Hillflint's Co-Founder John Shi [Exclusive Interview!]

Franklin Zhang, Brown '19

What's your response to students who say your sweaters are too expensive?
    It is pricier, but I believe you should look at it as the price per wear. The majority of the cost comes from the premium material the sweaters are made of - luxury, quality fabrics, used in sweaters you find at places like Nordstrom. The quality of a Hillflint sweater gives me many, many more wears than, say, a sweater from H&M would give me.
Nifemi Adebara, Duncan '18

That's exactly what I try to tell people too! The whole 'slow fashion' trend, where you should invest in classic pieces that will give you tons of wears or last you a long time. Along with being high quality, where does Hillflint stand on ethical fashion?
    Ethical production is important to us, and we have bi-yearly audits of our factories by third party auditors. If a factory doesn't treat their workers ethically, that implies other negative things about their business as well. We visit our producers and their factories in person to establish relationships in which our values for ethical and quality production. Luckily, these are also the same producers contracted by major name brands as well, so there’s some redundant accountability.
Cindy Nguyen, Wiess '18

Speaking of major brands, I see Hillflint as like, the Ralph Lauren or the Vineyard Vines of college sweaters. Did you expect your brand to get big this quickly?
    Certainly, I definitely saw the potential and work towards expanding and taking over the market. However, I don't see our brand as a 'Ralph Lauren' or 'Vineyard Vines' type. Those are associated with a narrow vision of the fraternity or east coast prep lifestyles, which can be quite alienating and doesn’t tell the whole story of what we are about:  Hillflint is an inclusive vision of well made apparel for great athletic and academic traditions. 

Carey Wang, Will Rice '18

That's good to know, I hope my friends here read that. Hillflint isn't just a northeast prep brand! Do you have plans to expand beyond sweaters?
    Actually yes! We will be launching new items in the near future, and we are looking into sweatshirts as well. There's a lot you can do with sweatshirts, like a loopback interior instead of fleece, better construction with higher quality cotton, or better quality logos moving beyond screenprint.

OMG, that's exciting, I have yet to buy a single crewneck sweater in college because they're all too low quality for their price points... I only have the Hillflint Rice sweater and the Wiess limited edition one! Looking forward to it! All these new designs though, do you do it yourself or do you have a design team?
    Initially, it was the both of us [John and co-founder Woody Hines] designing, but of course, with the expansion of the brand, we have hired an outside designer to work with us. He's awesome, and has worked for Abercrombie and other major retail brands.

Oh, wow, so is this a full-time gig or a side hustle?
    This is definitely my full-time job now, but it didn't start out that way! I was originally at Amazon working as a retail analyst, and [Woody] was working in NYC. It was a while before we both decided to take the risk and quit our corporate jobs to work on Hillflint full time!We were based in SF for a while but have just recently been able to move to NYC too.

That's so fun, congratulations! Now, how would you describe your own style?
    Thanks! You're probably more well versed in style lingo than me, but let's see, what am I wearing now... I am wearing denim joggers, a white patch pocket oxford button down and adidas sneakers. I think athleisure is the term? 

NICE, I'm a fan of it all. (Makes sense, I'm also a huge fan of your brand.) Last but not least, how do you style your Hillflint?
    It's a pretty versatile piece - I wear it with joggers, tapered sweatpants, denim, layer a button down underneath when it's chilly. You can definitely pair it with kakhis and dress shoes, or tapered sweatpants and sneakers, our sweaters can be styled in many ways!

Thank you so, so much John, for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this phone interview with me! Hillflint will be doing another sale with Harrison Lin on our campus, so be sure to like our Facebook page for more details, and Hillflint's!


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