Self Belief 015: Meet Dhillan Bhardwaj, the founder of Ratchet Clothing, who made millions in his teens
Reporter Laura Dennison sat down with Dhillan to talk building a brand and good old-fashioned hard work.
The first thing you notice meeting Dhillan Bhardwaj is that he is really, really tall. Six feet and four inches, he tells me. As we sit down and I can now reach his eyeline, it becomes obvious that Dhillan is incredibly grounded, kind and surprisingly very funny – all things you might not associate with a teen millionaire and star of Channel 4 documentary Rich Kids Go Shopping.
Now 20 years old, Dhillan started his company Ratchet Clothing when he was just 16 and now the brand occupies four of its own stores dotted around the United Kingdom, with a fifth due to be opening in Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre soon.
I ask him where it all began, and although he’s told the story so many times, he entertains me anyway.
“I was at secondary school and I couldn’t afford the things that my friends had.
“I remember taking my final exams and going to school in non-uniform.” He and his sister ventured onto YouTube to learn how to make two tie-dyed t-shirts. “I still have them to this day. I wore one of them to school and my friend was asking me where I bought it from, and I was like, ‘I made it!’”
This first spark of interest in one of his creations fuelled Dhillan’s determination to continue exploring fashion, despite his family wanting him to work in the family business which was either in property or car sales. “No one in the family, especially a boy, was to go to college or to study something other than car mechanics or business. I really liked photography at the time and I really wanted to do fashion photography.”
Dhillan makes it clear that he is proud to represent people who have “come from nothing”, after quitting college himself after just four months. Within those months he had already started his brand, Ratchet. Oh, and if you’re wondering where the name came from, “I heard it in a song!”.
Explaining more about how he built his company, Dhillan says that he did everything in his garage at home, setting up five different colours of tie-dye and bleaching but without any proper facilities. “I did all the tie-dye on a dog-cage… obviously the dog wasn’t in there.”
Dhillan made a Big Cartel online shop, then a Facebook page, a Twitter and an Instagram back in 2013. “We had 7,000 likes within the first week, and I was like, what the fuck is this about?”
He began his Instagram page with just one design having no idea that his business would shortly boom in the explosive way it did. “Within the first Christmas I had like 30 orders a day and it was just me by myself.” Asking what he attributed the success to, he says that the clothes he made when he first started were never done before.
The first celebrity that paid attention to his clothes was Miley Cyrus back in 2014. One of her back-up dancers visited Dhillan in one of his stores and offered him backstage tickets to one of her shows for his 18th birthday. “I got there and me and my five friends were waiting to meet her. They said she’s only asked for me so my friends couldn’t come and I was like, ‘fuck it, BYE!’”. He gifted her with Ratchet clothing and she put them on straight away. “It was such a pleasure and such a massive accomplishment.”
As for other celebrities, Rihanna is a huge inspiration for Dhillan. “She’s the only person that I look up to in the fashion industry. She’s a bad bitch, she doesn’t give a shit about anything. That’s what I want to be like. I want to make clothes that she would wear.”
Interestingly, Dhillan doesn’t have free reign over his finances, unlike many of his co-stars on Rich Kids Go Shopping. “I don’t get all the money that I earn. Everything I earn goes back into the family.” Everything he needs is paid for and he gets an allowance of £650 a month. I notice that Dhillan is wearing his own designs to our interview. “This whole outfit I’ve made myself”, clothes that fall into his new brand Distressed by Dhillan, which is full of custom denim pieces. He tells me that the jacket he’s wearing was originally from a charity shop.
When touching on his appearance in Rich Kids Go Shopping, Dhillan says: “It’s the title, I don’t represent anything like that. I didn’t want to be on TV wasting money on shit that I don’t need just to make it entertaining.” I ask Dhillan if he’s proud of his role in the show. “It’s something I never imagined I’d have the confidence to do in my life”, adding that he was happy with how he came across on TV.
Dhillan’s advice for anyone thinking about starting their own clothing brand is to trust your gut. “I never listened to anybody’s advice.” If anybody said do it this way, or that way, or wait a few days, he didn’t pay attention, not even to his parents. “I just had so much passion and drive.”
He adds: “I broke every single rule you could being in the fashion industry. It’s very competitive, so you can’t be successful and make money 24 hours, seven days a week, all year. You’re going to have times when you’re dipping and it’s not going great, but that doesn’t mean you give up there and then.”
After sitting with Dhillan for half an hour, I finally build up the courage to ask him if he is actually a certified millionaire and he laughs. His parents didn’t tell him when he had made his first million. “I wasn’t interested in the money. I never asked them once how much have I made”. One day, when he realised, he just carried on living his day-to-day life. “If I had that money, it would be gone”, so he says he is grateful to his parents for managing his money so that he never has to worry when he’s older. “It’s a blessing.”
I finish by asking Dhillan about his future goals. He hopes to one day create a campaign for people who failed in school or didn’t do well, and fittingly, most recently he has been signed as a motivational speaker. It’s clear that even at such a young age, Dhillan notices the privileged platform he has and is keen to do some good with it.