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Slazenger Banger
Slazenger BangerOllie Grove

The story of Sports Banger, the UK’s bootleg king

Jonny Banger tells the story of how he went from hawking ‘FREE TULISA’ t-shirts to working with Slazenger

Jonny Banger, aka Sports Banger, aka the bootlegging king of the UK fashion scene, has finally gone legit with his latest collection with British based tennis brand Slazenger. Named ‘Slazenger Banger’, the collaboration has flown off the shelves of all the Sports Direct stores nationwide that it’s been stocked in since the end of June. The collab is already becoming, like Jonny’s previous sportswear bootlegs, the go-to garment of choice for UK ravers and festival-goers this summer.

Mixing luxury items like champagne flutes, bathrobes and lilos with more obvious sportswear choices like leggings, sports bras, t-shirts and trainers, the unisex collection is simplistic in its design, but playful in the acid-themed colour schemes.

Jonny cites Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour campaign slogan ‘For the many, not the for few’ as the reasoning behind his pricing, which for contemporary sportswear is ridiculously low. With trainers only costing £29.99 and t-shirts going for £14.99, this kind of affordability is something rarely, if ever, seen in such a collection.

Wanting to find out more, I sat down with the Tottenham-based designer to see how Sports Banger and the Slazenger Banger collab came about, and why he decided to put £5 notes in the soles of his new trainers.

How and why did you start Sports Banger?

Jonny Banger: It was my birthday, so I did myself a birthday t-shirt. It said 'FREE TULISA' after she had just been nicked. I was chasing a girl and she was working Wireless Festival, so the only way I could get in was if I sorted Skream a ‘FREE TULISA’ t-shirt. Both Skream and Jordan Rizzle Kicks wore them on stage. The whole thing went viral. The t-shirt got a lot of attention, so I quickly knocked up a website and the Sports Banger brand.

What was your background in fashion before that?

Jonny Banger: From the age of ten to 15 I worked at my dad's best mate’s shop called Royal Sports, named after his two kids Roy and Alan in Farnborough. I was doing markets, car boots, and running around this warehouse with my Mindwarp tape pack playing. I was printing football shirts for local teams. It was all Umbro, Reebok, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, so much of this stuff. It was only when his mate went to prison and there was an article in the newspaper that I realised it was all moody (fake) gear from Portugal.

Why did you want to collaborate with Slazenger?

Jonny Banger: I love Slazenger, it's got proper history. Ralph Slazenger was from Manchester, and moved to London Cannon Street in 1881, opening a shop selling rubber sporting goods. In 1902 Slazenger became official supplier of tennis balls to Wimbledon. In 1909 Ralph Slazenger was Sheriff of London for one year. In 1966 the World Cup football was Slazenger. In 1986 they introduced the optic yellow tennis ball to Wimbledon. In 1987 acid house first hit the UK.

I wanted to use better fabrics and colours, with a better cut, but wanted to keep it true to everyone with the price point. I didn't want to ham-fist a trendy version or put off original Slazenger wearers. You can wear Slazenger alongside Slazenger Banger.

What were you inspired by when you designed the collection?

Jonny Banger: Benny Ill from Horsepower Productions – who is an original Slazenger wearer – boats, bootlegging, raves and mates. Lots of people have dropped tennis collections with a court and net as the look. We took tennis to the streets and shot on Seven Sisters Road and then to the high seas in Southampton: aqua tennis.

You're notorious for bootlegging and giving new life to classic brands. Was it a challenge to create your own stuff or was it almost a relief to be able to do your own thing?  

Jonny Banger: It was a dream to produce a full range with no restrictions, rather than just dropping one t-shirt at a time. Not having to post it myself has been amazing. I've gone from having the longest delivery terms to the quickest. I've put out a lot of singles – hit t-shirts – but this is like my album.

“Start where you are, use what you've got, and do what you can” – Jonny Banger

You’ve always been quite political. Was the decision to keep prices low and sell in Sports Direct in line with that?

Jonny Banger: I never liked the “are you cool enough to wear this”, and “have you got enough money to wear this”. Everyone's  invited. There's a history, sound, vibe behind the whole thing.

What's the story behind the fiver in the bottom of the trainers?

Jonny Banger: When I was at school in Colchester I remember a rumour of Reebok Classic ice soles with fivers in. (Artist Oliver Payne) referenced the same rumour by cutting open some ice soles, putting fivers in then displaying on a photocopier. If you hit the button, you got the photocopied £5 soles. I wonder where those ones are.

I’ve got testimonials from lots of people, saying their friends had some or they've seen them, but I still don't believe them. I still can't believe I got permission from the Bank of England for these trainers, to step on the Queen's face.

What have you learned from creating Slazenger Banger, and what advice would you give to anyone else looking to make their own clothes?

Jonny Banger: I've learnt that big retail operations have the same problems as small two-bob operations. Start where you are, use what you've got, and do what you can. If you've got an idea, do it and stand behind it. If there's no heart or passion in it, you're fucked.

What's next for Sports Banger?

Jonny Banger: Got lots planned, looking forward to getting some records out on the label. It's all about the sound, fashion and art comes from the sounds. You can close your eyes but you can't close your ears. The record label is called HERAS, after the fence. The music sounds like what the fence looks like; hard, obnoxious, industrial and metallic with classic design.