A new label specialising in gangsta style clobber has launched in the UK. Marian Buckley talks to the chief designer and visionary of Hawkesbay, Marc Rogoff.
Hawkesbay has already hoodwinked the fashion press into believing its US gangsta style clobber is actually designed by members of LA Latino street gangs. In truth, the creative talent behind the label is a 38 year-old South African. Marc Rogoff believes that clothing is a crucial weapon against global gang violence.
Rogoff's interest in gang culture started in South Africa where he ran two successful design labels. After overcoming his own drug problem, he started counselling ex-gang members. In LA, Rogoff was fascinated to discover "the gang culture there is so similar to South Africa - the slang, the clothes, everything I came across with the gangs in Compton was similar what I'd come across in Capetown."
The escalating violence in South Africa led Rogoff to move to the UK, "I went to school here so I knew what to expect," he explains. "I would like to go back to South Africa eventually but right now it's not a good place to be. I got attacked once with a knife and once with a gun." After approaching US manufacturing company Hawkesbay, Rogoff managed to convince them to back his idea for an urban utility jeanswear brand. He toured LA with his designs "based on the outlook of the gang members" gathering feedback and research. Meeting talented graffiti artists in Compton has led the designer to plan a range of graffiti art T-shirts.
Hawkesbay's first collection features denims, vests (including the airtex 'wifebeater' vest à la Homer Simpson), bowling shirts, check shirts, hoodys and baseball caps. The response from fashion buyers, the press and the public has been incredible. "Although it's designed here and sold only in Europe, there's a lot of interest from the US. Bloomingdales want to stock us and it looks like we'll be expanding into the US soon."
Many garments in the collection feature red and blue. "This is a symbolic gesture towards unity" he explains referring to LA's biggest rival gangs the Bloods (red) and the Crips (blue). Hawkesbay is working with homeless campaigner Ted Hayes and hopes to sponsor a cricket tour in the UK next Easter by former gang members.
In the future Rogoff hopes some profits will go directly to funding initiatives (including Ted Hayes' Dome Village) to help get kids out of gangs and back into their communities. "As long as I am involved with Hawkesbay, there will be an ethos to the label. I believe you can marry business with improving the lives of others. It isn't easy but it can be done."
Hawkesbay clothing costs £18-60 and is available from independent fashion shops throughout the UK. Telephone 0800 389 8666 for your nearest stockist.