Fuelled by Caffeine: DIY Punk Collaboration in Action [Interview]

Article by Sarah Williams.

As we edge ever closer to Christmas, it’s especially important to support small independent businesses. It is too easy to fall back on retail behemoths like Amazon and eBay for festive indulgences, especially when you’re rushing to shoehorn in shopping around work, gigging and all those awful work Christmas parties.

Instead of another banal gift box from Debenhams, why not check out Etsy or a small high-street retailer? Why not buy from a small record label, so you can share your favourite releases with your friends? Even gig tickets make an excellent gift. Choosing to spend your hard-earned cash with a grassroots business can support your local economy, your music scene, and it can enable someone to make a living out of what they love doing the most.

Collaboration and supporting one another is an essential part of the do-it-yourself ethic that makes the punk scene tick. As a result, I was excited to hear that two respected small businesses that thrive on a DIY approach had decided to team up on a new project. Hasting-based coffee aficionados Sham City Roasters and London-based reflective-clothing experts Ride with Wolves recently released a range called Fuelled by Caffeine, just in time for Christmas. Cycling and coffee might not seem like the most obvious bedfellows, but it’s a cool collaboration that really works.

“It’s so exciting to see other punks doing interesting things and starting businesses that aren’t necessarily music based. I think that this project pretty much came from a mutual appreciation.”

I spoke to Dave Cullern and Ester van Kempen, respective founders of Sham City Roasters and Ride with Wolves, to find out more about why they’ve decided to work together, and what DIY culture means to them.

Sham City Roasters Ride With Wolves Fuelled by Caffeine 7

Dave, you run Sham City Roasters down in Hastings – we met because you absolutely saved me with a vegan grilled cheese when I was hanging after a gig! For those who don’t know about Sham City, tell us a bit about the business.

Dave: Probably one of the best things about running this cafe is that everything I serve is perfect for curing a hangover! I’m glad I could help you but I’m even gladder that I can help myself on a regular basis. Sham City Roasters is a small coffee roastery that I started in my spare room about 3 years ago. Initially I just sold online as a hobby but over time it grew and I started doing a lot of markets around London. After a few years I had a regular spot at The Truman Brewery on Brick Lane and it grew into a ‘real’ thing (whatever that means). Just over a year ago everything changed; I moved to Hastings and started a vegan café, and now Sham City Roasters is a lot of different things.

Ester, you’re the founder of Ride with Wolves, an ethical cycle-clothing company based in London. Tell us a bit more about Ride with Wolves! How long have you been going, and what sort of products do you offer?

Ester: Ride with Wolves has been trading for a bit over a year, but I’ve been experimenting with reflective ink for a long time. We make cycle inspired clothing, hand screen-printed with reflective ink on ethical clothing, like t-shirts, sweaters, bags, beanies, patches and bandanas.

How did you both get started in your respective businesses?

Ester: Before Ride with Wolves there was House of Astbury, which started five years ago in a punk house in South East London. Together with Monika Zamojska and Ren Aldridge [of Petrol Girls] I created reflective patches to sew on to your jackets or bags. We were sick of the awful looking builders-vest and the catcalling we experienced whilst riding our bike through the city and decided we could do something about that. Next to screen-printing reflective patches with smart puns we also made leggings, t-shirts, snoods and bags. After a couple of years we decided to go our separate ways, but I continued with our concept and grew it into Ride with Wolves.

Dave: For me, this business started initially just from a love of coffee and this all grew from there. I always had an idea that I wanted to be my own boss but never had the guts to really jump into anything, despite having loads of crazy ideas over the years. When I started really getting into, and understanding, the coffee world I became obsessed with it!

You’re both from DIY punk backgrounds. Can you tell me a bit about what you both do outside of work?

Dave: I’ve been into DIY punk since the late ‘90s. I thankfully discovered it at a very young age and it’s pretty much influenced my entire life since that time. I’ve played in a hundred terrible bands over the years since; I ran a record label a while ago, I’ve promoted gigs on and off for as long as I can remember and I wrote a zine for a while. Kinda dipped my feet into everything at some point. Currently I’m in a very inactive band called The Dead Anyways and have been putting on shows in Hastings since I moved down here.

Ester: I’m a coordinator for the Good Night Out Campaign, a campaign that focuses on training bar staff on how to respond to someone disclosing sexual harassment. We also guide businesses and universities to create a better policy around this theme and, with that, create safer and more inclusive spaces. I also co-manage an independent venue in South East London called The Montague Arms. And I’ve been organising gigs for the last few years within collective, Sicknote Promotions.  These can be shows from people crowd-surfing in our kitchen to over-capacity, sold out shows at The Montague Arms.

Sham City Roasters Ride With Wolves Fuelled by Caffeine 1

Have you both known each other for a while, or did you meet through your respective businesses?

Dave: We met through our respective businesses really. I think we must have been moving in similar circles for a while beforehand and we share quite a lot of friends. From the perspective of the collaboration, I think it came about from us enjoying (and supporting) what the other person was doing. I loved the stuff Ester was doing with House of Astbury and when she started Ride With Wolves was blown away by that. It’s so exciting to see other punks doing interesting things and starting businesses that aren’t necessarily music based. I think that this project pretty much came from a mutual appreciation.

 You’ve recently been working together to bring out a new range called Fuelled by Caffeine. What made you decide to start working together?

