How does streetwear in the Midlands differ from London?
We constantly hear about London in the fashion world. Whether it be the latest Supreme drop, what clothes Madonna is wearing or the latest trend to catch on from London Fashion Week, it’s the only place that comes to mind in UK fashion. But what about the rest of the country? How does the streetwear scene compare when you step outside of Zone 9? In the first of a series of articles examining the streetwear scene outside of London, below I’ll be analysing what it’s like being a hype beast in the Midlands. An area of the country famous for being former mining territory, home of Peaky Blinders and where that Kasabian band come from. So, without further ado let’s take a look at what makes up a fashion scene in an area that actually covers almost a quarter of the nation.
Despite me living here, I thought instead of just giving my thoughts on the topic, I thought I’d talk to other Basement members from around the Midlands to try and gain the best insight possible into what’s going on in the middle of the country.
I live in rural Leicestershire, in a little market town named Ashby-de-la-Zouch, along with photographer Addy Pemberton. As you can imagine, in a place where the population is just under twenty thousand and where the biggest appeal is a Costa Coffee, the streetwear scene is dead. If you see someone walking down the main road wearing Jordans you’d be shocked, whereas in a city a certain level of sneaker heads is expected. On the one side of things, style like this turns heads, but the opposite side is that there is little understanding of why someone might spend £200 on a used t-shirt. I’d say there’s only about fifteen Basement members from the local area, understandable when you realise our closest streetwear retailer is a forty minute drive away. It’s still rare to find small brands around to buy from, so the choices are extremely limited. The Basement is definitely a group that has greatly benefitted people from our town, because we actually have somewhere to turn to source the most recent drops, get legit checks on shoes and discuss our passion with like minded people. As with any creative industry, small towns are not where you can thrive, so we do have to branch out slightly. It’s incredibly difficult to launch anything in the streetwear scene, let alone a brand, from here.
I spoke to Jay Robson, the owner of PaKow Clothing Co brand. PaKow has been running since 2015 and is a small yet ambitious independent brand. It has so far largely dealt with streetwear style clothing and was established from a rural town in Derbyshire. Jay has lived in Derbyshire most of his life, with the slight exception of a few years in Birmingham. The first issue Jay encountered was the fact that that being interested in fashion, from streetwear to high end, turns heads in the countryside. No one expects to come across a rural hustler walking down a small town’s main street. Beyond that, as PaKow launched other problems arose. Most importantly is the lack of choice when it comes to suppliers of clothing, printing & embroidery services and web developers. Jay initially had to go with what was local and convenient but has since branched out to travel further afield to get that edge over his competition. To give a bit of perspective, within a radius of 20 miles from where Jay lives, there is a grand total of two businesses that perform embroidery on clothing. Models and photographers are also few and far between, but luckily by associating in the right creative circles Jay has managed to increase his network to include talent in all the right areas, making links in the closest cities as well as travelling for hours just for a photoshoot.
Photo by @pakowclothingco
One of the main differences that is apparent in rural Derbyshire is that more and more people look upon running a clothing brand as an excuse to not have a full time job, rather than believing in the individual to go out there and make the most of their passion. Another radical change from larger cities, especially London, is there is not a huge concentration of real streetwear enthusiasts, instead finding a few of them scattered across the place. To achieve a customer base, Jay has had to heavily rely on online marketing rather than word of mouth, which is far more frequent in the capital city. The contrary side is that because there are so few sneaker head style people around, we tend to stick together and form a hive that can assist each other and form a bond that transcends the clothing. As far as his opinion on the scene in the Midlands on a whole, and how it affects him Jay believes that the most beneficial progression for the area would certainly be a growth in dedicated streetwear stores – and not just in the cities. Towns should have them too, because if you build the hype in the area for the streetwear scene, people can be educated that streetwear is more than just what clothes you have on, it can be a mind set and a way of life, and “you look dope doing it.”
To get a true sense for what Midlands cities are like, I wanted to speak to a few streetwear enthusiasts based in Birmingham to find out what their views on the scene are. Kai Jones, a native of the area, and Kavir Singh Mahil, who is simply studying in Birmingham after hailing from London itself, both offered their perspectives on the current scene in the area.
