The brand prides itself on being an original London streetwear brand that takes its inspiration from London's city life. Right from the very beginning, the brand has endeavored to be a different. They wanted to produce quality footwear that can be used anywhere - whether it be partying at a nightclub or a walk in the woods. Although the brand stays true to its roots they are constantly focused on new fashion trends, with the original concept of quality that can be worn anywhere.
Founded as it was on Greenwich Market, Boxfresh is a quintessentially British street brand that has always strived to stay true to its roots, despite plans for global expansion. The ‘Original British Streetwear’ aesthetic that the brand has made its own draws on sportswear and the recent history of British youth culture.
When Roger Wade founded the brand back in 1989, there was plenty of sartorial fun and games to be had if you were a paid-up member of a youth tribe – punks, mods, goths, skinheads, new romantics – they all had a uniform. But as for the rest of us, casualwear hadn’t evolved to anywhere near the level it’s at now. The burgeoning of British streetwear in the late 80s echoed the explosion of ready-to-wear fashion in the 60s – prior to the opening of shops like Biba and Granny Takes A Trip, British youth had had to make their own clothes if they wanted something quirky and fashionable looking – choice was incredibly limited.
Whereas now every high street has streetwear outlets and even the poshest department stores have numerous ‘street’ concessions, back in the early 90s there were just a handful of UK stores that Boxfresh could distribute to. Duffer of St.George’s first Soho shop on D’Arblay Street was one of them, yet just months before Duffer had merely been a stall at Camden market. Outlets such as London’s American Classics, Kensington Market, Hip in Leeds, Oi Polloi and Affleck’s Palace in Manchester were the signifiers of British streetwear.
‘Streetwear is essentially dressing from the trainers up; and it developed out of music – both hip hop and the rave scene,’ says founder Roger. Indeed, it was New York’s early hip-hop scene that for the first time saw trainers being donned not as sportswear, but as fashion. It’s no coincidence that the name Boxfresh (as in brand new trainers/garms) was borrowed from NYC hip-hop lingo – 70s New York was the birthing pool of what we now call streetwear. Hip-hop pioneers such as Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaata ushered in not just a new sound but also a new mode of dress. Trainers, tracksuits, and singlets – it was the first time sports gear had been more about posing in than playing sports in.
But initially the look was about the re-appropriation of old-school labels such as Adidas and Kangol rather than buying up new ones – the Supremes and Zoo Yorks weren’t even in foetal position at that point. Hip-hop style filtered across the Atlantic from the early 80s onwards, but when the UK rave scene exploded in the mid / late 80s, a new youth uniform was required. Although the rave scene – or rather, ecstasy – democratised British youth, the sloppy looking clothing sold them short. The baggy trousers, tie-dyed T-shirts, day-glo trimmings and Wallabees associated with the genre just don’t have the slick sartorial hallmarks of say, mod or b-boy style. In anyone’s book, rave culture gets about nil points in the style history stakes. And what to wear if you weren’t a raver or a mod or a punk or a football casual…? Basically, not a lot.
It’s difficult to visualise a time when British streetwear brands were thin on the ground, but back in the early 90s, the streetwear market was a wilderness compared to the densely vegetated landmass it is now. However, the UK fashion market changed forever when brands such as Duffer of St George, Mau Mau, Gio Goi and Boxfresh started setting up. They were in the vanguard of British streetwear and suddenly not just the ravers who’d been languishing in their dodgy day-glo, but crucially every facet of British youth had something to wear. Just like Stussy, Boxfresh came out of the street scene – and the brand maintains that heritage today. Indeed, in terms of streetwear, the American west coast had a head start on the Brits. In 1980, almost ten years before Roger Wade set up Boxfresh, Shawn Stussy first started selling screen printed T-shirts alongside surfboards in Laguna Beach, California. The infamous scrawled signature in place, he dressed a network of musicians, skaters, DJs and artists, building a brand in the process. So just as Stussy pioneered streetwear in America, Boxfresh followed suit in Britain.
Boxfresh has grown from market-stall T’s and sweatshirts to men’s, women’s, footwear and accessories collections designed not for posing in but for living in. It’s quality apparel that’s not ostentatious or self-conscious, you could get away with wearing it head-to-toe and probably still not look like you’d been Boxfreshed. ‘The brand,’ explains Roger, ‘has never been about elitism – it’s easy to act aloof and stick expensive price tags on things. It’s harder to be accessible, to rise above elitism and maintain our status as a British streetwear brand. Boxfresh represents good, functional, original hardwearing British streetwear, and you don’t have to be cool to wear it – hopefully it’s for everyone to enjoy.’
Boxfresh’s spin on ‘streetwear’ is distinct. In the collections, high-performance technical fabrics merge with natural yarns like cotton and wool; and stripes and splashes of colour punctuate a neutral foundation palette. All the basic T-shirt, sweat and utility trouser and jacket styles are expertly covered, but it’s the unexpected smarter tailoring, subtle branding and quirky detail that elevates the label from the ordinary. However, perhaps the main reason the label is a success is because it’s down-to-earth, despite high production values. ‘It’s not just about producing clothes,’ explains Roger. ‘We use real people to model for our campaigns, and I hope that endorses our objective of dressing the streets. We always try to keep our product affordable, and the ‘we are you’ slogan was created specifically to convey our utilitarian brand values.’ Indeed, the locations for Boxfresh’s look book photo shoots have, over the years featured various urban British landscapes and consistently feature models who are selected by casting from the streets.
It’s a logical progression for Boxfresh to reflect what’s happening in UK street culture, and that manifests itself in a long-standing series of hook-ups and collaborations with some of the best emerging British talent from graffiti artists and record labels – the Scrawl Collective, Solo One and Ninja Tunes artists Mr Scruff, DJ Vadim and DJ Yoda among them. Boxfresh has sponsored various festivals, the UK Breakdancing Championships and dressed numerous bands and DJs including Massive Attack, The Streets, Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascall, LTJ Bukem and Roni Size. In a climate where brands can easily sell out or fall off the dial, Boxfresh’s mission of staying true to its roots is deserving of its unique place in British streetwear history.