STEPNEY WORKERS CLUB
We visit the East London studio of Stepney Workers Club to find out how their approach goes against the grain of contemporary sneaker design, and to hear the story behind their Dellow sneaker...
Roger Pereira (Head of Design) - RP
Simon See (Brand Manager) - SS
Alec McLeish (Campaign Photographer) - AM
You're in your second season now. For those that don't know you, how did SWC come about?
SS: Well I think everyone thinks there's a gap somewhere, don't they? Everyone has their idea of the perfect t-shirt or bag or cap, or whatever it may be. And I think we thought there was a gap in the vulcanised market... I think there was a weird little gap there somewhere.
RP: We just weren't feeling it, were we? We thought there should be something more or something else and maybe it was driven by, you know, that idea of making your perfect pair or something. A bit of a reaction, maybe, to constant sneaker drops and hype, and wanting to make something a bit timeless and a bit mono and simple, but with wide appeal.
Can you tell us a bit about the idea underpinning the brand? You say you’re inspired by the inclusive culture of traditional Workers Sports Clubs…
SS: We actually had a link to the original Stepney Workers Sports Club which was an anti-fascist, anti-war sports group born in Stepney, East London. One of the owners, his grandfather was part of that group. Then, there was an archive shoe which we had in the business which we looked at, and it just had something really interesting about it…
RP: I think we found this super nice image from 1936 where, I don't know if it was at one of the Workers Club sports events, but it had this really nice slogan on it which was 'freedom of sport, freedom of thought', and I think something just clicked in us. We were looking for something with a bit of background to it, and I think what we liked was that sort of slightly liberal undertone. Those thoughts and values seemed quite relevant again.
Stamped cards bearing the brand's motto 'Freedom of Sport, Freedom of Thought'.
The brand's Dellow hairy suede sneaker in Bordeaux red.
What was the shoe you found in your archives?
RP: It was an old '50s/'60s shoe. If you pick up a vulc nowadays from a big brand, you see that it's not made in the same way. It had a different feel when you wore it and it felt different when you picked it up, so I think that started a bit of a conversation between us as to whether we could make a shoe with a bit of a nod to these old manufacturing processes. It was an old American brand. Doing a bit of digging around, we think it was from a vulcanized factory that would make military footwear and then to supplement things they must have made gym shoes for their internal US market.
SS: It was literally an unbranded, random ‘Made in the USA’ gym shoe. And it wasn't necessarily the proportions of it, it was the construction and the other elements which we then took, updated and exaggerated, and that's how our Dellow sneaker came about. It was a bit of a struggle getting it made initially because there are certain vulcanized factories, but they would tell you they ‘don't make shoes like that’ anymore.
That’s interesting, in a way it ties in with the timelessness and authenticity of the Workers Clubs you were inspired by…
RP: Yeah, we thought there was a timelessness to that, we liked the unity and the all-inclusiveness, the fact everyone was welcome, and with our products, we wanted to reflect that and make something that was really accessible to all.
SS: We wanted to price it authentically so that all walks of life can go and buy a pair. It can be really naturally and organically picked up by different sorts of people. We started getting pictures of lads skating in California wearing the shoes and stuff, so it’s come full circle, hasn’t it! I think the unisex thing was important as well, in terms of inclusiveness and unity. We just wanted to make a product that would fit on a guy or girl’s feet, in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s, and just look relevant and timeless.
A selection of sports trophies on display in the Stepney Workers Club studio.
Old Speedway magazines referenced for the brand's latest campaign, shot by Alec McLeish.
Your first campaign was shot in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and you recently shot a second. How did you approach these?
AM: I think we tend to just… well, how I perceive it is that we have an idea and then over the course of a couple of months, get really, really excited about it and throw all sorts of things this way and that at it, until finally, we go 'Nah, that’s rubbish, let’s do something else instead'. Rather than planning it and thinking, ‘it’s got to be like this, shot in this way’ we just do what we like. I guess we don’t tend to go for model agencies and things like that, and what’s important is finding people that seem actually like into the idea at the time. For instance, for the latest shoot, Jay and Kasper were really up for going to a racetrack. We went down, we camped, went to the like, ‘hoedown’ in the evening, and we were genuinely into it as opposed to being people who were just turning up, ‘get me a coffee, where’s my money, see you later’. It’s much better when people are actually excited.
Images and slides from the brand's latest campaign, shot by Alec McLeish at Santa Pod racetrack, Wellingborough.
Where was it shot?
SS: The track is called Santa Pod and it’s near Wellingborough, near Northampton. I’ve been going there since I was a kid and it’s essentially American drag racing. It’s not a polished racetrack, and it’s about as far removed from Formula 1 as you can get. It’s literally a quarter-mile strip, dragsters, hotrods, and a load of proper locals and hillbillies. Everyone’s just standing around watching American muscle cars go down the quarter-mile.
RP: It does have a super-friendly family vibe as well. It’s not intimidating at all, it’s just a good laugh. People were really warm and open about it actually, we wanted to take photos with them or their cars and they were interested in what we do.
SS: Everyone’s just super sound up there, in the pits or the cars, everything. It’s all open, you can just walk around and chat with people or just sit on their cars and do whatever, can’t you? My dad goes all the time because he collects American cars. Everyone was saying it’s such a buzz up there; when we were documenting Jay and Kasper, it was like watching two excited kids.
Flyers bearing the brand's motto 'Freedom of Sport, Freedom of Thought'.
Finally, what do you have coming up next?
SS: What’s quite important for us is that we don’t want to do too many silhouettes. We want to keep it hi, low, and there’s something else coming. We’re going to have a third pattern, and then we want to keep it at that, really. It’s funny, maybe certain retailers would be asking ‘when are you going to do a dad sneaker’, but that’s not what the brand is about. It’s about trying to create a timeless classic that doesn’t age.