One of the most important aspects of the scene has always been and will continue to be the stores that stock streetwear garments. Birmingham has seen a bit of a boost recently, but as far as shops go it’s still fairly limited. Beneculture has popped up in Digbeth recently, stocking a nice collection of smaller streetwear brands, both local and foreign, and holding in store drops, for example housing the CeeArts ‘Come Chill?’ collection’s initial drop, before the items even went online. Kai mentioned that unfortunately the other shops stocking the bigger brands, like Offspring and Size? rarely have major in store drops worth going to, with the exception of a couple of Yeezy drops. The biggest problem facing the in store streetwear scene is the stock; or lack thereof. Along with the aforementioned Beneculture, Birmingham also has Ideal, Projekt21 and Liquor Store that whilst both stock premium quality clothing don’t quite have the variety you’d find in a London based store like DSM. Nonetheless, as independent stores they’ve achieved fantastic feats. Coventry’s own Kong used to have a decent range of Palace, but with the brand going further towards exclusivity to its own flagship store, former stockists such as Kong are suffering. One of the biggest assets to Birmingham shopping in general, surpassing just fashion, is definitely Selfridges. Brand wise, you can find Billionaire Boys Club and Bape but for many young streetwear fans the price tags are simply abhorrent and really dissuade from purchasing there rather than trying on Facebook or eBay. Stock wise, it also supplies largely high fashion style items which dilutes the scene in the city, taking attention away from straight up streetwear. With the major brands currently in fashion like Supreme and Gosha, there is nowhere in Birmingham where they can be found and as such buying and selling communities like The Basement are thriving at the expense of physical shopping. Kav believes that this lack of diverse streetwear stock coupled with shelves full of outdated brands has created a fairly stagnant scene which only serves to benefit the London alternative.
Moving on to local brands and events, there is certainly no shortage of either. Sneaks and Peaks, the local equivalent of larger streetwear one day events like Crepe City, have been massively gaining popularity over the last few years. As well as representing the smaller local talent in the industry, they also house resellers of the bigger brands you’d expect to find for sale on the online groups. Small brands are popping up all over the place across the Midlands, some quickly gaining a foothold within the fashion scene. Just to mention a few that are working hard and starting to earn their keep, we have CeeArts and Feather Pendants whilst newer brands such as Pakow Clothing and 7eventh Sin are starting to make their way up the ladder to become someone birthed in the Midlands and retain that important heritage. The issue here is that the brands are largely online based, either bigcartels or their own websites but with stockists like Beneculture few and far between, getting clothing on shelves is a mean feat for them. Even Leo Mandella who lives in Leamington is taking his designs down to London likely due to not enough exposure in the Midlands. To briefly touch upon a few Midlands men who have gone to do great things in the street fashion world, Simon who runs Ejder in London and also Jagger of Supreme have both left the area to craft amazing careers for themselves but have done so down south, rather than on their home turf.
Photo of @kai_bonez by @xc.vi
Style wise, there does seem to be some distinct differences between Birmingham and London, with more people leaning towards high fashion brands or plain streetwear fits than going for the usually louder, brash outfits you see everywhere in the capital. Clothing choices appear to be more conservative and monochrome based, with infrequent dots of vibrant colours sported by the small crowd in the area who are more heavily involved in the scene. Streetwear is certainly getting more popular however, with the influence of grime artists like Skepta as well as the ever rising number of US rappers repping Supreme, Palace and similar brands spreading over into the Midlands. But realistically, most individuals who don the garms currently simply see it as clothing, they don’t live and breathe the accompanying culture like happens in Soho. There is a true hesitation around making the jump from the comfortable, familiar nine-to-five lifestyle to one which is fully immersed in streetwear. Streetwear is becoming a true staple of youth culture, and despite there being a small dedicated group of maybe only thirty or so people who live and breathe that ethos currently in Birmingham there are hundreds more coming through every so often with an interest in streetwear. Potentially, with the right growth in the scene up here a larger community of like minded individuals can form to create something that can rival the London scene.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Kavir Mahill on the topic, which I think aptly describes what could be. “What does the Midlands need? It needs to get rid of half hearted attempts to make moves in the scene. It needs unity opposed to looking at each other as competition. People need to realise the grass isn’t always greener by moving, trust me I’m London born and bred. Make use of cheap rent, largely available floor spaces and a streetwear consumer that’s being deprived. The future looks bright for the Midlands if the right moves are made.”
Words by Paul Barr (Hudson)
Editing and fact checking by Kavir Mahill
Additional information by Kavir Mahill, Kai Jones, Jay Robson and Addy Pemberton
Additional photos by Kavir Mahill (@xc.vi) and Addy Pemberton (@addy_photog)
This is the first in a series of articles on different regions of the country. If you would like to help out with information please get in touch.