Hosted by Highsnobiety’s Editor-at-Large Christopher Morency, “On the Record” is a podcast series of intimate, off the cuff conversations with icons and cultural engineers that have shaped the worlds of fashion, music, tech, art, business, sports and youth culture at large. For this episode, Morency spoke with Spanish footballer Héctor Bellerín, star player of Arsenal FC.
We think we know football player Héctor Bellerín, a member of the Spanish national team and right back at London football club Arsenal FC, where he’s known for his attacking style of play. On the field, he’s one of the fastest players in the world, who just last month won his third FA Cup with Arsenal.
But then there is another version of Bellerín. The version off the field, where he is incredibly vocal about environmental issues and has deep ties in fashion. It was recently announced, that Bellerin has invested a significant sum in Forest Green Rovers, a side in the English football pyramid that is best known for being the most environmentally-conscious football clubs in the world. Just last year he walked Louis Vuitton’s men’s show, after being hand selected by Virgil Abloh. He was also instrumental in making LA streetwear brand 424 the exclusive off-field outfitter of Arsenal, a monumental first-of-its-kind partnership. His public persona is in stark contrast to what we are used to from football players. No flashy formulaic persona in sight. Bellerín drives an electric car, he strictly buys vintage, and in his free time is taking a fashion business course. He says that Héctor Bellerín on the field needs to be balanced with Héctor Bellerín off the field for when the day comes when he does retire. And until then, he’ll continue to challenge all of our preconceptions we have of footballers. We called him up.
The below interview is a written version of ‘On the Record’ Season 2, Episode 7. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. The original interview was conducted pre-football season and in the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic.
On Resetting in Lockdown
For me personally, it’s given me loads of time to think and that [isn’t] always a good thing. When you have experiences in your life, whether they’re good or bad, if you’re busy you don't even have time to enjoy them and you don't have time to grieve them. A couple of bad things have happened to me in this time and I didn't have anything to entertain myself with. I live alone, so I didn't have anyone to speak with unless it was through a phone. It gave me a lot of time to kind of, for almost the first time in my life, really think and emotionally look inside and go through the bad times. Always knowing that when these things happen you always come out better and with more experience than what happened before. It's given me the opportunity to kind of get to know me, why these things made me feel the way they made me feel, et cetera. Then from a creative point of view, I’m always more creative when I'm bored. This is the time that ideas come to my mind. Just walking outdoors in the forest, listening to the sounds and appreciating nature, the sun, the clouds, everything, it just puts [everything in] perspective, because all you hear is noise.
On Being Hector Off the Field
We have the psychologist at Arsenal who helps us when you go through bad periods in your football. I remember I was speaking to him and he asked me how I was feeling and it's true that the first few weeks I was doing really well. Now that football has been taken away from me, I can be happy. Why I say this about the psychologist is because when he asked me how I was and I told him how I was feeling, he said, "All the things that people sometimes think that are making you lose focus on football like fashion and photography [actually] are keeping me sane. [Football] is my passion. It's what makes me happy. It's what I've wanted to do all my life. It's all I think about. But outside of that bubble, I have other things that made me happy. When you take football away from me, I can still be Hector.
A lot of players lose their identity when they don't play football, because they miss the dressing room. They miss scoring goals. They miss the rush. They miss playing in front of 50,000 people. If you take that away from them, they have nothing. They have their family, but that's it. I feel lucky that so early in my life I realized that there was way more to that and that actually both things feed each other. When I'm happy here and I'm happy there, everything is perfect. If this doesn't go well, but this does, I can get a bit off balance and it's the other way round.
