This month saw adidas redefine Originals. Retelling the Originals story throughout the month, they’ve worked with a host of communities and stores to tell their own stories of this famed franchise and what is meant to those who have grown up surrounded by The Three Stripes.
For us, we’ve always come to know the Originals line within sport and music so to celebrate, we caught up with Benji Blunt, otherwise known as Blunt Shank. Having grown up within the UK Hip Hop scene, DJing and even teaching Music Technology, Benji grew his love of adidas and their Superstar silhouette by creating bespoke and customs.
We caught up with Benji down at the Manchester Hip Hop Archive exhibition to learn more about him, his love of music and of course, adidas Originals.
Footpatrol: Hey benji, thanks for taking the time to join us at Footpatrol and being the face of our Originals campaign. Firstly and most importantly, how are you?
Benji: I’m a busy bee at the moment. Squeezing as much out of myself as I can, but ensuring the juice is quality. Thanks for including me in your campaign, it’s good to know that the work reaches people.
FP: For those who may be new to the world of ‘Blunt Shank’, could you delve into a bit about yourself and what Blunt Shank is and how it started?
Benji: I trained as a teacher and spent many years working with young people teaching Music Technology and DJing. I DJ’d and promoted my own club nights too. I had been exploring trainer customisation with young people, through an Art course I taught in a prison. I was there to teach Music Tech, but as I had a background in Art, I was persuaded to teach that too. When my wife and I had kids, I stayed home and began hustling as a customiser, painting mostly adidas Superstars. Away from work, I found myself in an online community of Superstar lovers and they supported my work. I was always striving for a factory look and realised I was fed up with painting over stitches, or being constrained by a base shoe’s limitations. So, by rebranding as Blunt Shank, I was able to draw a bold line separating what I had done before and what I wanted to become. Blunt Shank makes handmade trainers, professionally restores vintage classics, rebrands and flips for the industry and, most importantly, teaches through workshops and tutorials.
To do this I had to learn as much as I could about designing, patterns, cutting, stitching, lasting and soling.. It’s a long learning process. Most shoemakers say it might take ten years before you make a great pair! Back then, there weren’t many places to learn the craft and shoemaking seemed a little secretive, like The Magic Circle. Far from how open things are now, with you tube tutorials and online courses. It was a process of trial and error. Luckily for me there are some great shoemakers out there who will share and take the time to help. But you really have to push yourself, cut stuff up and put it together. Learning the whole time. The most valuable lesson I have learned over the years is that there are many ways to approach stuff, you need to be open to all. We live in a time of invention and there’s nothing wrong with reinventing stuff. If it works it works..
Today, I work on commissions, for individuals and brands. I share a lot of what I’ve picked up in workshops and tutorials and still customise and restore the odd pair for collectors.
FP: So, we’re working with you to retell the story of adidas Originals but we’d love to hear what Originals means to you!
Benji: Originals is all about storytelling, I see it in the brand’s media output, but it’s tapping into something that’s been there for time. ‘Originals’ really feels like it belongs to the people and their histories. If you’re of my age, you grew up with the Trefoil. The stripes, the lines and the shapes, make up part of your identity and shared experience. As a kid it was an aspirational thing, associating yourself with an athlete, a Hip Hop Icon, a skater, a crew. Looking back at the 80s and 90s, you see the Trefoil was ever present, with whatever you were doing. Today, in our house, my sons can’t help but breathe that cultural heritage.
FP: There were many reasons why you stood out to us to help tell the Originals campaign. From your ‘Blunt Shank’ work that heavily features the Three Stripes through to your history within the UK Hip Hop scene. Could you tell us a bit about how you came to be heavily involved within this scene?
Benji: I wasn’t a key person in the formation of Hip Hop Culture in the UK. I was maybe a few years younger than those at the cusp of the movement, but one of many, growing up on council estates in the 70’s and 80’s. Hip Hop hit me like it hit many kids, up and down the country. I didn’t come from a typical family background and Hip Hop culture was like a doorway to express myself; be an individual but still belong to something powerful. The previous generation were Punks, Mods, Rastas and Skins and that was their thing. The music, the art and fashion of Hip Hop was for me.
We were obsessed with everything that was coming over from the States; BMX and Skateboarding, Graffiti, Locking and popping, the fashion.. We’d lose our shit over a piece of cardboard a BMX came in. Because not only did we get a bike, but a dancefloor too! I should say, very few of us ever got a new bike. More likely, we’d bus-a-move on fridge packaging. Lino was posh! Me and my friends would emulate our elders and anything we could see on music videos or in films. We would steal paint from car shops and attempt our first pieces, imitating artists like ‘Pride’ who we saw painting under the Western Avenue. We would clear tables at school at wet breaktime to hold our version of break cyphers. We would go down to Covent Garden to watch lads (a little bit older) busk as b-boys, and the GLC would support creative workshops in the community, such as Rap Attack at The Shaw Theatre. We spent a lot of weekends locating spots in London to buy belt buckles, Kangols, ski goggles and racoon tails.. Places like ‘American Classics’ on Kings Road and Kensington High Street Market. The thing is, a bit like Punk, we were free to create a style of our own, free to customise, to stand out. The culture encouraged you to mix and mash shit up. You could create your own ‘Fresh’. This defines what the culture gave me. We took what was around, chopped it up and we fucking ran with it. There would be no breakbeat rave or Jungle without Hip Hop. I would say that we weren’t old enough to be leaders of these things, but we learned the path from the elders around us. They created the blueprint. What I do with superstars is a natural progression from all that stuff around me as a kid.
