When I came across this video, I was immediately fascinated by Angga Kara’s story. When Angga moved to the UK from Indonesia he was 11, had no friends and the only word he knew was “bucket”. But then his local youth club introduced him to screen printing and an entirely new future opened up. Since then, Angga has built the influential ethical fashion label Hantu, formed hip-hop theatre group Rationale Productions and helped set up Yorkshire Tee (which printed the t-shirts for the Folksy Summer School) as well as a raft of social enterprise projects that help creative people develop their skills and find better opportunities. I wanted to know more about how Angga grew Hantu from nothing and his secrets for making a successful creative business…
How would you describe what you do at Hantu?
Hantu is a platform for creativity and positivity. We make beautiful ethical clothing and accessories. We curate events, run talks and workshops and aim to be the catalyst for organic collaboration.
What is the Hantu ethos?
As a company, we believe in bringing together creative minds from different disciplines in order to produce something that is everlasting, eclectic and evolving. We believe in being progressive and fresh by working with people from different backgrounds and with different expertise. We also have strong ethical values, working direct with small family producers and using ethically sourced garments in all our collections.
How did Hantu come to be?
I moved to the UK when I was 11 and grew up in an area of Sheffield that, at the time, was one of the worst areas for gun and knife crime in the UK. A lot of my friends were going down the wrong path. I felt all they needed was a way to channel their energy in a positive manner. So when I was 18 I applied for funding from Unltd for a project to help young men express themselves better. We did digital t-shirt printing and our motto was: ‘If you can’t say how you feel, wear how you feel.’ That was successful and really immersed us all in the art of t-shirt printing.
Then I came back from university and it was the start of the recession. There were no jobs and me and my friend illustrator Geo Law were down on our luck. We decided to do something about it. At the start, the collective was only me and Geo, but we had big dreams. It started as a simple question: “How do we get Geo’s work out in the public more?” So we printed Geo’s illustration on t-shirts and promoted them around Sheffield shops. Along the way we met great creatives who were in the same boat as us. So we came up with idea ‘you help us, we help you’ – let’s work together to create something great.
Collectively we made big enough noise that people had no choice but to listen. Since then, our clothes have been worn by lots of great people, from Wu-tang Clan to Annie Mac. Our name has travelled all over the world and been seen by thousands of people. We’ve shared and hosted many a retail store and pop-up shop and even had two thumbs-up from Paul McCartney for great dancing.
You first discovered screen printing at a youth club. Do you think you would have been successful without opportunities like that?
I believe I would have still been successful but I owe a lot to my past opportunities. The youth club taught me be adaptable. At the age of 12 I was trying to learn English, and going to a youth club where most of the time people were speaking Jamaican Patois. The multicultural area opened my eyes to different cultures, beliefs and passions. The youth club also gave us lots of opportunities to develop through the courses they ran, and gave us a place to go and hang out. It’s a shame now that a lot of the funding for youth clubs has been cut – there should be an alternative provided to hanging out on a street corner. I’m not sure what they would be though…
Do you think it’s harder for young people to get a start in business now than it used to be?
No, it’s easier now in my opinion. There are a lot of free platforms online that you can use to start your business. Social media allows anyone to start their own business – all your friends on Facebook are your potential customers. Since it’s easier to connect in the digital world, the main thing is to know how you are different from your competitors. There are usually enterprise schemes you can also apply to in your own city to get help to start your own business. Not only are they great for advice, they’re also great for networking opportunities.
Did you get investment for any of your business ideas?
Not for Hantu. I had the idea of creating a garment-printing company that helps seed ideas to brands to have a better conversation, which became Yorkshire Tee. The concept is that the printer gives their honest advice on the design and how it can be best presented, providing a holistic service, from sourcing different garments, different types of printing, relabelling to single order drop-shipping. I was lucky to meet two great investors, Corey and Steve. As the business is now self-sustaining and employing its own staff, I stepped down from this project in December to focus on other things.
If things go wrong, how did you get back on your feet?
Perseverance. There have been so many ups and downs, sometimes I ask myself why I did this in the first place. Then I take a deep breath, think about how it went wrong, work out how I can improve it next time, and move on. Dwelling on things going wrong just prolongs actions to make it better.
Is there a secret to making a creative business work?
No, just hard work, and for me I find that being friendly and helpful to everyone goes a long way. Your friends are your contacts and your contacts are your friends. Getting a word-of-mouth referral for your creative business is always the best means of promotion. Somebody knows somebody that needs what you do, so once you see the opportunity, make sure you follow through, deliver great work and on time! Then ask if they will refer you on to more to their own network, and once they do, repeat :)
Do you feel there is enough support out there for creative businesses?
Yes and no. There are pockets of help but most of the time they are hard to find. It would be great to have a centralised place that connects it all together.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss?
I get presented with so many exciting opportunities, and have to choose which to follow through and which ones to park or even drop completely. Some projects have big prospects but life travels and evolves, and sometimes you just have to let it go to make room to grow. Over time, I’ve found out that I’m not Superman and I can’t do everything I want to do greatly if I’m spread too thin.
If you could share one tip about running a creative business what would it be?
Seek as much free help and advice as you can – you get good and bad but it’s all a different perspective on how to do things better or more effectively. It’s up to you what to take on board and it’s you that has to make it happen.
Featured image: Angga photographed at Union Street by Shelley at Diamonds and Doodles
This summer Angga launched The Learn, Create & Sell Challenge – a programme which aims to help aspiring designers by developing their employability skills through a creative and practical course. “It’s been a roller coaster ride us, and we feel now we’d like to give back to the creative community that helped us through our journey,” explains Angga. Students on the programme learn how to use laser-cutting technology, how to design, develop and sell their work, and also how to promote their skills to the creative and manufacturing sectors. There will be a pop-up shop selling products from the course in the Sheffield Winter Gardens from the 16-30 November. Anyone interested in applying for the course can apply to be among the next intake here >>
Angga is also collaborating on Common Catalyst – a project to support creative individuals with aspirations to move forward in enterprise but unsure in which direction. The project aims to help find that spark to positively change the mindset, skills and opportunities of the creative individual and develop courage and self-belief.