My first encounter with Josh Simmons was via a DM on Instagram sent from the parking lot of the Eddie Bauer warehouse in Hilliard, OH. We hit it off a month later doing an interview in a Waffle House off of I-70 in the middle of nowhere when we both discovered we were overly ambitious fashion nerds. Since then, Josh has had as much of a role in the starting of the Hounds, Ltd. as anyone.
1. Who are you? What do you do?
“My name is Josh Simmons and I am Founder and co-owner of Hillking Supply Company based out of Columbus, OH.”
2. Why did you decide to locate your brand in the Midwest?
"Three reasons really. The first and easiest answer is that its home. And not in some kind of inspirational, sub-text kind of way. It's just literally where I was born, where I've grown up and where I live currently. Secondly, as it's commonly stated, the Midwest is the country's test kitchen. It's where a lot of major corporations throw ideas to see if they stick with the "average consumer". You can't lose when the national standard for an "average" buyer is living next door. The third reason, which goes sort of hand-in-hand with the second is that this region is not only the country's test kitchen, in my eyes, but also its proving ground."
"It's said a lot about places like New York or Los Angeles that they're unforgiving cities and "if you can make it there you can make it anywhere"...I believe that holds a lot of weight, but I also think that the Midwest isn't made for everyone. I mean that to say that in a city with millions of people in a small overall area, it can be daunting but your level of exposure and recognition stands to grow the most because everyone is everywhere and they're all exposed to you, who you are and what you offer at the same time. In a place like Ohio, for instance, the landscape is a lot different. It means you have to work harder to gain exposure, to be seen, to be accepted and to be understood. So for a small brand trying to come up, your beginning is more of a concept of how to capture the attention and interest of a vastly diverse crowd that is spread out over a larger area as opposed to having thousands of people who fit your ideal consumer base right in your backyard. if any of that makes any sense."
3. What would be a dream accomplishment for you?
"There are a few that feel like dreams right now, just something far off in the future. The idea of opening a brick and mortar shop where we can fully convey our brand identity has always been a goal...or better a plan for the future. Others include things like outside collaborations, like a Vans collar would be HUGE one day. But on a smaller and more practical scale, my dream accomplishment would be to pay my team. Not like cut a check for the work they do, or split up profits but to actually pay them. Consistently...giving them a "real job" inside this thing we've created and paying them enough so that they don't need to supplement themselves with secondary work. Paying them all enough to support themselves and their families comfortably while doing what we love everyday. That's the dream."
4. Who do you want to collab with most?
"Most? That's tough. There's a handful of brand and companies that leave me in awe and inspire me...but coming from a heavily sneaker-influenced background (you know, before it was cool ha) like i said, Vans would be a dream. Not only for the shoe but because of what Vans has done and continues to do. They've built an empire of quality merchandise and an incredibly loyal fanbase off of what, six different silhouettes for the most part...for 50 years. That's nuts. That's the kind of brand integrity and consumer loyalty I want to shoot for."
5. What is your relationship to the Hounds?
"The Hounds? Who are they? Never heard of them. Ha, no, The Hounds is family. Adam, the founder, and a lot of the people associated with The Hounds actually contribute a lot to the origin story of Hillking Supply Co. Hillking had its first official brand meeting in August of 2014 where we discussed the desire to be in production and selling by the following summer. About 2 weeks after that meeting, when Hillking was a developing concept, we got a message from Adam, when he was still writing for The Village Style blog, saying that he had been following our account on IG (which at this point hadn't had any of our pieces featured yet because they were still in the design stage). He mentioned a season lookbook that The Village was shooting and an interest to feature our stuff. So naturally I replied professionally and expressed an interest to be included but to the rest of the team I was buggin' out. Adam threw us a deadline of I think November 1st so that the lookbook could be shot or delivered by Thanksgiving, so our 10 month projection for production got cut to like 2 and a half, and we weren't about to miss that shot. I personally had already followed Adam's work and the articles he did on Sole Classics and the OATW, so this was like the big time for us. So we jumped into production asap, got that feature on the blog and from there we got a handful of other offers to be featured in different blogs all over the state. Really we kind of owe our "spark" to The Hounds, indirectly but kind of directly."
6. What social cause resonates strongest with you and why?
"Arts and education in the arts. I try to steer clear of political standings and things like that because I have no dog in that fight, nor do I want one. I don't touch on issues of race and discrimination because I feel that taking a side in any kind of issue like that, even the side that says you don't take sides, is kind of hypocritical. I just use general kindness and honesty as a way to deal with everyone. In business sometimes it means you get taken advantage of or disrespected but so be it. I can only control me so that's what I do and at any opportunity I encourage others to do the same. But as far as education goes, I feel like a lot of what I've learned creatively has come from teachers. Then outside of that realm, when doing things on my own I've used a lot of the skills they taught me about how to track information to its source, how to fact check and how to be influenced and inspired without plagiarizing. So what I would really love to do at some point is facilitate a learning environment that provides a way for the next generation of creatives to do what they love or to pursue their creative goals without having to navigate the vast murky ocean of information the way many of us have just to get started. I want to be able to point creatives in the right direction and equip them with some essential tools and information that they'll need to make an honest go at success. I think Quest Love said it best:
"Each One Teach One, then it can last forever.""
7. Tell us about your trip this past summer.
"Yeah, Belize. That was a horrifying culture shock stuffed with a beautiful experience. My wife and I spent 2 months there this past summer doing mission type work, and it was amazing. When I first got there the heat was what I noticed but then when I spent some time there I noticed what was really around me. People living in what we would classify as "run down" or "poverty stricken" areas, but they loved it. I loved it. People think one of two things when they think Belize. They think resorts and palm trees and beaches or they think third world and dirty water. Both are true, in a way, but are not mutually exclusive and to the people they don't know the difference. Belize is a third world country, but you wouldn't know that from the people. It's a much slower pace there, days seemed to go on forever because they weren't packed with all of the things we fill our time with to feel important. The scenery was gorgeous, the people were beautiful and the hospitality was incredible. I won't go on forever about it but I think I brought back one powerful change in my viewpoint which was caused by one couple we stayed with.
Our plan in Belize was to stay with a different family (friends of my wife from when she had lived there doing similar mission work for a year and half in 2011) for a week or two at a time for the duration of our stay to cut down on rooming costs. So we got to the last leg of our trip, with about 2 weeks to go, and we realized we hadn't made arrangements with anyone for that last 2 weeks. So, in passing, we mentioned that we were looking for a place to stay to this young couple (in their 30's). Almost immediately and without hesitation they offered us their spare room. They offered to pick us up form our current place in about an hour and so we packed and waited.
When we were taken to their home, this was the moment that shocked me. It was tiny, maybe a little more than 600 sq ft. I was grateful for a roof so I didn't care. As soon as we got in they asked if we would help them move their bed out of their room, so we did. We moved it into the guest room and we felt bad and told them that we didn't want to take their bed ( as they only had one). The response was that we weren't taking their bed, they were giving us an air mattress in their room because it was "the room with the tv and cable so we could relax in our own space". I was amazed by that. Who gives up their whole room so that some "spoiled" americans can have cable tv? But it's just how the people there are. Giving in every sense of the word and without prejudice or reservation. So what I brought back with me was this:
"If I ever have anything that someone else needs or wants, and i don't absolutely need it, give it to them." No questions and no reservations. Places, countries, can all generally be looked at the same. Land & animals. But the people are what have an impact and that trip really changed my outlook and I'm convinced that nothing negative can come from having a giving attitude."