heard this great quote that "people overestimate what they can do in a year but underestimate what they can do in ten years". Where you are now, consider it a stepping stone that's planting seeds to where you want to go. I know that if I'm intentional and become comfortable putting in the work, it might take two or three years to start seeing some real return but in ten years I'll be very happy about the work that I put in.
Do you have a long term or ten year plan for the brand?
I just want to continue to grow the brand bigger, while staying in my lane. I've never been clearer than I am now on what our products look like and what our 'brand filter' is, meaning how I think we should look and what we should be putting out. We're focusing on DTC growth now which I'm really starting to figure out and I think that I'm on the right path which is the most important thing to me.
The DTC landscape is ever-changing. What are the most important thing to be thinking about these days when running an online business?
This isn't new but the only way to really grow a huge business is by acquiring more customers, so that's where all of my focus is. You need to understand why someone might not buy from you and mitigate all of those barriers. For me, as a brand from New Zealand, it's improving shipping so that new customers can take a chance on the brand. I've worked to ensure I can offer fast-free shipping because I know my quality is good, and that if I can get my products into the hands of the "fashion-guy" of a friend group, they'll influence their ten friends and that's how everything will grow. So I just need to ensure the person landing on my page has no reason not to checkout.
Besides the quality being top notch, what's your strategy for the product design and collection building?
As you connect with new producers and learn new things around the product, I think it's easy to get overwhelmed. The truth is, you can build a multimillion dollar brand around just five or six styles ( a great shirt, a great pair of trousers, a great hat, etc). I've watched so many brands scale massively by perfecting certain styles and that's what I'm trying to do. That helps me ensure the quality, fit, and look are perfect. Taking inspiration from other trends and brands is ok but apply what works for you and make sure to stay in your lane.
I'm also trying to remind myself to slow down and constantly iterate as opposed to pumping out a lot of product quickly. I'm constantly thinking about how I can make the product better, from the stitching to the materials, to the decoration. I'd say taking it slow is what is going to help us win.
Love that! Slow and steady wins the race.
Make sure to check out Porter James Sports for their newest drop on Monday, July 17th and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creative entrepreneurs!