Ester: I think the seed was planted during one of my regular coffee dates with my friend Clara. We were talking about what made me happy and how I want Ride with Wolves to grow. Collaborations are great because they pump a new wave of energy into a business and by doing something with someone who doesn’t directly in your field you reach new audience. It just made a lot of sense to work with Dave; we work with a similar ethos and have products that complement each other.

Fuelled by Caffeine is a brilliant name for the project. Tell me a bit more about it – what’s included in the range?

Dave: Ester is the brains behind the name for sure, I can take zero credit for that.

Ester: Again, the name just made sense. We were trying to come up with smart puns, but some of them were just too far out there. Fuelled by Caffeine combines the collaboration beautifully. The range exists of a t-shirt with a front and back print (perfect for cycling), a mug, coffee and patches that you can sew on to a jacket or bag.

 Dave: I absolutely loved the name as soon as Ester suggested it. I think it perfectly encapsulates what we were aiming to put across with this project.

There is a big link between caffeine and cycling. Are you both addicted to both?

Ester: Defo! I think I’m the living proof of Fuelled by Caffeine! I cycle everywhere in London for my coffee dates. Although, a few months ago I decided I had to cut down on the coffee because I noticed the addiction was taking over a bit. I love it so much, but if you think you can’t function without it you know you have a problem.

Dave: I think I might have a serious problem then! I don’t really cycle that much anymore (partly because I’ve had nowhere to keep a bike since moving to Hastings) but I used to ride in London and will again I’m sure. My attraction to Ride with Wolves before we did this project was less about the cycling element and more about the message and style, and it being a punk business. I would have signed up to the brand even if I’d never sat on a bike seat!

You guys aren’t the only DIY-types involved in the project: your awesome artwork is by Lucinda Livingstone of Bloodflower Design. How did Lucinda get involved?

Ester: Lucinda is another one of those people that roams in the same circles. She plays in the band Kamikaze Girls and runs LadyFuzz magazine. I approached her at the start of Ride with Wolves; I always loved her work and wanted her to be involved. She designed the house style and logo for my brand and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more collaborations in the future with her.

Sham City Roasters Ride With Wolves Fuelled by Caffeine 6

You’ve said that part of the aim of the project is to spread the word of DIY culture and collaboration. What does do-it-yourself culture mean to you?

Dave: That’s a huge question! DIY culture means pretty much everything to me. Punk has affected my life in every way since I discovered it as a young teenager and undoubtedly made me the person I am. All of that music and all of the zines that influenced my life in such a profound way were made by kids like all of us. That is DIY to me, people doing things off their own backs that positively influence others. A voice that kids can hear that isn’t their parents or their teachers or the ‘normal’ people that surround them, a little oasis of likeminded people that do what the fuck they want. If it weren’t for punk would I know anything about politics, feminism, veganism, art? Would I travel? Would I happily live on little money? Would I have started my own business? I doubt it very much.

Collaboration and supporting others is a huge part of the DIY world. Are there any other businesses, bands or people you’re working with?

Dave: In the past I’ve worked with Dan Allen, Mark Bell and Daniel Baker in relation to my art and branding stuff. I’ve been talking to a few bands about making them their own coffee blends but nothing’s happened yet. I think it’s about to though – not sure if I’m allowed to mention specific names at the moment, but I really hope I can do a few of those. Maybe it’s not ‘working with’ but there are so many people that have supported me and this business since I started it. I do think that there’s a part of collaboration which is just supporting others who are trying to do interesting and awesome things. I consider most of my friends to be collaborators because, unlike a lot of people, they didn’t say, “Dave, what the fuck are you doing? This is never gonna work,” when I started Sham City Roasters. That’s what I really needed and I’ll never forget the support that came my way from my punk family.

What principles of DIY culture have you applied to Sham City Roasters and Rides With Wolves? Apart from the cool business names, that is.

Dave: If I hadn’t discovered DIY culture and punk rock, Sham City Roasters wouldn’t exist. I spent most of my life thinking I was actively taking part in DIY culture but it’s really only been since I started this business that I’ve really started seeing what ‘doing it yourself’ really is. I guess the aspects of DIY culture that I’ve specifically applied to my business are mostly the ethics and politics. From my perspective, I operate within an amazingly dull bourgeois world. If you look at the mainstream coffee world you’ll see horrible corporate nonsense and lot of twats doing a lot of annoying things. I think coming from a punk (or DIY) perspective has allowed me to remove a lot of the annoying aspects of the world I operate within and ground it a bit more. I think Ester’s done that too: mainstream cycling culture and coffee culture are both fairly dull at times and it’s great to see these positive messages coming from the cycling world and the coffee world.

Ester: I guess the main principles of DIY culture in Ride with Wolves can be found in literally doing it yourself. Finding ways of creating something new without large amounts of funding. Another aspect within in my business would be the feminist and inclusive ethos. It makes sense to me that anyone can be part of the pack, no matter what gender or size you conform to.

The Fuelled by Caffeine set would be an undoubtedly great Christmas gift for any punks/caffeine addicts/cyclists. How can people get hold of it?

Ester: They can either go to one of our web shops, to Dave’s café in Hastings, or they can find me at one of the Christmas markets I’m doing in London.

You can shop for Fuelled by Caffeine at either of the RWW x SCR websites. There’s coffee, t-shirts, mugs and patches available. What more could you want?



Article by Sarah Williams

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