Sefton Speaks: Stepney Worker's Club

It all started with a shoe…as told to Sefton by Simon & Roger

We had a shoe in our archive that came into our hands and it just created an excitement in our heads with design perspective even though it's super simple. I think it was because there wasn't anything special about it, but something really authentic.

It was this old 60s, made in America, vulcanized shoe but it was done in a way that to us, seemed more authentic. It was still deconstructed with a cushioned sole but a bit chunkier than any of the big name vulcanized shoes. There wasn't anyone kind of making shoes with that authentic, original nod.

The sneaker world's become more about exclusivity and hype and we just stopped keeping up with what the latest drops were. We got fed up with the saturated nature of it and it started to feel a bit emotionless. Instead of competing against each other we just wanted to create something simple and timeless. We always had this idea of a unisex trainer that if you put on someone's feet in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s would always look relevant. That's really what we set out to make amongst all the noise.

The trainer world is extremely complicated, it's messy, it's changing every five minutes, you know? We went into it with a calm and quiet confidence that there was a weird gap in the vulcanized market.

Do you have any idea where the shoe came from, how it was found?

It was in a New York vintage dealership and it just had these really interesting construction methods. I mean, again, it's not necessarily that we found something completely amazingly unique. I think it was a mixture of, yes, it had old school vulcanized shoe-making techniques, which were interesting, but I think the shoe itself just sparked off an idea.

It wasn't a case of, “we found this shoe and oh my God, we have to recreate it!” It was more about creating something that looked, felt and was made in an authentic way. Then we found out we had links to the original Stepney Workers Sports Club, one of the owners grandfather’s was a member. When we looked into it, we really resonated with these little community institutions that were heavily involved in sports. What we were attracted to was the free thinking, liberal approach to everything. There were political undertones, there was a bit of activism but they were very peaceful protests. In a way, things that sort of feel relevant again today. The original Stepney Workers Sports Club was quite forward thinking, we found this image from the 30s of a banner they'd made protesting the fascism that was going on in Europe. That’s actually where we got out slogan from; “Freedom of Sport, Freedom of Thought,” which was on this old handmade banner in the picture. That message resonated with our own personal thoughts on how the world is changing.

Then there was a magic moment where it all just kind of came together. Stepney Workers Club, the shoe, and the message that we wanted to push all clicked.. We started a SWC whatsapp group and we were back and forth on logos and the ideas and then it happened so quickly and we sat there one day and just essentially designed it all and the collection came out.

Then the hard work started, with how the hell do we get this shoe made? A lot of shoe-making today is people going to factory finding a sole, sticking an upper on it and ‘Bob’s your uncle,’ you’ve got a brand. For a lot of companies it’s like making shoes by numbers, it’s a case of getting off the shelf components and putting branding on. We want to educate people on what vulcanized footwear actually is.

It’s not quite as easy as just approaching a factory to make it for you. Especially with SWC, we needed our shoes made to really exact specifications. We want to make shoes in a more authentic way that other brands left behind in the 80s. It was actually very challenging to make happen, we had to have a few convincing conversations to find a factory that was willing to take it on.

There’s quite a clear vision and creative direction for the brand. Now we’ve got set themes that we visit with our campaigns. We work with a photographer, Alec McCleish and we have a super tight creative process with him. We don’t want our campaigns to look like generic footwear shoots, we want to take something that we're inspired by and that fits into our brand and documenting it in our way.

What do you think is essential when designing Unisex shoe? 

I think it’s a timeless, genreless approach to design, something that could be from anytime over the last eight decades and still be relevant on someone's feet. We’re also super inspired by subcultures and always try to imagine would our shoes work on indie kids, skaters, surfers, suits, punks, metal kids, hip hoppers etc. I think that's always in the back of our mind. We’re very conscious not to push something too feminine or pushing more toward a feminine market. We like maintaining an accessible Unisex brand story.

Our collections aren’t difficult to wear, colourways tend to be blacks, ecrus, greys and natural, earthy tones. I think our approach to colorways and materials really keeps our audience in mind and doesn’t go too far one way or the other. The main concept was a footwear brand that can be worn by different groups of people and never look out of place. This is where price point is quite key for us. The prices needed to be true to what canvas and vulcanized shoes cost. We wanted S.W.C to be a brand that was really accessible and that's where we placed ourselves. The price sits in line as well with Stepney Workers Sports Club. It wouldn’t have made sense for us to put out a luxury price on a shoe inspired by something with very working class roots.

Interestingly, the vulcanized shoe seems to be a style that does kind of transcend age and subculture, from skaters to high fashion. What do you think it is about the vulcanized shoe that makes it so wearable for everyone and anyone?

That's a good question. I think it's the simplicity of it in a way. It's jus, a really simple shoe. It's the first sport shoe and it's been consistent in style. It's been around a long time and it's easy to wear with so many different looks.They work with everything. It's always been accessible and an easy price point to buy a sports shoe.

You guys have got the Dellow, the high and the low at the moment, do you see expansion for additional styles?

We’ve got the slip-on coming, it’s nice and weighty. It's constructed so its quite chunky and heavy in the sole but super cushioned on the foot when you wear it. The upper is still deconstructed and soft so it’s a really comfy shoe. Our styles are basically wardrobe essentials.

 I see it as quite an old school approach to sneakers and it's very much design over hype, which is a massive factor for much of the sneaker world today. Do you see collaborations as an in-road to the more hype aspect of trainers or is it still very much design focused collaborations that have come quite naturally?

What has happened collaboratively has been natural, there’s this kind of weird pressure out there now that you have to collaborate. They can be brilliant and they can be a coming together of minds with an outcome of something super special but for us, it has to make sense for the S.W.C brand. We've had some pretty big characters approach us and it’s been really flattering and our initial thought was “Wow, this could be exciting,” but then we stepped back, thought this is not right, it doesn’t make sense and so there's no need. That being said, we do have some other projects in the pipeline that we’re excited about.

We’re very excited about the upcoming Brain Dead Collab, can you tell me a little more about it?

That came about really naturally. Someone we know has worked with them for years and suggested a conversation. We sent them a couple of pairs of shoes and they were really into them and after a few emails, we all agreed let’s do something.

We had a fabric in mind that we wanted to use and luckily, everybody was really into it. The shoe is quite muted and a big departure from what Brain Dead usually output. It's a boucle so quite an unusual fabric choice which you don’t see used on shoes that often. Texture was super important because it features in what we do. With the collab, it worked as something that was more about texture rather than being the heavy graphics that Brain Dead are known for

What's your favorite shoe from the current 2019 collection?

We've launched the trophy line which is a tier up for the brand. It’s meant to house any collaborative pieces and any special make-ups. We've done some pony hair pieces which I'm extremely excited about. And especially obviously the slip on, I've been wearing those hard now for three months!