HUUB Design’s founder, Dean Jackson, on bringing the Thunderbirds brand to endurance sports

How HUUB Design and Anderson Entertainment teamed up to create unique cycling tops.

Thanks for making time, Dean. You’re the founder of HUUB Design. You may have heard! But what’s your background?
My background is working in the sporting goods industry. I’ve worked in swim, bike and run in the UK and US. After having lost my job working for a swimwear company, at 40 years old, I was told by recruiters that I was now too old, and that my CV was back to front…

Encouraging feedback!
Right?! At that point, I decided my only way forward – and the only way to pay the mortgage, look after my family and keep me in a house – was to set up my own company. It’s built on three very simple principles for a sporting brand: research a problem, get science to solve it and use reality to create the solution.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Love it…

If those three legs of the milking stool work, then you have a product. HUUB was born out of a desire to not talk bullshit about the development of a product – but back it up with science fact and data.

Great answer. And if you weren’t doing this, what would you want to be doing? What’s your secret passion?
If I wasn’t doing this, then I figure I’d be wanting to be an actor, or a shoe designer. I guess both of those take immense talent – something in which I am lacking! I’m obsessed with shoes, though – more of the sporting shoe – and would love to be sat there designing shoes for someone like Nike, Adidas, New Balance…

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
And acting?!

From an acting point of view, I’d love to appear in musicals – but I can’t sing, so I guess that rules it out! Maybe with my wooden acting I can be a character in a new stage version of Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet. Could Captain Scarlet have a baby from Derby? He’s known as Deano Scarlet or something crap like that?

Ha! It’s actually not the worst idea I’ve ever heard! So, you appeared on the Brands Untapped radar because you recently teamed up with Jamie Anderson to create a range of Thunderbirds cycling clothes. Not an obvious partnership! How did it come about?
It’s not an obvious partnership, is it? While I was out riding, I was looking for conversation points with those around me. I was looking at our grey hairs and slight bellies, and I figured we could have a conversation about something we’ll all remember, and probably don’t want to have a political or judgemental view on…

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Narrows things down!

My opening gambit was TV shows from the 70s – before I know it, we were talking about whether we preferred Captain Scarlet or Thunderbirds, which was our favourite Thunderbird… All of those things that went around: The Fall Guy on Saturday evenings; Space 1999 and Why Don’t You?… Anything that captured our imaginations back then.

There’s some proper nostalgia there…
Proper nostalgia – exactly. And when I got home, I figured there’s something in this… If the demographic of cycling is edging towards the 50s, then let’s give them something to reminisce about… But let’s do it in quite a nice, cool way and create some cycling apparel that highlights the amazing vehicles from the Anderson imagination on show in Thunderbirds.

And given that Gerry Anderson passed over a few years ago, where did you start?
I wanted to start at the very top, so in this case I sent an email to Anderson Entertainment where a lovely man called Tim Collins contacted me. Before I knew it, I was on a call with him. He’s impressive in his own right, and then I spoke with Jamie Anderson…

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Gerry’s son…

Right. Jamie looks just like his old man, and is incredibly smart and fantastic to talk to. It was one of those incredible moments where you go, “Am I really doing this? Am I really talking to the people connected to the fantasy world of Anderson?”

Well, yes… It is a bit surreal to have those conversations, no doubt – but you’re right… Tim and Jamie are a pleasure to speak with. So how did the design progress?
The design process started with sitting down and firstly figuring out what era of Thunderbirds we were going to be looking at. The new era or the original? Of course, we had to go original! Then it was a case of choosing which vehicles we wanted to replicate onto a cycle jersey.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
And is that an intuitive thing?

I think so… It’s only when you truly look at the ships and the shape of the men and women that will be wearing these tops that you wonder. In any case, we quickly figured out that Thunderbird 2 had to be the first one we launched. The green is so unique, the striping, the red thrusters… When you put that jersey on, it tells a secret; it really says, “I get this”.

Great! I know exactly what you mean!
We mocked up some of those jerseys and sent them out to Tim and Jamie. They gave us some feedback as a license partner, and their own personal feedback as to what this product should look like.

And was that a lot of feedback?
No, not really! The changes were very minor throughout the whole process… The two of them – along with ITV – were incredibly supportive; they understood what we needed to do to bring a product to market, and how it had to maintain credibility in the cycling world… And we understood that these lines had to maintain credibility in the fan world, and respect the original creators.

“When you put that jersey on, it tells a secret; it really says, “I get this”…”

I’m loving this. I’m presuming you had a designer working on them?
Yes, our in-house designer, Robert Rainbow… Not a made up name! Robert created some mock ups and visuals, and it was in a process of trying to tone the design down so that those looking at it would have a nod to whichever Thunderbird it was we were creating rather than make it too obvious…

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Right; you didn’t want it to be too over the top – which I think it could easily have been in the hands of the wrong designer…

Right! We wanted these cycle jerseys to be a talking point on a bike ride: “Hey! Excuse me fella… That jersey looks like Thunderbird 2.” Boom! We’re off; we’re having a chat; we’ve struck up a conversation – maybe we’re friends for life! Who knows?

I don’t know that that wouldn’t happen, and I love the idea that it might! So – for the uninitiated – what is a cycling top? You know, I’ve said that out loud; it sounds like a daft question… Let me rephrase: what makes a top a cycling top?!
A cycling top is a zip-up jacket or T-shirt, shall we say, that has pockets in the back to put your bananas, energy gels, spare inner-tube and tools in. It’s quite close fitting so it doesn’t flap in the wind or slow you down when you’re cycling. They also give you full license to be colourful because safety on the road is important… Typically, the fabrics are stretchy and form fitting; they give some breathability too; a layer that lets sweat disperse through it – they’re very good at keeping you cool.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
And with all that in mind, what was the biggest challenge in the design?

