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Core Careers: Stance VP of Creative Aaron Hennings

Aaron Hennings of Stance.
Aaron Hennings of Stance. Shop-eat-surf file photo.
By Mo Rubino
June 14, 2013 7:30 AM

“When you are doing a start-up there is not a safety net… If you tell a pure and true story, the right people will gravitate to it and make the brand feel larger than it is.” − Aaron Hennings

In early 2010, Stance emerged on the scene as a pioneering brand within a virtually untapped accessory in the industry: socks. Since then, Stance has been steadily gaining momentum not only domestically, but internationally as well. With over 1,000 stores carrying their designs, Stance brings joy and artistic stories to many devoted fans.

VP of Creative and designer Aaron Hennings has been there since Stance’s infancy and was formerly Billabong’s Art Director for nine years.

As part of our Core Careers series, Aaron talks about how several industry leaders took him under their wing as a teenager, his thoughts on start-ups, what he looks for in his designers and more.

What are some key things you learned while working at a larger company that helped you in your new role at Stance?

I learned the importance of creating a brand that consumers love and consider to be their best friend. I learned about selling a dream and delivering a consistent message to your audience. The dream has to be relatable and an aspiration.

Athletic ability alone doesn’t always translate to market influence. It’s easier and more probable for someone to dress and create bad art just like their hero, rather than duplicate the athletic abilities of their hero. The lifestyle is more of a direct connection when selling apparel.

I learned merchandising and how to see the collection from the perspective of a buyer and consumer. A creative person must also consider the economics of wholesale and retail, not just the artistic merit of a product.

I learned the dynamics of communication and teamwork amongst all departments and what happens to each as the company grows. Specifically, what causes strain on each area and how to help each other eliminate the pressure points.

You are a father of four. Were you nervous about leaving an established company to join a start-up? If so, what made you decide to take the leap?

Yes, I was nervous, but also understood an established company wasn’t the only way to go. Being a father means there is tension between the responsibility to provide for the family through a big, safe, time-consuming job, and the yearning for flexibility to enjoy free time with family.

Seeing what was happening in 2008 and 2009, it was apparent that even established companies were not always safe. They could instantly eliminate many jobs at any time. I thought it was possible that a start-up could actually be more secure and also allow for flexibility in time.

The opportunity for a new career experience and to build a brand from the ground up with talented people was a key factor when I made the leap. Stance was a carefully crafted perfect storm: a start-up scenario that had a unique business opportunity, an experienced executive team, strong financing, a generous employee equity pool, carte blanche creative freedom, and an unmatched lifestyle opportunity. A combination like that does not come around too often in our industry. It felt like now or never and I didn’t want to miss the chance.

Jeff Kearl (Stance co-founder and CEO) helped me look at it objectively. I realized that at worst, the market would not accept the concept and we would run out of money in 24 months. Then I’d just go back to doing what I was doing after having had a start-up business experience. But on the upside, it could potentially be a life-changing opportunity and a lot of fun along the way.

See Page 2 for Aaron's early career and design inspirations

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