I was about 14 when I got my first pair of Red or Dead trainers. I thought they were just about the coolest shoes ever. They were turquoisey-blue with a red ‘r’ on the side.
By that time, the brand would have already been sold off by Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway; I can’t remember the first time I really knew who the couple were, but for more than a decade now they’ve been a bit of an inspiration to me in terms of good design.
This week, in the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow, I got to go and hear Wayne Hemingway speak. Although it’s not directly related to sewing, the way he spoke about design and their career together was something I really wanted to write about.
The pair met after they both moved to London and started up a market stall together in Camden. Customising old clothes and boots, finding vintage treasures through rag sorting warehouses, and with Gerardine designing their own stuff. Her clothes were spotted by a buyer from Macy’s, New York, and suddenly Red or Dead was born.
“We were going to aspire to be a brand who brought great design to the high street,” Wayne explained. They succeeded, with stores in cities across the UK, and their shoes and clothes appearing in Fashion Week. The brand was sold by the Hemingways in 1995, but that didn’t stop them.
Since, they’ve been involved in an dazzling array of projects, from breathing fresh life into heritage brands and seaside towns; to interior design; to founding a museum; to branching into affordable housing after being banned from Swindon for criticising a new housing complex as looking like a prison… and more.
The part which is bringing them to Glasgow is Vintage Festival, which they started a couple of years ago — and which is now coming to the city as part of the Merchant City Festival this July.
Underpinning each of their decisions in this incredible career was, Wayne explains, “a desire to make things better” through good design. Another factor is the fact that they’ve achieved this all together; their experience comes across as a love story as much as anything else.
The talk was great, and it’s made me all the more excited for the festival this summer – there will be gigs, markets, style sessions, workshops and much more. I don’t want to be a fashion designer, but I do want to strive to make the best of anything I create, whether it’s for myself or someone else. One last thing in this inspirational talk:
“As long as you’ve given your all at something, failure doesn’t matter.”