“Being a Londoner, whether you’re from a football household or not, if you want to have any friends in school you need to pick your team and align your loyalties from early on.”
You have sports management background Jordan and Hamish, you have music background. How did you two first meet? (Hamish Stephenson) Do you want the long or the short story? (Laugh) It’s been quite a journey to this point. (Jordan Wise) Hamish and I knew of each other for years, with many mutual friends. Though both from different backgrounds and experiences, with him more so behind the lense of camera in a studio and mine either in a football stadium, boardroom or a nightclub, we recognised pretty early on that we shared a deep passion for sports and film and would often find ourselves discussing why someone’s inspirational story hadn’t yet been properly told in the capacity we felt it could have, be it a footballer, a basketball player, boxer or otherwise.
How did GAFFER start?
(JW) There’s an email we bring up from time to time and laugh about, which is me reaching out to Hamish and selling him the dream of my intent to film more engaging content with football players I knew. Having a few hours to spend with them to produce something more creatively expansive, than the fifteen minutes he might normally have been accustomed to in a dull brand activation, carried some allure too. Although it was called something different at the time, this was the very beginning of the journey. Two years later and prohibited by our own naivety to budgeting appropriately and with the cost of productions being way too expensive, we actually only managed to produce six short films. When you have two perfectionists, who are extremely protective over their work and will spend hours getting it to where they want it to be, before releasing it out into the digital landscape didn’t help either. We were pretty f**king annoyed to see one video duplicated by a major sportswear brand but this would be a catalyst moment and really put a fire our bellies to assess what and how we were doing things. We met up at my apartment, took all the videos off YouTube, and brainstormed for solutions around not being able to build an audience fast enough, or have a business model that was sustainable. Film is our passion, but six videos in two years wasn’t going to achieve anything and neither was one evening eating half a packet of biscuits either. In hindsight, as painful as it was to see one of our works ripped and repackaged, it was further confirmation that we knew we had the capacity to create things ahead of their time and way more cultural relevant to our generation. We didn’t find all the answers that evening but a plan would develop a week later. Having just returned from job photographing abroad for a sports publication, Hamish felt we could do the same. That lightbulb moment saw us pause our plans for video and turn our attention to photography. We still absolutely believed that we could apply our aesthetic vision to the concepts in still life. Less expensive to produce, we could shoot all the talent within our network at his dad’s gallery in Hackney. We came up with a new name, GAFFER, and from mid-August 2018, right up until a few days before Christmas that year, we didn’t stop and shot anyone we liked and could. Be it players or artists, we kept saying ‘yes’ if they were available. In total, twenty-eight artists & footballers passed through the studio doors during those months. We finally had momentum and did not want to stop. We spent much of December designing and curating the magazine spreads with help from Matt and Ben, (now our Art & Design Directors), enough Nando’s takeaways to feed a small army and a handful of 5am finishes, right up until our twice delayed deadline. The mammoth first issue of GAFFER was sent to the printers in January, and released in early February 2019. Issue One, embossed and titled ‘England’s Finest.’
“I genuinely believe the club you choose to support growing up shapes your character and prepares you for life.”
You are both from London. I can only imagine how big football culture is there. What is football to you? (JW) I mean, being a Londoner, whether you’re from a football household or not, if you want to have any friends in school you need to pick your team and align your loyalties from early on. Friendships can be made or broken from very young, and really strong rivalries exist between the big London clubs in particular, with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace even, and quite often your circle of friends can come from the sense of belonging and supporting the same club. Sharing in the wins, the losses, pain and glory is everything you talk about. So, when asked what is football to you? It’s very much in your DNA. From the classroom to the playground, at the dinner table and work office later in life, it never leaves you. The culture is so ingrained in your every-day sub-conscious, that I genuinely believe the club you choose to support growing up shapes your character and prepares you for life. The adversity and the triumphs make you who you are. So much so, I’m convinced you can often tell who supports who, just from their personality traits. I might offend a few people here and I actually probably want to, but if I meet someone born in the late eighties or early nineties and they have an air of self-entitlement or arrogance about them, then I know they’re Arsenal. And yes, I am a Tottenham fan. (Hamish, for the record, is an Arsenal fan.)
How do athletes in Europe compare to those in the US, in terms of public perceptions around their personal and social life? And how is GAFFER disrupting this norm?