On Finding Balance On and Off the Pitch
When you're doing well on the football pitch no one cares about what you're doing. But when things don't go well, you're the first person to blame, always. I don't think that way obviously, but I can see why others think that way. Sometimes we think that we need to blame someone. If there's a guy that likes to dress differently and likes all these other things, it must be him. Obviously there are going to be times in the game, where I probably have made mistakes and that's led to losing the game. That's happened to every football player. But it's always easier to find a scapegoat in that person or for example, on the young player. But the tricky situation is when things aren’t going so well and you still have to be you. Because you are you 24/7. I think that the reason why people kind of started to understand me, or maybe appreciate me in a way is because during those hard times I was still being Hector. It was never a stunt. It never put the [designer] clothes on because I just wanted to stand out. No, this is what I like to wear and then people realized that even when I wasn't doing that well, I just kept being me. Some people enjoyed that and some people still don't.
On Society Boxing You In
You see it with Kanye, Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator, who are great in so many ways. Music is always a medium but there’s so much around them. With athletes it’s the same. You express yourself through sport, but there are so many other things about you that people don't know and I think it just helps you to understand yourself, because it's part of the process. When you express yourself creatively, you're growing, you're getting to know yourself, you know what you're good at, what you like, what you feel when you do certain things. It's all part of becoming you. It doesn't matter that that job isn’t who you are. It's just something that you do. It's not who you are. You don't have to be always in that box, like Kanye, always a musician. They gave him the chance to create shoes and clothes, et cetera. Now people are starting to understand his vision. Some people will like it, some people won't, but every time he releases something, it's never like, "I like that." No, it's never like that. It's always like, "What has he done?" Then all of a sudden everyone's wearing it and it’s the new normal. He's the person creating the new normal. If you don't have those kinds of people around, we’ll always be stuck in the same situation.
On Footballers Identifying Not Just as Footballers
It would be so good for the fans to learn [about] how the players really are and who they are outside of football. But also for themselves because I feel like I always try to fit in. I always try to be one more in the team, but then that wasn't me. It's funny how everyone has their opinion about football but then footballers can't have an opinion on something else. I know football players that love cars, I know football players that love stock markets, I know football players that love houses. There are so many things but then so many don't want to talk about it because some of them are scared it’s going to [work] against them.
On Brands He Likes
For the past let's say seven, eight months, I have stopped shopping. I've only shopped from charity shops. I decided to start living a bit more conscious. I really like Noah right now, especially because of the message they have behind it and I really identify with their ethos that says, “Yo, we're not sustainable, but trust me, we're doing everything that we can to be there every single day." I've listened to so many podcasts with Brendon Babenzien. I think the way they’re teaching, especially young people, how to consume, it's really interesting. Then I met up with [Priya] Ahluwalia literally a week before we went into lockdown. Then she sent me some clothes from her last collection and they’re unbelievable. Also Marine Serre, who is someone that does all the stuff from scraps and old fabric. I posted a video on my story not long ago about how they reconstructed old towels and they started making all of these luxury items. This is all the stuff that I'm focusing on right now and as I say, I'm trying... not trying, I'm not shopping and I'm trying to do that in every single thing that I do. [It’s about] realizing that the old is good.
On the Unsustainable Speed of Fashion
This is how we've been educated though, right? Before, being happy was about having a happy family, a happy marriage, being fulfilled at your job. Then all of a sudden, being happy was about owning and buying stuff. Consuming was the new happiness. But now people are realizing that we cannot keep living this way. The pandemic has put a full stop into the way we were living. There are fast fashion companies that are [putting out] one collection a day. It's ridiculous. We cannot go that way. We need to rethink our whole way of living and the logistics of fashion. We need to find a new path that's conscious and a new path for our kids and their kids. To make sure they're not going to be living in this hole that has nothing to offer because we've taken everything away from them.
On His Interest in Sustainability
I grew up near the sea, and I was the kid that left his house at 10:00 o'clock in the morning and went to the beach with my friends and wouldn't come back until 10:00 o'clock at night. I was always in the water. When I wasn't at my grandparents house, I was on my bike in the forest. It's such a big part of who I am, especially the beach. Now, when I go to the beach I sometimes can’t even go into the water because of the amount of garbage that’s in there. You're like, "Yo, this isn’t right. There must be something that I can do in my daily life." The thought that my kids aren’t going to be able to jump in the sea because they're going to be scared of being infected hurts.
