AnyForty. One word, two caps. An independent streetwear and artist collaboration brand, based in the UK but repped worldwide. Damo took time to chat with King Crayon, Chief Coin Counter and driving force of AnyForty, Al Wardle.
Damo: Who is AnyForty?
Al: AnyForty is a homegrown brand, that specifically works with artists from all over the world, from unknown to globally established, on a range of artist collaboration products ranging from tees, to pin badges and self published coffee table books to sticker packs. I run everything in the business myself apart from dispatch and distribution which my pops handles for me from our Gateshead office!
Damo: Why did you start AnyForty?
Al: Started AnyForty up in 2008 when I was nearing the end of a 10 year career in editorial design, I love magazines and had worked my way up to a senior level, becoming deputy art director on Sony’s Official PlayStation 3 launch and Art Director on Computer Arts Projects where I redesigned it from scratch. It became a cult magazine amongst artists, illustrators and students. However no matter how high up the tree I climbed there was still people above me who could still k.o a concept for important things like magazine covers and sometimes I used to get so frustrated trying to talk a business person around who didn’t understand the market I knew like the back of my hand. I basically needed a creative project where I had full creative control, so decided to launch AnyForty as that. Something I could do at home on an evening and a weekend to flex my creativity without anyone else’s input. I could do whatever the hell I wanted. At that time, people weren’t starting clothing brands, I used to spend a lot of money on brands like WeSc and Addict and thought fuck it, it’ll be fun to create my own brand from scratch. Two years later it had taken off so much that I had to chuck in the day job and go part-time freelance to earn just enough loot to cover the bills while giving me time to continue growing the brand!
Damo: AnyForty is now on the crest of entering its 8th years in 4 months. What motivates you to push the business in what is an exceptionally difficult market?
Al: Quite simply, and brutally honestly, I don’t know how to give up on anything! I’ve been doing AnyForty for so long now it’s part of me, proper embedded in me. It’s what I wake up thinking about, it’s often what keeps me awake at night, it’s the thing in life that makes me happy pulling a range together from ideas, working with great artists daily, working with my photographer Rick Nunn, working with friends on look books, working with stores then seeing the reaction when a range releases. I’m not sure I can replicate that feeling with any thing else if I was to ever walk away from it. I’d be lying if I said things were all rosy at the minute, from my eyes, being brutally honest the wholesale industry in this country (UK) is fucked. Stores are clinging onto business lifelines with their fingernails. In the last two years I’ve gone from having a growing season-on-season stockist list, maxing out at over 20 stockists to having seven now. I have had huge companies go bust on me twice, taking me for more money and unpaid stock than I’ll disclose in public, alongside some great independent accounts who simply and unfortunately can’t stock brands like AnyForty anymore because cash flow is low due to slow sales, bad weather and multiple other reasons. They have had their money tied up for the following year in the big brands.
Customers really need to shop more in local stores or trust me there is going to be none left soon. Life is tough, but tough people survive. I have got a few alternative AnyForty business plans in the pipeline in case this wholesale model gets worse for us but the massive plus point is that online sales for us are bigger than ever. We’re still growing day by day and in a strong position. I think if online sales were dipping and wholesale accounts struggling I would have hung up my gloves by now!
Damo: Tell us about Art is our Weapon?
Al: So, over the first probably five years of AnyForty, I thought my customer fan base was the people I imagined that hit up my stockist, the typical street wear heads. It wasn’t until I moved to London, and launched the three month AnyForty pop up store at Boxpark when I started to meet lots of regular web customers day by day and it blew my mind that 90% of them where fellow artists, be it illustrators, musicians, photographers, you name it, nearly everyone were people with a creative talent. A year or so after that got invited to speak at a creative conference called ‘The Meat’ in Aberdeen, and again, it blew me away how much love and knowledge people had for AnyForty, and none of them were the typical street wear head. When I got back to London, I made some adjustments to the business model, and the way I used Instagram (@anyforty), and in the eight months since doing that my followers exploded from 4.5k to 8k (now 10k). That’s when I decided to roll out the Art Is Our Weapon idea. Pulling in my knowledge from ten years of editorial design and my passion for the brand and the people involved in it.
The idea is that everyone involved in the AnyForty Family no matter what their creative discipline is deadly in their craft and has inspirational stuff to say. So we’re re-launching the website to focus on the main creative elements and people around the AnyForty brand. We’ll have exclusively created editorial content which will be updated every Wednesday with new features, interviews and articles covering subjects from illustration, design, typography, photography, music, tattoo art, the lot. It’s gonna be sick! To tie in with this exciting new site we’ve a range of new tees inspired by some of those topics from some great artists!
Damo: What pushes you through a hard day?
Al: Simple. The dream that someday instead of sitting on my couch working on AnyForty sitting in a shared studio doing client work to keep the bills paid, that I might be sitting working in my own creative AnyForty space, surrounded by murals on the walls that AnyForty artists have painted, having a dedicated work place to go to so I can one day switch off and not work every single waking moment of the day, being able to employ friends and family, having a couple of die hard illustration fiend interns, having a couple of screen printing carousels in the office so we can manufacture our own garments in house. Ahh, there’s lots of things I dream about that get me through the tough days, but there’s also some hard days when I have to go on Facebook and have a good old therapeutic whinge to keep me sane. I should really buy a diary or something instead!
Damo: What have you got on the decks right now?
Al: As I sit here typing this, the new Dr Dre album has just dropped so I’m playing that like half the planet. Not what I expected so hoping it grows more on me over the next listens!
Damo: Top 5 tunes?
Al: Wow, hard one, I’ve been buying music since I was 10, well that’s a lie, used to get copied cassette tapes of my cousins when I was 10 but you get the gist! So there are probably a thousand tracks that are really my favourite of all time. So quickly, off the top of my head, the mood I’m in at the moment, it’s all music of my youth…. Showing my age here!
Damo: Favourite artist ever? Why?
Al: Ooohhhhh, it’s a tie between Mike Giant and Alex Trochut. For two different reasons, probably the simplicity and impact of Mike Giants pen work, and the flip side of the coin, the absolutely complexity and wow factor of Trochut’s glossy computer created art. Those guys are definitely two of my all time favourites, closely followed in 3rd place by the legends 123Klan!
Damo: You deal with artists constantly and have uncovered some pretty dope people along the way. Who should we currently look out for?
Al: I always find it a great challenge to find artists not many people know of then watch there career explode post AnyForty, now not saying it explodes because they worked with AnyForty, it explodes because they are talented, have a different style about them and are determined. So I think moving forward people you gotta look out for are Ohnoes from Melbourne. This dude always smashes it for us and his tees always sell out, he has that simple one colour finish but really packed artwork. Love his stuff.
In terms of people you’ve probably never heard of, there’s a few now I’m working with that are deadly, just need the right breaks. Stay tuned to AnyForty to see the new guys (and girls) break through over the next 6 months!
Damo: Final question, cause I know you probably want to, tell us about your new furry addition!
Al: Ha, yeah, my life has just been invaded by my new pup, a lil King Charles Spaniel called Blu, he’s a handful but in a good way. Being 100% self employed and not having kids, I kind of need the responsibility of having something to look after, and in turn look after my self, otherwise I’m a workaholic and I’ll be at my laptop from 8am till midnight just working! I still work stupid hours but with a pup, you gotta get out and about a few times a day to keep them happy. So yeah, he’s the latest addition to the AnyForty family and a most welcome one at that!
The AnyForty ‘Art is Our Weapon’ range is OUT NOW! Head on over and get in while it’s hot, here.