It started with a girl with a Mohican for Middlesbrough based clothing company, The Bearhug Company Limited when they were established in the late 2000s. Now in 2015, they’re going from strength to strength with their limited edition prints and apparel.
Whilst at University, Luke Dixon, Director of The Bearhug Co Ltd started putting artwork on T-shirts. From there the unique sketches/clothing snowballed into what it now a fully established brand running from the centre of Middlesbrough.
His talent started early by drawing Turtles on the walls of his parental home. Then as he grew up he became known as “the guy that could draw” throughout college, which took him to study Fine Art at Northumbria.
“At my first year at Uni, I cottoned on that I had this distinctive style and filled hundreds of sketchbooks refining it”, he says in a well-loved khaki Barbour jacket and pale grey Bearhug beanie at his desk, overlooked by an oversized Wolf on the first floor window.
Luke’s process starts off like all good masterpieces with a light sketch in pencil, and from there he fills the negative space till there is a decent template. Once everything is in its place, that’s when the unique Bearhug style of colourful linear creations comes to life. Layer upon layer of inks and photoshopping take place, which can take from 24 hours to weeks of work to complete, perfecting the right depth and tones to be printed on T-shirts, jumpers and accessories to be sent to their increasing local and international followers.
His inspiration comes from pretty much everywhere, there’s no “specific protocol” he goes with, just what’s popular at the time in TV and film. His most recent creation being of Rick Grimes from AMC’s The Walking Dead, which took three attempts to perfect. Currently online are sketches of John Lennon, Forrest Gump and the Ghostbusters crew, which took about a week to complete.
But popular culture are just one of the two foundations to this creative company. Animals are one their most popular printed purchases. Bisons, Tigers, Wolves and of course Bears are all printed onto limited edition tees here in the north east, by Woven Inc in Washington who have been working with Bearhug for over five years.
In that five-year period the company has gained nearly 1000 Twitter followers (over 3000 on Luke’s personal Twitter), 16.2 thousand on Instagram and over 200 thousand on Facebook. By using social media like this, which Luke started back in Uni, has allowed him to get feedback straight away about what designs would be popular.
Katharine Oliver, the brand’s assistant, confirms this saying “Social media has a massive influence on what gets created into a piece of apparel or print (available in A2 or A3). The more the Likes the greater the chance of it getting printed (with some getting over 6000), if a piece of art only gets 1000 ‘likes’ it could still be made into a T-shirt, but we would have a smaller run of it”. On average, The Bearhug’s social media gathers 500-4000 followers a week from an international audience.
The brand has just released a new collection of some of the best designs from the last two years, with improved products, adding more details and a better fit for the wearer. The Lookbook was shot locally as well, on location in Byker at an almost dystopian railway compound. Each design is a conversation piece with a Wolf in a Native Indian headdress, rapper Jay-Z in glorious technicolor and a tiger stalking its prey.
This latest retrospective compilation Luke hopes will, “allow us to move forward and help us evolve to create bigger collections”, so they have a good foundation to expand to become “a more well rounded company”.
The Bearhug are a company with a sense of humour with one if their earliest designs of Bill Murray, becoming a seasonal success. Titled ‘Murray Christmas’, which stemmed from Luke watching Zombieland, sold out in just four hours of being put online.
This Christmas, Katharine says the online is rife with seasonal specials, with Luke’s play on word style. With the aforementioned ‘Murray Christmas’, as well as a Home Alone Christmas Tree with ‘keep the change you Filthy Animal’ text, and new for 2015, a Nicholas Cage one-off titled ‘Old Saint Nic’ with Cage wearing a Santa hat.
The Bearhug is currently only a small team with Luke at the helm, but if they keep going on at this rate with designs selling out within hours of being online, and travelling the globe to promote The Bearhug brand. It’s only a matter of time before this company becomes a fully fledge pack you’ll want to be a part of.