Seven Sisters Road in North London is not a fashion destination — or at least it wasn’t before SportsBanger. It’s one of the evenings of London Fashion Week, and although SportsBanger debut fashion show is definitely not on the official schedule, the shop is packed and buzzing.
Green lasers are piercing purple smoke to pulsing rave tunes. The audience is shouting and cheering. Rapper Novelist walks down the runway in a shiny back coat tailored from repurposed inflatable lilos. There is fierce voguing, and there is a man in a hazmat suit carrying a giant ecstasy pill. Artist Jeremy Deller is filming the whole thing on his phone. It feels like a loud and crazy vortex where British rave culture, DIY spirit, sportswear, and bootleg all mixed together.
Over the last six years, Jonny Banger has acquired a reputation of London’s number one political bootlegger. His debut was FREE TULISA T-shirt (a commentary on Tulisa Contostavlos’ trial and subsequent tabloid scapegoating the British celebrity endured). It was followed by a series of designs with an upside down Reebok logo (“Skepta wore it in Miami with the A$AP lot, and everyone went mad for it”), an NHS Nike T-shirt in support of Junior doctors, and a Ralph Lauren pastiche which took the piss of Margaret Thatcher.
Last year SportsBanger launched a fully legit collaboration with Slazenger which included tracksuits, inflatable lilos, towels, and trainers with 5-pound notes and 10-pound notes printed on the soles. (“I still can't believe we got permission from the Bank of England for these trainers, to step on the Queen's face”). Since the early works, it was apparent that Banger is able to speak about current British culture in a sharp and relevant way.
“People think that if you’re going to do a fashion show, you have to do it at this time and this place, but there are no fucking rules, just do what you want”, Banger says. “Put your heart and passion into it. Drag everyone down to your level.”
Putting on a fashion show the SportsBanger way is about doing it your own way — but also working with what you have, very much in line with the timely agenda of fashion sustainability. Most of the pieces on the runway were made from the leftovers of Slazenger Banger collab together with Banger’s neighbour Tottenham Textiles: hats and tracksuits made from towels, sock balaclavas, the hazmat suit sewn together from shopping bags. Designer Ancuta Sarca, who met Banger at one of the raves he organised, tailored tracksuits, bombers and coats from cut up Slazenger Banger lilos. On the catwalk, there were all Banger’s friends: a spectacular bunch of characters including MC Novelist, designer Meme Gold and Elle Miyake Mugler who runs London’s main Vogue Ball.
For Banger, much like his crew, music is crucial. “Everything I do is informed by sound. I’ve been doing raves for as far as I can remember. This summer I’m also starting my own label called HERAS, like the fence. The music sounds the same as the fence looks like: hard, obnoxious, industrial, but a design classic”, he says. “Clothes, raves and music are all part of the same thing. Clothes mean nothing without the music. I don’t really understand how for hype kids clothes is their main thing, brands like Supreme and Palace. But it’s just clothes, where’s the thing behind it?”
The notion of exclusivity and limited supply which are key to today’s streetwear culture are also not for him. “It’s all about "are you cool enough” and “do you have enough money”. But that’s fucking bollocks. Everyone’s invited. The poor, rich and famous. It’s like at the Mega rave I put on: you’ve got fashion kids, rude boys, artists, old people and young people of all walks of life, and the vibe is fucking electric”.
SportsBanger studio and shop is located on Seven Sisters Road, a typical London street with a car wash, a railway bridge, some residential buildings and corner shops. Banger’s work is very much part of the community here: he collaborates with Tottenham Textiles next door, and occasionally gives work to local teenagers. Outside, I see a guy walking past wearing a black SportsBanger sweatshirt. As we talk, someone wanders in from outside enquiring about Nike NHS T-shirts.
“People interpreted this T-shirt as a comment on commercialisation and privatisation of the NHS. But I just thought the N looked like Nike, and the NHS is good, so I just did that,” Banger says. “People who are going to be using NHS and working in the NHS is the youth, but none of our peer group talk about it, and I wanted to start this conversation”.
The National Health Service Nike pieces were the only bootleg which actually got Banger in trouble. “Through everything I’ve done no one really piped up, because it has been good for a few other brands. But the NHS logo is the UK registered trademark, so the government identity protection went after me. I was effectively getting shut down by Jeremy Hunt for a T-shirt I made in support of junior doctors”.
Does he think of his work as political? “Not really. I say what I see, or talk about things which piss me off. Looking back, raves and politics have always been arch nemesis”.
However, in the current landscape of post-Brexit London, SportsBanger message is bigger than a slogan T-shirt, and his bootlegs have a deeper meaning than luxury hacking. Banger proves that fashion can be about community. Everyone is invited, and everyone can be part of making today’s culture — and it is the message we need in the UK today.
“It’s about encouraging people”, Banger says. “All you need is mates. Get together. Use what you got, start where you’re at, and do what you can”.