Archive for February, 2014

I was recently asked to do a talk about how we started one of the UK’s most successful spectacles brand Red or Dead as part of an optical industry trade show “100% Optical“. As with most of what we did back in the day with Red or Dead or we do today with HemingwayDesign we didn’t go about creating Red or Dead glasses using traditional methods!


I told the story about how we got started in business in 1981. A story of that fateful day when I spent the rent money that Gerardine and I had saved in the tin on our mantelpiece for the rent on our flat. I spent it on funding rehearsal studio time for the band I sang in, Diversen. Squirreling that cash from that tin was the best thing I have ever done, it prompted Gerardine and I to clear our wardrobes of the clothes she had made and didn’t wear anymore and my excessive collection of second-hand clothes. We took them down to a new section of Camden market that was opening, paid a rent of £6 a day and over the weekend took almost £300. The rent on our flat was only £18 a week. We were quid’s in and raring to return to Camden next week. We spent every spare minute scouring charity shops, jumble sales, rag and shoddy yards (now there’s a story for another day!) for stock and within weeks we had a few stalls and were taking £2000 a weekend. We then started to add used and old stock of Dr Martens into the mix and it wasn’t long before it was £5000 a weekend.


Gerardine opened a stall in the magnificent and sorely missed Kensington Market, took her sewing machine in there, made 8 styles of women’s clothes with fabric bought on Blackburn Market, within a few weeks she had her first wholesale order, a massive one at that, from Macy’s New York! We had to come up with a label, the name we came up with was Red or Dead (now there is another story to tell one day!), my mum set up a manufacturing unit in Blackburn, other family members including Gerardine’s sisters chipped in as seamstresses and we not only delivered the Macy’s order but started to sell all around the world.


We went on to add shoe collections, bag collections, win a designer of the year award at the British Fashion awards for three years on the trot, open 15 or so shops around the world and with an amazing set of offbeat individuals created an iconic brand that still thrives 15 years after we sold it.

In the mid-90s we were approached by Vision Express who were interested in my (as glasses wearer) and Red or Dead’s take on spectacles. Just as we had had no training in fashion (other than years spent dancing in discos or watching bands in clubs, adapting and making our clothes and coming from homes where the whirring of sewing machines was the norm), we had no training in designing eye wear. However, we have always been collectors and had been saving our best second-hand glasses finds and I had relished wearing them. Others we kept in the museum of popular culture artifacts that we co own, The Land of Lost Content. These collections were our education in becoming eye wear designers.


We also found that we had all these weird and wonderful images, adverts, magazine tear sheets, brochures and amazing photographs of models and celebrities wearing eye wear through the decades.We did what we always seem to do, we looked into our own experience, found a rubbish picture of me wearing big specs in a photo booth and this set the scene for our designs and then our marketing. We are pretty sure that no other designer brand of eye wear has ever launched in quite this way.



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Wow – Bam

When Jude Kelly, the artistic director of Southbank Centre asked me to a round table discussion about her idea to add a “brother” festival, Being a Man to the highly successful Women of The World festival, I agreed to attend, but couldn’t for the life of me imagine attending such a festival.


The round table discussion still left me a tad nonplussed. As a heterosexual, happily married, white, content, now privileged father of four, it did seem that the issues being raised by some of the others around the table, those with different backgrounds and lifestyles to me did need raising and discussing, but maybe I wasn’t right to be involved in this festival.

Jude pushed on with instigating Being a Man and asked a few of us, who could be relied on to provide quotes that the press would use, to be the figureheads. I gave this quote:

“I have never really sat back and considered what it’s like to be a man; I have just got on and been one (I think!). Southbank Centre has a wonderful record of posing questions and starting a debate. I haven’t a clue where Being a Man might go, but I am looking forward to the ride.”

In the build up to the event I did a series of interviews including one on Radio 4’s Loose Ends. I highlighting some pretty worrying facts such as;

 Young men account for 70% of Britain’s long-term youth unemployment; women are a third more likely to go to university than men; seven out of 10 murder victims are male; 90% of rough sleepers are men, as is 95% of the prison population. British men are around three times more likely to commit suicide than their female peers; many boys are outperformed by girls at school; and men are far more likely than women to neglect their physical and mental health.

