I’ve always liked Wayne Hemmingway. I like his accent, I love his glasses, and I used to have a serious Red or Dead shoe habit. I’ve seen him on TV a few times and always thought he had an air of successful yet normal about him, which is always good. So when Sarah and I heard that he was coming to do a talk at Bedford College, organized by the Creative Bedford group, we booked tickets immediately, figuring that this was one ‘business trip’ that accountant Tim could fund (we don’t usually make him cough up for our wine bills at other ‘business outings’ to the pub.)
The timing of the evening was perfect too: we had hit a bit of a wall – school holidays meant that our time was suddenly filled with princess and knight games, pretend picnics and squabbles over the best seat on the sofa – and with no real time to commit to developing our range, we were starting to doubt that two people with no design or business qualifications and no money could really create a successful, ethical business. It was as if Wayne had come along like a stylish, bespectacled angel to inspire us.
The minute he started talking (his accent is, if possible, even nicer in real life) about setting up Red or Dead, we were hooked. Wayne and his girlfriend Gerardine set up a stall at Camden Market selling a mixture of second-hand clothing and footwear and clothing that his girlfriend had made herself. They had no design or business qualifications, just an idea of what people might want to buy, and a love of recycling. They also had rent to pay on a flat, and a little financial incentive goes a long way, I find. They grew bit by bit, finding a niche market in second hand Doc Marten boots as well as selling a lot of handmade items. And then they made it big – Gerardine got an order for some dresses from Macy’s. I cannot imagine what would happen if this happened to us. We practically explode with excitement when someone orders a few dresses, let alone a massive order from major fashion royalty! (Sweetly, Wayne said that he and Gerardine had no idea what Macy’s was, and had to be told. That sort of thing just makes me like him more.)
Red or Dead went on to be a major fashion label in its own right, but they never abandoned their principles. The brand became known for environmental awareness, taking a risk by using the Greenpeace flag as a backdrop to their 1995 London Fashion Week show in protest at the nuclear testing going on at the time in France. They were told that it would be a huge mistake – 22% of their market was French, and the French held the key to the crucial Asian markets. But Red or Dead stuck to their principles – and won a 400% increase in sales.
We were by now, a bit star-struck, and after the talk had finished I joined the queue of people who had formed to tell Wayne how brilliant he was/give him their business card. By the time it got to me he was quite obviously itching to go, and was trying to make his way towards the exit when I threw a card at him, and shouted ‘Wayne, we do recycled clothes TOO!!’ He gave me a vague (scared?) smile and told me to email him. Which I will, when the temptation to declare our undying love for him has subsided. But I like to think that it wen better than the last time I ‘chatted’ to a celebrity, which was at a Christmas ball at university when I approached Chesney Hawkes wearing a home-made cardboard and wrapping paper Christmas cracker costume. ‘What the hell (other word actually used) is that meant to be?’ asked Chesney. Dissed, by the tiny man who sings The One and Only. (No longer my favourite song, incidentally…)
Anyway, I cannot explain quite how brilliant this evening was for us. Hearing someone telling us to stick to the principles we believe in, and also that qualifications are not always necessary, was just what we needed. If we are ever one teensy bit as successful as Wayne has been, we will be very happy indeed. It was probably the most inspiring £10 I’ve ever spent (well, Tim’s ever spent.) I would say the best £10 I’ve ever spent, but I once bought a pair of Hawaiian-print flip flops for £10 which turned out to be the most comfy pair of flip flops I’ve ever worn, and I wore them for an entire Summer and most of the (mild!) Autumn too, so that was probably the best £10 I’ve ever spent. I’m sure Wayne would understand.