(HS) It’s a really good question and something that Jordan & I speak about quite consistently, for us having both grown up watching American sports like the NBA and NFL. For me personally, I went to an American School in London, so was naturally very immersed in American culture growing up. I think for us I love that if you’re a basketball or American football fan then just the amount of content that you have access to both inside and outside the clubs/franchises is just incredible. Where within Europe and the UK, the local broadcasters and rights holders are completely out of touch with their audiences, everything feels very sterile, everything is very restricted, and even the players themselves I would say have fallen accustomed to behaving like robots. For us, the entire approach of GAFFER and our mentality from day one really has always been let’s give football players within the UK an opportunity to express themselves, be who they are and talk about their interests outside of football, off the pitch. That’s’ really how we aim to disrupt the norm and the media landscape of football within the UK.
(JW) To add to Hamish’s comments, I think in America, it’s very much business as usual to see an NBA and NFL superstar in the front row of a fashion show or just generally enjoying themselves at a party, be it with famous friends until the early hours without a backlash. Meanwhile in the UK, the media just aren’t quite wired that way. If you’re a professional athlete and you’re doing anything other than living a pretty introvert life, then unfortunately you are vulnerable to being negatively spun in the press. There’s very little room for expression without somebody raising an eyebrow or forming a gloom-ridden opinion about you and trying to turn it to something newsworthy. It’s sad to see but exactly the reason we’re trying so hard to empower this generation, to encourage them and ultimately provide a platform that celebrates expression and their individuality. If you’re scoring goals for your team on a Saturday then that’s great. If you want to go for dinner with friends until late, go to a theme park, create your own fashion label, or whisky brand, then that’s awesome too, and both success and entrepreneurship should be championed, it certainly shouldn’t be perceived as anything other than somebody trying to maximise their potential in life, explore their passions. We all have our vices, we’re all human and athletes are absolutely no different from the rest of us.
You have high standard content. It has the look and feel of fashion shoot but also touch of sport spirit. How do you find the perfect balance between them?
(HS) Thank you! I think first and foremost we always aim to create content that we feel will resonate with our community who crave a real convergence of culture and are absolutely united by a thirst for authenticity and creativity. For us, that predominately sits across the pillars of football, fashion and music, three things that we’re interested in and have a passion for. We always say, ‘we know the audience, because we are the audience’ and by having 100% control of the output, we can apply our ‘GAFFER DNA’ and make it super premium without sacrificing anything at all. Ultimately, our content has integrity and people respect the fact we produce it with those principles in mind. It’s the very same reason why we refuse to put adverts in our print publication because our generation hate being sold to, we hate being sold to and feel it devalues our message. We want people to look at the body of our work, be it on socials, digital or print and on visuals alone, immediately recognise who and what we represent. Whether that’s fashion with a touch of sport or music with a touch of culture, more than anything it needs to have a well curated aesthetic and be shining a light on an untold story or opinion that encourages a feeling of empowerment and carries a message that can inspire our audience. We’re definitely never frightened to experiment in order to achieve this either. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that we often go out of our way to be disruptive, especially if someone implies we can’t do something, that will be all the motivation we need to not only do it, but we’ll go out of our way to create something that makes so much noise they hopefully can’t miss us.
“There definitely seems to be a concerted effort from all brands in the sports realm to amplify personality and the cohesion between talent and lifestyle.”
Please share your experience of recent project with England national team x Nike. (HS) It was a special project to be a part of. Although we’re not allowed to speak about it in any detail, in a much broader sense there definitely seems to be a concerted effort from all brands in the sports realm to amplify personality and the cohesion between talent and lifestyle. I’d like to believe whether onGAFFERor produced by FALSE 9(our agency) that we’re really at our best creating work which appeals to those who are helping move culture forward.