I also developed my views on being a man in the 21st century and in my opinion, for men in my position and with my mentality, being a man has got a damn site easier. Here is a snapshot of my thoughts;

Being an involved Dad with your kids is easier than for previous generations. Its increasingly accepted in society that dads can spend time at home with their kids. Paternity leave et al is a relatively recent thing and continues to evolve.

Being a Dad no longer seems to mean being that scary disciplinarian who reads his paper in the parlor. This dad has been the soft touch whilst mum is the disciplinarian!

For a disco loving man, in my lifetime I have seen it become totally accepted for men to dance on their own and to disco music! (At school, I was considered strange to prefer Chic over Black Sabbath or bleedin’ Genesis).

 For a fashion loving man, they now have a Men’s Fashion Week – The London Collections and a choice of clothes that goes way beyond what our fathers and grandfathers had. 

Apart from the unwanted institutional sexism that still makes it difficult for women in some walks of life (and by nature gives unfair advantage to us men) to my mind, us men have it lucky.

We don’t have to go through the discomfort of pregnancy (and we get all the benefits of the end result). 

We don’t have periods, that pleases me no end.

Physiologically, we have bigger lungs and that helps us to run faster, that matters if you like running like me! 

We can have a wee behind a tree much easier and more discreetly than women and for that I am eternally grateful.

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There is no disputing the fact that there is national housing crisis. For over a decade we have been building at least 100,000 homes less than the UK household growth would indicate we need and a Joseph Roundtree report says that the UK will have a shortage of 1 million homes by 2022.

I have written many times about how the national house builders make all the right noises about wanting to build more homes (“give us a smoother planning process“ etc), but are still, in some cases, making record profits by building far less than they have historically built. This makes for very healthy ROCE (Return on Capital Employed), an easier life for them but has tremendous negative impact on those trying to make a home.

The problem in London is acute and is being inflamed by the continued and growing pull of the city in terms of attracting people from UK regions. The always thought provoking Centre for Cities have just published a report that really does pose questions.

The Centre for Cities says the gap is widening between London and other UK cities. Its report states that a third of 22- to 30-year-old graduates who move, move to London. (A net inflow of 15,000 per year).

There is a net outflow when people are in their 30s but it is to “London’s counties“ Essex, Surrey and Kent: “While these people may no longer live in London, they very much remain within commuting distance, and commuting patterns suggest that some are likely to remain part of the capital’s labor market,” the Centre says.

The report states that London continues to leave other UK cities behind in terms of job creation, creating over 215,000 private-sector jobs from 2010 and 2012, that’s 80% of the total for the whole of the UK. Two public sector jobs were lost outside London for every one of these 215,000 London jobs created.

Whether we think this “brain drain” is damaging to the UK as a whole or that the runaway success of London can benefit the UK as a whole what it is clear that this influx fuels the housing shortage.

In 2012, 7000 new homes were built in London with 5000 going to overseas buyers of which Savills estimate that 50% have been left empty as investments. As well as taking homes away from the thousands who spend their weekends attending viewings of properties and are in competition with up to 200 others considering the same property, it adds to the spiraling prices as many overseas investors are not price sensitive.

Something has to give. I like Labours plans to double the council tax on empty properties but for those overseas “investors” who are looking to place their money (not all of which will have been ethically earned) in a safe haven then this will not be a game changer. One way to start to ensure that new homes are built for people living and working here is to introduce a policy that has long been in use in Australia, whereby any new development can only have a percentage (this has varied from 10% to 50%) sold to non-Australian residents.

With new build only accounting for less than 10 per cent of total transactions in London it doesn’t solve the problem of availability of homes but it does claw back some of the stock.

Add to that a massive programme of council house building, and a 50% tax on all homes bought by non EU investors and we might just start to see a difference and is London’s appeal to the world so fragile that this policy would fatally wound its economy as some would have us believe? Not a chance.


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