Just over two years ago, Bobby Kasanga got a notification. A “1” appeared over the email icon on his phone, heralding the beginning of a partnership between his football club, Hackney Wick FC, and one of the largest media companies in the world.
“I remember seeing it like ‘Netflix? That’s crazy!’”, Bobby tells me, “they said they were big fans of the work we do and wanted to find out the best way to support us. The relationship blossomed and yeah, we’re here.”
“Here” is on set for the launch of Hackney Wick FC’s new kits, sponsored by Netflix and Top Boy for the second year running. Modelled by the young cast of the hit show, the kits are a product of a unique collaboration between the corporate world and grassroots football.
“In the first year of the partnership, I couldn’t have asked for more.”, Bobby says, “Netflix really came through and supported us. They gave us a chance to be seen and, off the back of that, we’ve had so many people enquire about the club. Last year’s kit sold out, which helped us a lot in terms of funding and gave young people free access to football. More corporate companies need to see this partnership and use the same model.”
Hackney Wick FC is a special football team. Founded by Kasanga in 2015 following an eight year stretch in prison, the club’s mission is to unite a borough and provide a platform for young people to succeed. Since its formation, HWFC has grown from a threadbare amateur side to the borough’s only semi-professional club that now boasts 20 teams across all age groups. The partnership with Top Boy, a show set in the area, is the icing on the cake.
The collaboration isn’t just two-way, however. A third party is key to each kit drop’s success: Foday Dumbaya, founder and Creative Director of Labrum. Foday, who oversees the design of the shirts themselves, was initially attracted to the project by the club’s vision.
“A couple years ago, Netflix hit me up and told me they were supporting Hackney Wick FC. They told me about Bobby’s story, how this was Top Boy’s way of giving back to the community and asked if I wanted to be part of the project. I liked the idea of creating a uniform for the community, something they can be proud of, so I said yes.”
This year’s iteration, debuted at the Labrum SS24 show at London Fashion Week by Unknown T, is a typically Dumbaya take on the world of football.
“Zig-zag is my thing – it’s like an intertwining of cultures. For this year we added 32 postcodes to represent the 32 boroughs of London. The green is taken from an old iteration of Hackney Wick FC, straight from the archives. Just because it’s sportswear doesn’t mean it has to look a certain way. I wanted to change the narrative of how you see footballers.”
Needless to say, it’s gone down a storm.
“Foday is a genius, man”, Bobby smiles, “I didn’t think he could top the kit from last year but the green shirt this year is the best so far.”
The collab, on all sides, seems to be a perfect match. For Foday, Top Boy is a natural sponsor for the club:
“They tell stories about the community and work with real people from the community. These aren’t big, famous actors – these are kids that grew within the community. Having them as an example tells other kids they can be whoever they want to be. You can’t be who you can’t see. It’s so important.”
Outwardly, the second year of a collab of this kind, seems like a major achievement for such a young football team. For Bobby, though, it’s just another step in the road:
“The goal is always sustainability. Hackney is one of the only boroughs in the UK without its own football ground so we’re hoping one day we can change that. We’re starting a college in collaboration with Loughborough University. It’s all about giving young people a platform to achieve.”
The Hackney Wick FC 23/24 home and away jerseys will be available for free to Hackney residents via custom vending machines around the borough from 18th September. Alternatively, they will be available to purchase via kitlocker.com, with profits from shirt sales going back to the club. Scroll for a closer look at the collection.