Many football clubs are repositioning their club as a global brand in recent years. Arsenal x 424 on Fairfax and Paris Saint-Germain x Jordan are some of the great examples. What’s your take on this? (JW) Having directly been involved in producing the photoshoot for the collaboration between Arsenal FC and LA based brand 424, it would be an obvious favourite. Trying to find the right balance in helping to deliver Guillermo’s (Co-founder of 424) vision and have it feel both culturally authentic and yet still be appealing to Arsenal’s broad and global audience was a challenge, but something we were really excited for. To see it come to life was rewarding, especially when the reaction was so positive, not just from their own fan base but also appreciated from their rivals. The Jordan x PSG stuff is awesome too, for me that was a defining moment. Given how quintessentially ingrained in sneaker culture the Jordan brand is globally and with Paris an epicentre for fashion and style, that felt like a major shift for PSG in the football landscape and their brand has been elevated immeasurably. This couldn’t be more evident with the likes of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Rhianna wearing PSG shirts last year, and I just don’t think that happens without the Jordan badge on it. Football is still so far behind the music industry though, where the former has a much stronger emphasis on brand positioning. For years, football clubs have remained archaic in their approach to commercial partnerships and have focussed on licensing their product and exploiting literally any sector to bring in revenues from anyone and everyone with their cheque books out. They have placed far less importance on quality control. The lack of recognition towards ‘cultural capital’ and how to make their brand cool and more appealing to a younger demographic who are ultimately the lifeblood of their club’s future is pretty damn sad. Positioning the club’s brand to represent more than just a football team will see its off field-value worth so much more in our opinion. If you can create a new fan overnight, simply because your kit is credible or the type of content you’re creating is respected amongst the culture, then that will convert into more sales, a far better selection of potential partners and much bigger wins financially. Not to mention it adds to the club’s identity in an otherwise crowded and monotonous field.
Most memorable moments while building GAFFER?
(JW) Without a doubt, definitely our first GAFFER party. It was a pretty last-minute call to throw a launch party but with just one week’s notice, we made the commitment and it was happening. We booked out TRAMP on Jermyn St, which is a renowned boujis venue, with a famous party basement of bacchanalia and a proper reputation for housing the elite from Prince Harry to Kate Moss. We thought it would be pretty funny to turn try turning the venue on its head and bring a more alien crowd than they were typically used to in the establishment. And with that, I guess we’re always thinking about ways in which we can add to ‘the experience’, fusing the pillars that we embody of Football, Fashion, Music & Culture. So, we invited the who’s who from our diverse and influential network. Familiar faces who featured in the issue came, artists from the UK’s music scene, some of the most exciting young talent from the football world, photographers, directors, stylists that we work with, influencers from the fashion scene, all our friends, many of whom had never been inside the venue either. We had five DJ’s play back to back sets, drinks were free all-night courtesy of a sponsor (shout out to Hennessy) and such was the vibe that even one of the artists ended up performing on stage live. We sent out 700 invitations out and had a super strict RSVP because w were conscious of the level of high profile guests we thought and hoped might come. Given it was a cold Wednesday night in February, in London, we really didn’t have very high expectations and thought if a hundred people attended that would have been a success, so to have seen four hundred people roll through in a 300-person capacity venue was an absolute madness. Looking out on to a dance floor with that kind of crowd, shoulder to shoulder dancing in what could easily have passed as being Prince Charles’ front living room, with polished oak walls and a chandelier over the dance floor was quite a moment. The energy was insane, and really the culmination of the evening only further confirmed to us, by harnessing these worlds, bringing sport, entertainment and culture under one roof, that really is what GAFFER represents. We’ve of course thrown a few more parties since then, they get bigger, wilder and I’d say the biggest challenge we tend to have now is finding different and new venues that can provide something alluring and yet house so many people in one place.
Most memorable players you have worked with?
(HS) Neymar, for sure. We always said at the start, when we end up working with Ronaldo, Messi or Neymar that would be a landmark moment. It was. Spending an hour with him, away from his entourage in the back of a Winnebago at a rundown tennis club on the outskirts of Paris talking all things football and Brazil, was pretty cool. Capturing the moment on a Polaroid and having him sign it was a bonus. We have it on the wall in our office and bringing that one home felt like a trophy win for the team. We all share the glory.
What are some of the improvements do you reckon we would need, in order to make women’s football team equivalent to men’s team?
(JW) I like this question. We’re so happy to see women’s football making big strides in recent years. Of course, there’s still so much that needs to be done to strengthen the foundations, before you can see real growth in the upper echelons of the game. This is especially the case at grassroots level, where there simply needs to be more local female teams, better coaches and facilities that allow for a ten year old girl who loves football to see her passion cultivated, her skills developed and hopefully on the world stage in a professional capacity later. At the right time, all sports benefit immensely from a generational talent that elevates the entire landscape of the game too. We’ve all seen it, the ‘Michael Jordan effect’ or Tiger Woods, these absolute superstars who are so talented that they can transcend the sport and elevate it to new heights. That’s what the women’s game needs and I have no doubt that it will happen. How amazing to think that right now, there’s a young girl out there somewhere in the world who has the ability to one day be that person and inspire millions more young girls to take up the sport. Who knows maybe we even see her at the next Olympics in Tokyo.