The biggest challenge was putting the designs together and trying to think like a cyclist, like a fan, and like a license-rights holder. We wanted to be sure we could put them all together and not create a garment that looks like it belonged on the shelves at Primark. No disrespect to Primark!

No; of course – but this is functional, premium cycle wear that looks fun…
Exactly. We desperately wanted to bring out the attributes of the Thunderbird vehicles, but not make it too obvious – you know, like a kid’s sandwich box or something like that.

How did you overcome that challenge, then?
The way we overcame it was to create several mock ups and share them with friends in cycling and those within the business. We didn’t want to strip it back so much that we had to say, “What does this remind you of?” – you know? When we actually came to the approval process, there were some bits we had to put back in that to make it a little bit more obvious that it was 100% Thunderbirds.

“We didn’t want to strip it back so that we had to say, “What does this remind you of?”…”

What other products does Huub do, Dean?
HUUB was born in the water with triathlon and wetsuits in 2011… Now we’re a company that works in the endurance-sport space, dominating triathlon and cycling clothing, wetsuits, accessories and other products for open-water swimming. We’ve been quite lucky, though, to have our products worn quite prominently…

Well – it’s all relative! But the Brownlee Brothers wear our stuff; they’re world champions countless times over. Huub’s also been seen at high-profile charity fundraisers like Comic Relief and Sport Relief. A number of celebrities – Gordon Ramsey comes to mind – say our products make them faster in the water. We’re very proud of all of these associations, but we also enjoy helping those that are partaking in triathlon and need support. They may not be the best, but they have conditions, they have challenges, that just need a little bit of extra help.

Is the Thunderbirds range your first licensed product?
No – we’ve done licensed products with individuals in the sporting space. The Brownlee Brothers for example… We have a license for Brownlee swimwear; Brownlee goggles and wetsuits. We also license Umbro and the Derby County shirt.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
We also have arrangements with some smart people who license some of their technology to put in some of our extremely fast triathlon suits. There’re also partnerships with events such as London Triathlon where we take their logo and put it onto merchandise under a license deal. But the Thunderbirds and Anderson Entertainment project really is the first time we’ve taken something so globally recognised and created a product with the markings on it.

Got it. And has it gone sufficiently well that you’re tempted to try more?
Yes, it’s gone incredibly well. When we launched the product, we contacted Lee Sullivan, who is a truly incredible graphic illustrator. We then partnered on three comic strips featuring two incredible cyclists…

Go on…
One of these was Jason Kenny – the most decorated British Olympian of all time – and Neah Evans, a female cyclist who has several national titles to her name. I thought this strip was an incredibly clever to feature an aerodynamicist who now works for the cycling team, Ineos, and – of course – he had to meet Brains in the comic strip!

And the strips were used to help market the product?
Yes, we used them as part of the launch to highlight enjoyment in cycling, aerodynamics and cycling safety. Off the back of this, the range sold incredibly well, and we now have Thunderbird 1, Thunderbird 2 and Thunderbird 4 as part of the portfolio. I’ve been given the nod to investigate other products within their line of Anderson Entertainment with a possible Captain Scarlet jersey on the horizon in the next couple of months – approval pending, of course.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
So you’re open to more projects like this… Are there any brands with whom you might want to work?

We’re completely open to it, yes… We’d consider anything that provokes an emotional response, with a bit of excitement or nostalgia, or just a great big smile. Will Kellogg’s step forward and allow us to use the cornflakes chicken on a cycle Jersey? Who knows?! We need to be taking ourselves a little bit more seriously – but then, why be too serious? Cycling can be painful; you’ve got to smile…

Wonderful. Dean, we’re going to have to wrap this up – but one last question… What’s the one thing I should’ve asked in this interview, but didn’t?
You could have asked me: “When I put on my paisley pattern pyjamas on in 1975, what did I think my superpowers were?”

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
You know what? That was on my list! What’s the answer?

The reality is, I thought my superpowers would be my being able to jump from the settee to the armchair in one great big leap, Hong Kong Phooey style, making sound effects of a ninja at the same time.

Ha! Number-one super guy!
You could also have asked me if I think the children of today will ever have the delight and wonderful benefit of watching those TV shows we grew up with in the 70s and 80s…

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Hmmmm. Presumably not?

No! My answer would have been that no way will they ever use their imaginations the way we did. We used to go into our gardens and play in dirt mountains and create ships out of Meccano or LEGO or glue… Anything that we could find to just make us innovators.

You know, I had a conversation with toy inventor who said much the same thing recently… That the proliferation of media content now – and the sheer volume of packaged, commercialised fun – means that children don’t HAVE to use their imaginations as much…
Right! But it was a delightful time then, and even with my own grandkids, as much as I encourage it, I just don’t see the influence of television on them like our parents saw it in us. I do sit down with my grandchildren and we watch Thunderbirds, we watch Bagpuss, Mr. Benn, and those delightful shows that just made it exciting to run home from school, or get back in front of the television on a Saturday evening. Wonderful, wonderful times.

Dean Jackson, HUUB Design
Is this just nostalgia, though, Dean? Are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses at our childhood television? Or was some of it awful?

Oh, no; some of it was crap! Jackanory – dull as dishwater. And Bod… What the hell was Bod all about?

Couldn’t tell you! I’ll look into it; see if I can find any meaning. I mean… Bod’s only one letter away from God! Dean, thank you for your time – what a pleasure it’s been to catch up.

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