With fashion also when I talk about sustainability, I also want to talk about ethics because we always look at the environmental side but we forget about who makes our clothes, how they make them, who is getting paid for it. If you buy a t-shirt for two pound at Primark, there's someone along the road that didn't get paid for that t-shirt. Because that t-shirt is being made in Bangladesh and then it's being sold in London and to get from one place to the other, that still just costs you two pounds. It doesn't make any sense.
On Fashion’s Human Cost
When I started learning about sustainability, both environmentally and what was happening ethically, I didn’t know what was worse. Because now we're talking about humans and we're talking about society. It's crazy [and] because it's so far from us, we don't think about it. Because you go to the shops on the high street, you think there are fairies making these clothes. Right. It's not like that. There's so much behind it, apart from the environmental point of view, and we know very little about this stuff. Since the Rana Plaza disaster a few years ago, which was one of the worst disasters that's happened to the fashion industry in terms of deaths, only then more of this stuff has been published. There's a book that I really recommend, it's called Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas. She made another book called Deluxe, which is about how luxury got to where it is and where it went wrong. [Then] Fashionopolis teaches you to build a relationship with clothes rather than just consuming and actually tells you where your clothes are being made. People need to research this stuff because honestly, if we actually knew what was happening, we would shop way less.
On the Meaning of Luxury Today
What we feel is luxury now isn’t really luxury anymore, because [brands] have found that if they couldn't make money they would have to pivot into other demographics and put different products to people, so they could afford them as well like 50 pounds keychains. But is it really luxury? We feel like we've been sold this thing, but is it really? The same as you say with exclusivity. It's not really exclusive if at the end of the day every cool kid has it. I could wear something exclusive when I go to a vintage store and I see something that I've never seen before and you look cool and really, if people ask me, where did you get this from, I wouldn't be able to tell them. What makes me feel good is when people ask me, "Where'd you get that from?" And my answer is not a big brand and is actually, "Yo, I went to a charity shop and I got this." That person can not even get it and that's what makes it cool.
On Becoming a Fashion Designer
Well, to be fair, when I first started I was so curious about it and I really wanted to do this. I knew how to use a sewing machine because my grandma owned the factory and my mum worked in it, so there were always sewing machines in my house when I was a kid, my sister used to play with them. I used to play with them. It was like, when I wasn't playing football I was in that environment. I know how to make clothes, I mean, not amazing but I know the basics and I know how to use it and I know how to create in that sense. It got to a point that I was like, "Yo, I really want to do this." Me and my mom, when she came over from Barcelona, sat down and we used to go to SoHo, get some fabric, get home and I would say, "Look, I like how these pants fit me but I don't really like the pattern." We looked for a pattern for the fabric and then we'd kind of try to make a very similar trouser in the way that fit and we made some fire stuff. I wore a pair in the Mundial in Sevilla. I have this golden trousers that I made with my mom, I mean, it's sick. So it's a process that I really enjoy, but I realize that this is, for example, not something I can do while I'm playing football, because if I do something I don't want to do a lighthearted, man. If I'm doing something I want to put my 100% in it.
On Collaborating with 424
I’ve found a lot of joy in collaborating. For example, the process of making the 424 x Arsenal was amazing, man. Because I love Guillermo [Andrade] as well, we're such good friends. Shout out to Guillermo. That process to me was so cool because he's someone that loves football and he made his way to the top profession and I'm kind of the other way around. We kind of collided at the top and were able to create this, in my opinion, culture shifting thing. We now have a streetwear brand sponsor Arsenal, not Arsenal's men's only but Arsenal women's and to me it was just crazy how the whole thing happened. You needed the input of both people to be able to create this thing, so it was like having a baby. I don't have the time to design myself, but for me there's nothing better than being able to connect with someone in something that you both appreciate and having a product that none of us would be able to make by ourselves.