Heart on our sleeves, well chest actually
‘All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football’.
Back in 1994 me and a designer mate Hugh Tisdale decided to slap Albert Camus’ words on a T-shirt as a Christmas present for a handful of friends. Nothing so unusual in that but the neat idea of adding Camus as squad name and the number ‘1’ on the back (Albert was of course Algeria’s goalie as well as existential novelist) instantly marked the shirts out as a tad different. Over the following year we added Shankly, Baudrillard, Blanchflower and Bob Marley to our line up and coined the idea of Philosophy Football, styling ourselves ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’.
What had started as presents for friends gradually transformed itself into a thriving business. We’d both come from a political activist background so this was a somewhat challenging change of direction. Could we pull it off without sacrificing our principles? All of a sudden we were responsible for our own livelihoods, those who worked for us, and suppliers too. We ensured our shirts weren’t produced in anything resembling sweatshops, working with the campaign Labour Behind the Label to check the factories out. Our printers are all local, small outfits who we get to know and ensure there are no dodgy labour practices. All of our own staff are paid above the minimum wage and receive holiday entitlements well in excess of the statutory. When customers query why our postage and packing prices are a little steep we explain that cutting these prices means cutting wages and conditions, cheapness always has its costs. No company car, we prefer a bicycle and public transport. And we actively oppose the privatisation of the Royal Mail too, a move that would give big discounts to corporate users and nothing at all to outfits like ours.
But perhaps the biggest challenge to our principles came with the Iraq War. As the campaign grew we thought we could offer something. We produced T-shirts and raised over £5000 for Stop the War, both nationally and for hard-pressed local groups too. We lost the odd customer over this but most stuck with us, especially as we patiently explained that in the same way we wouldn’t expect a Man Utd customer to like our Arsenal shirts, we don’t expect all our customers to approve of every cause we support. Since 2003 we’ve particularly concentrated on campaigns who otherwise wouldn’t have T-shirts, raising profile is as important as raising funds. We’ve produced shirts for Searchlight, the International Brigades Memorial Trust, National Refugee Council, Viva Palestina and others.
Increasingly we’ve worked with Trade Unions too, from branch to national level. Producing shirts in support of recruitment of migrant workers, green workplaces, Tolpuddle festival, anti-BNP campaigning; and most recently working with the TUC to produce events that are a pioneering mix of ideas and entertainment, a combination still too rare in political and trade union culture.
To find out more visit www.philosophyfootball.com and if you have an idea for a shirt we might be able to work on with you for a Trade Union campaign email us at [email protected] or call us on 020 8802 3499