FP: We know with adidas and the likes of the Superstar, it was often featured within Hip Hop videos but is there a particular memory for you between adidas and music that stands out?
Benji: Some of the first records I owned had the artists in Superstars or Pro Models on the cover art. People like The Fat Boys and Run DMC were a departure from Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five. These guys were in tracksuits and trainers, not cowboy boots. You’d often get compilation LPs of music from the States, that had amazing illustrated covers. You’d see the three stripes represented in a graffiti style. The Superstar I knew at the time was all over these things as well as on walls, trains and the feet of people in movies. The lines of the shell were often exaggerated on illustrated characters. They were an ideal for me, long before I ever owned a pair. I think it was this graphic representation of the shoe that has been of most influence on me. I think there were one or two kids at school that had been over to the States and had a pair, but the rest of us couldn’t get a pair. So we would make fat laces to wear in other adidas Tennis models. But none of them ever came close.
FP: We noticed you have RUN-DMC under your previous clients on your website, how did this opportunity come about?
Benji: I had been painting Superstars for some time and a friend of the Run DMC brand invited me to meet with the management in London, where the group was performing. Firstly, I should say that I was absolutely honoured. I saw Run DMC on their first tour of the UK at Hammersmith, got an LP signed and everything. So to be asked to meet with the brand 30 years later, because they had noticed my stuff, was amazing. I felt a bit like I was representing the shell toe fan base. I was asked to meet in London and come with a range of designs to present for their collaboration with adidas. I worked up a few designs which they then presented to adi. It didn’t work out unfortunately. Mainly due to timing I’m told. But, I hand made prototype shelltoes of my designs anyway and some of these found their way to a recent exhibition in NYC for the 50th. The design work I offered was about storytelling and that resonated with Run DMC management. The designs were drawn from memories of the early days, The Raising Hell tour in particular, but I also tried to put myself in the head of a young Run, DMC and JMJ and what they would have wanted back then. I designed a pair based on a Double V goose jacket that resonated with them. It was a great experience early in my handmade journey. Importantly, the meeting opened a dialogue with them about the classic shoe, which continues still.
FP: Back to your work, what is it about adidas silhouettes that make them such a go to sneaker to work on?
Benji: It’s what I wore. It’s what was illustrated. I couldn’t paint anything else really. I mean, I wore others, Hi Tec, PUMA, Fila, Ellese, Converse, even Pony. But adi was the first love. Starting with my adidas Leader to my Nastase Super, with a few in between. Superstars I couldn’t get for many years. When they reemerged with a bang in the late 90s. I was all in. To customise them was to make each pair unique and fresh. You could customise any shoe, but when you customise a Hip Hop icon like the Superstar, it feels authentic.
FP: Touching back on music and adidas, we know that you also have a history within the UK breaking scene. How did this come about?
Benji: Haha. No, no, no. I was a very determined and very bad breaker. I could lock a bit and do some basic breaking. But I was no real b-boy. Cyphering in the school field, or on the estate was just standard back then. We all did it, good or bad. Learning from vhs and watching TV. Within my peer group there were some amazing dancers, mostly lockers and poppers, but I was never that good. I think breaking was the hardest to get real good at. Back then we tried all the Hip Hop disciplines. I think you find that with lots from my generation. We’ve all done some graff, danced, emceed and Dj’d. Switching from one to another with varying degrees of success. I knew emcees that danced for visiting Hip Hop artists and DJs that emceed. I see what I do now as an extension of that creative mindset. I mean, we always customised our outfits to stand out and now I do that with trainers.
The main reason I am so interested in breaking now, is that my son is breaking and he has rekindled this fire, from deep within me. It’s crazy. Bringing so many memories back, reminding me of the core values and etiquette of the dance. It’s such an amazing part of Hip Hop Culture. He has a real talent for it and he is being creative with it, adding his own flavour. That’s what kills it for me.
FP: Do you see a connection between breaking and adidas and how do you see this developing in the future?
Benji: Breaking and Hip Hop generally, adopted adidas! I don’t think adidas has any real say in it haha.. That’s why the connection is so strong. It belongs to the kids bustin’ out. Who’s adidas? My adidas! I know adi will ride the breakin’ wave that is coming. It’s going to be big.
FP: Huge thanks for joining us and we’re looking forward to hearing more at our live panel talk on the 24th. We normally leave this final question up to the interviewee to shed any light on any upcoming projects or any words of wisdom you may have for our audience…
Benji: I want to hear the stories from those who never told them. Those grandads and grandmas that shaped the way, learned the lessons so the kids don’t have to. Time to pass that wealth on. 50 years of Hip Hop is a very long time. Each one teach one and all that.