I’d been seeing Clint pop up on Instagram for sometime. For someone to start their own footwear brand from the bottom up without experience or support is unheard of. I caught up with Clint Mathias, the 23 year old self taught designer based in Moston, Manchester, to understand his motivations, inspirations and ambitions for the future.
Where did you grow up? How did your childhood impact your vision and creativity?
I grew up in Zimbabwe, born (and kinda) raised in Harare. I moved to the UK when I was 7. Looking towards England, I kinda looked at it like the American dream, so when I finally came here, it was like I had won already. I lived in Coventry through my childhood and teens, then when it was time to go to uni, I headed up to Manchester which is where I’m based now. I was studying Business Technology but I dropped out. I was meant to get an internship with Nike in Southampton so I studied a sandwich course – but I didn’t manage to get it so I didn’t really know what to do. That’s kinda the reason I left because I had no certainty. In that gap year, I did modelling part time and started making clothes through Youtube tutorials and other self taught methods.
Growing up, did you see any similarities between Harare and Coventry?
Coventry has a real community of doers, a lot of people with a passion to do things – but not many people showing them how to do it. I remember, on my 13th birthday, there was a printing shop at the end of my road, so I went and printed this t-shirt with a grime lyric. I don’t even remember what it said, but I printed it diagonally with my name on the bottom and it was so whack, but it was just to get a taste of the creative process. At the time Chipmunk had his clothing label, and Tinchy Stryder had ‘Star in the Hood’ – that was the craziest time and the genesis of me knowing that culture “existed”. I’d seen people who I admired create an extension of themselves through clothing, so that led me to keep making stuff for myself. So, I guess in terms of similarities, Zimbabwe is the kinda the same in some ways, because there’s lack of opportunity and you’ve gotta do it yourself – but then again you’re exposed to less so you enjoy what you do have more.
What was your introduction to streetwear culture?
There were two guys, Matt and Doc, who had a clothing brand called Funkyist. From the outside looking in, they were two bikers who were inspired by the N*E*R*D era, and made clothes that looked cool, but they attached it to the energy of their city. They worked out of the Kong store and that was the place everyone went to at the end of the month with their money to get the latest kicks. Seeing them create that culture from themselves, with no reference to anybody who had done it before, was incredible. I remember going up to them at a pop-up and being like “I wanna do my own thing” and Doc looked at me like “you don’t know what you’re talking about” because it was so much hard work! They were doing everything – from the designs to the pattern cutting. This culture of t-shirt printing wasn’t that big back then, so it was all DIY. But yeah, they basically introduced me to ‘streetwear’.
It sounds like Matt and Doc kicked it off for you. Apart from them, who are your main creative inspirations?
My peers, a few designers, a friend called Pierre Bassene based in Toronto – he’s got his clothing brand and he hand makes everything. Sampaix, pronounced as “Som-pai” – that’s a brand up North run by my friend Jarred Knight. He does handmade stuff as well and we actually share a small ‘factory’ – it’s actually a 1000 square foot space in Denton. In terms of the ‘personal touch’, those are the kinds of people that I look to who push me to do my thing and do better. In another realm, I kinda don’t really look at others, it’s not healthy.
Did you have any background or training in design and production?
No. My first piece was a Japanese inspired jacket with mad pockets and a string to tighten it all together. I never used the right techniques to make a garment – you need to make a pattern, but I just referenced from pieces I already had and would just sketch them and try to replicate from that. It sort of felt like there was no purpose in what I was doing on the clothing side of things. I was just doing it as a hobby, I never really wanted to make clothes. I prefer buying them from people who do it properly. Then shortly after that I read ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight and he took me on his journey, starting Blue Ribbon Sports and transforming into Nike – as we now know it. Reading about his experience inspired me to think that one human has been able to make a monster like Nike and how culture can be affected through the storytelling of a product. That’s what I always enjoyed about creating, and lead me to know that’s what I wanted to do.
I took that knowledge from making clothes and just transferred it to shoes. I made some clay moulds first, the most DIY way I could do it and the most cost effective way to bring it visually to life. With footwear you need a last, which is a model of the shape of the foot. In the early days, when I made my first concept, I didn’t use it. I used just fabric on top of the sole unit so it was all conceptual – it wasn’t functional at all. From there I learned the different processes and the grading of fabrics. Gradually it got there, and the collaboration with Novesta last year allowed me to understand manufacturing, quality control – bringing the product from conception to consumer and what that takes. That’s the ‘education on-the-go’ process that I’ve been through.
From the looks of the product here, your not into making trainers for fashion?
Yeah, obviously as I mentioned before, it’s been difficult for the last six months going to shows and seeing the trend of what big brands are doing right now. They are heading towards the realm of hiking culture. Obviously my main intention from early on is to create a functional shoe. For me, ACG by Nike is the highest you can go when it comes to making it a fashion statement but at the same time making it functional. My shoes are in line with current fashion trends, but I didn’t design them based on trend. I see it more as my art, so people can take from it what they want. I’m happy with how it’s come out and how much it has progressed from the beginning. There were a lot of complications, it’s been crazy.
You’ve mentioned that you want to set up your own factory? Why?
For me, the biggest hurdle has been infrastructure. When I made my first concept, my intention was never to make a brand as such. It was a way to present a product that can be a fuelling system to make more products, whether that be for Nike, or you guys!
I guess with the lack of contacts, I’ve gradually been doing my own thing, but in five years I want to have a factory that I can work with, along with other talented designers. I find it difficult to make my own product because there’s so much involved in terms of the different elements needed to create products to sell. Whereas, if an external body comes in with their production foundations and customer base, and knows exactly what they want, it’s a lot easier to make for other people. Even with these shoes, they’ve been in development for two years. Starting off with conceptional footwear, my peers and family had seen my earlier products and seen the faults with them – that they look good but aren’t wearable.
Even if the quality control is on point, there can be problems. Because the factory and other companies used similar systems on their shoes, we didn’t think anything of using the same methods, but because the positioning and lacing on my shoe was totally different, it didn’t work. I threw them on to hit London Fashion Week, but one of the tags slipped off, so I had to call the factory and they said “yeah, were still in the product testing phase”. You find during this process, the concept that you initially had, has to be refined and adjusted – that’s beautiful in itself.
It humbles you to find out what works and what doesn’t, so in the next round of product development you don’t make the same mistakes. Function has to sit at the top then the concept – what it’s used for is second. Style comes third, and then people can choose how to wear it. Like “I wanna wear that to a rave, or skating or playing football” – for me, that’s when the consumer gets to choose, but at least from the marketing and the initial direction I create, people can get the gist of where i’m going. Even if they like it or not, I hope they can appreciate it from a distance.
When can we expect your product to drop?
If all goes to plan, I’d like to do a soft launch in April. There’s an archive of my work alongside footage as well, so I’m looking to make a documentary. With social media, it’s quite hard to put a body of work together online and it be received the way I want it to be. I guess that’s why I hold back a lot. I could put this shoe online and people could take it the wrong way. So, a thirty minute ‘Evolution of Clints’ documentary will allow me to deliver it in a space where people can’t just ‘like’ it and continue scrolling. It’s important to own it. Own your shit. If I can get that done – broadcast it in a cinema, and present it how I want it to be shown, that will be my biggest achievement to date.