Invisible Hand: Hip, Leeds
An interview with Everton Campbell, the man arguably responsible for the bringing streetwear to the UK.
Invisible Hand is our new series on online stores and real life shops. Hip is a store in Leeds, a peculiarly average post-industrial, medium-sized city in northern England. It’s definitely not the sort of place you’d expect to find the UK’s first importer of Supreme, or a store that was selling old-school sportswear alongside labels like Comme des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood, 20 years ago.
Seems like Ben Sherman also think Hip is an amazing place, as they teamed up on the brand’s first stand-alone Plectrum by Ben Sherman store. It’s probably something to do with Hip being the store i-D and Dazed & Confusedalways name-check when, every half-decade or so, they remember that some of their readers live outside London.
Plectrum jumpers are produced in Scotland and their jackets have goose-down linings, real fur trimmings, and horn buttons. Ben Sherman are going back to their roots making high quality, but not totally unaffordable clothes, and aiming them at men who shave at least every other day and have left college, i.e., the same market that every vaguely streetwear label on Earth is chasing, right now. Unlike everyone else, though, they seem to be really working hard at it.
Plectrum is definitely amazing and Hip’s founder Everton Campbell, a kid from Beeston—the same poor neighborhood the 7/7 bombers were from, was just 18 when he founded the store 24 years ago. Plus, journalists are always saying stuff like size? is just a high street chainstore version of Hip, so you should know about it.
VICE: How did a kid growing up in Leeds, 30 years ago, find out about fashion?
Everton Campbell: My brother was in art college and introduced me to punk. I was a huge fan of the Skids and The Clash, then The Specials. So, the tasseled loafers, Crombie jacket, and tonic suit soon followed, even though I was only 13 at the time. I ended up working in a punk shop called X Clothes.
How the hell did you manage to start a shop at 18?
In the 80s there was something called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, where the government paid out a small weekly sum to unemployed people setting up in business. My parents helped out too.
What was the scene like in Leeds back then?
In 1987, Leeds was quite goth and there was also this acid jazz and funk scene. People would listen to stuff like Galliano, Brand New Heavies, and Soul II Soul.
So what where you selling when you first opened the shop?
Hip was making a killing selling labels like Vivienne Westwood and Duffer 20 years ago. We were also the first store to stock either of those labels outside London in the UK. We'd also sell suits by designers like Mark Powell.
Was Hip really that innovative or were there stores in London or New York you were following?
At the end of the eighties we were working closely with the boys from Duffer of St George. We were the only stores sourcing and selling deadstock vintage Nike, Puma States and Clydes, adidas Gazzels and Run DMC Superstars. They all came from a tiny run-down sports shop I found in Harlem in New York. No-one was doing that then. We'd fly out to New York on a Friday night with a toothbrush, stay the Saturday night at a friend's or my cousin's, and fly back on the Sunday night. My cousins knew where I could get deadstock from—malls, outlets, and factories. Obviously nowadays, thanks to the internet, there's no point going to New York to buy trainers anymore.
So were you a hip-hop store?
The Def Jam Public Enemy look wasn't what we were selling, we were more about suits and kipper ties—Westwood, Jean Paul Gaulthier, John Richmond, and Patrick Cox. Around 1990, Hip was also a label. Leeds made its money through textiles and it seemed to make sense to make use of the factories that were still left. David Bowie and Paul Weller wore our suits, but a label costs a lot to run.
Everton with Hiroshi Fujiwara and Michael Koppelman.
How did rave affect you?
That's when people first started to dress-down, wear sneakers—old-school Nikes and deadstock adidas and Puma. The energy then in Leeds and the clubs did bring together a lot of people—black, Asians, and gays. Thanks to clubs like Vague and Back To Basics, Leeds really did have one of the best clubbing scenes in the world and people wanted to be in Leeds. That optimism changed the city. More shops and bars opened, there were less no-go areas, more people came to here to party and study, and more students stayed. That's also when we started to sell a lot of old-school separates, hats and Fila.
How'd the Plectrum by Ben Sherman and Hip hook-up come about?
I've been working with the brand as a consultant. I've known Ben Sherman's creative director since he was working for Diesel back in 1989, so it was more a mutual trust and respect thing and they chose Leeds for their first store on gut feeling, rather than market research, or anything like that. I was also very impressed with their new direction, especially The Plectrum collection.
What are your customers like now? Is it mostly students?
Nah, they're not all students, our customers run from 15 to 60. People are always interested in looking different. If you give them an option, people will buy it. In a bad economy people want timeless and made to last, though the actual price doesn't matter that much. Right now, people are after Ma.Strum, Woolrich Woolen Mills, Plectrum by Ben Sherman, Norse Projects, and Comme des Garçons. Obey and Supreme do well, too, though streetwear as a genre has also grown-up and evolved into chinos, button-down shirts, cardigans, and bow ties.