What is the meaning of reason for you and have you ever encountered anything that didn’t fit your concept?
What can I say, reason proof, something you can follow, cause and effect, those sort of things – how would I define reason. Hmm.
Upon asking Theo for an interview on politics, art and miracles he wrote that he’s game for an interview but not on “miracles” since he says to be an atheist. Therefore our question was slightly adapted to fit his world definition.
What’s your take on terrorism? Or is one terrorist the other person’s freedom fighter?
There is no doubt that there are terrorists who do terrorise. Have you noticed how all of those so far identified have been misprints – illiterate losers apparently looking for some sort of meaning in their life? I wish they’d find it in something other than terrorism. I think these people understand they are misprints.
How do you regard the practice of Counter Terrorism?
When the great campaign was made to overthrow Sadam, I foolishly hoped the population of Iraq would celebrate the overthrow of a brutal dictator. It wasn’t so. I find that bewildering. Do I remotely understand the divisions in the Muslim community – no. Are the differences whatever they are worth fighting for – No. They should all read Gene Sharp on non violent resolution of conflict. Generally the Middle East is beyond my comprehension – an intractable Gordian knot.
Theodore Stegers, where and how will you be living in 20 years from now?
I don’t have any plans to retire. We Admire is an interesting business and as it develops it will become more interesting. I see my company as being quite global in the future with websites in other countries, which would have a local feel and work with local designers. I would love to have more non English design and creative DNA in the decorated shirts we offer.
What does the expression globalisation mean to you?
For me it means the internet. The epitome of regulatory nonsense are those of KYC for all things financial. KYC – as in Knowing Your Customer. Everyone has to apparently give proof of identity. If you have documents that do not fit the ones required for whatever reason it is a real pain. The effort that goes into this seems to compromise real knowledge and judgment about customers. And I’m sure real criminals procure phoney personalities. Everyone is inconvenienced and it probably has a net benefit for the real criminals.
Theo Stegers, do you feel more British, more English or more European?
That’s an interesting question. My father was Dutch. My mother was Irish. When I first applied for a passport I declared myself as English, because I’ve been here for most of my life. I have an English education. The guy at the passport office said “English?” and raised his eyebrows. I couldn’t understand what he was saying to me, I was only a schoolboy. “English, with the name of Stegers?”
I don’t see myself as European. You look at France and Germany and they are supposedly good Europeans – it’s an illusion. They are more restrictive in most things. I wanted to open a bank account in Germany because I had business there and it was a real struggle, even though we are part of the same Union. There is no unified market in financial services for example. I am told it is near impossible for a non German to get a mortgage on German property for example. That is not the case in the UK. So I’m not quite sure what that makes me.
In the relationship between European Union and Britain are you in favour or against the Union?
It should be a trade relationship. I don’t think it should be a political relationship. To melt together different states is clear nonsense. You have to have a common language for a kick-off. Europe is never likely to be an easy federation, so keep it to trade and let the rest of it go to hell is what I suggest.
Theo Stegers runs his business We Admire in Shoreditch, London.
Is there a need that should be tackled in your community and how would you go about solving it?
Regulation kills creativity, kills entrepreneurialism, favours corporatism and reduces social mobility. And I find corporatism to be the least attractive aspect of modern life.
But if you look at the European thing it’s a stultifying bureaucracy that drives corporatism.
Theo Stegers, would you regard yourself as a creative person?
Not really. No I wouldn’t say so.
How would you define creativity?
Yeah it’s a difficult one. Originality. The best quote on creativity I came across was by Man Ray “To create is divine, to reproduce is human.” (Ray, 1968)
What do you call your neighbourhood in London, Theo Stegers?
Well this is Shoreditch. That is the name of this place.
A few years ago, nobody gave Shoreditch a second thought. The people’s republic of Hackney brought the place to its knees, they were anti business, revelling in victim hood. They were swept away in the late eighties early nineties. Since then Shoreditch has become a good example of less is more from the point of view of governance. Shoreditch rose like the Phoenix from the ashes of local government nonsense.
Are you fond of the transition Shoreditch has gone through?
History is littered with the proof less is more when it comes to government. The idea governments spend your money well is nonsense. No one, least of all governments, take as much care spending other peoples money as people do spending their own.
Do you think there is enough emphasis placed on art in society as a whole?
I think artists and designers have a tough brief. The good ones are rarely if ever appreciated in their lifetimes. People tend to take their contribution for granted. It is unfortunately in the contract for creative businesses that the people of real talent and skill almost by definition are not properly rewarded financially.
Do you see a way of changing that in society?
My favourite shirts represent the sort of witty appreciation of obscure iconoclasts and groundbreaking artefacts. If you take the risk out of the publication process you tend towards the bland. Because we decorate our shirts as we sell them we can take the risk of embracing the obscure. This is creativity liberating we are never left with a pile of unsold shirts and more particularly we don’t suffer the anxiety that we might be. Most creativity propositions don’t have that.
How would you say that art and design have affected you as a person?
I’ve never been particularly conscious of it (art and design). It’s one of those things you just intuitively enjoy. Life has got in the way of considering art and design. Since starting We Admire I pay much more attention to art and design because I make my living from it.
Theo Stegers is the founder of We Admire T-Shirt company.
If you had to pick one shirt today which one would it be?It’s the one We Admire started with and I’ve reproduced several times, despite the fact that I wore it to death. The Bayeux Tapestry. I still have about four different copies of it in any colour but white.
What design and art do you enjoy most?
I particularly like Daniel Davidson’s work and Yukio Miyamoto’s work at the moment. But I also like Jane Moore’s work and yeah from time to time lots of people surprise me.
Why do you not like white shirts?
It’s a personal prejudice, all my T-Shirts are anything but white.
You talked a lot about meaning is that also something that has to reflect in design? What kind of design do you enjoy most?
The brief we give designers is in three parts: Don’t try to pick winning designs. What the shirt is about is more important than how it looks. Authenticity is always more interesting than contrivance. Of course we do not entirely mean we do not want winning designs. The problem as a designer with trying to pick the winner, is that trying does not deliver the winner. The question which designers will ask themselves is will this sell? The question is pernicious and tends to damn the chances of whatever was in the designer’s mind. On the other hand if the design reflects authentic admiration it will be intrinsically interesting. Goethe gave us “What is uttered from the heart alone will win the hearts of others to our own.” The emotional equivalent of “in vino verttas.” If there is love in the design it is attractive and it will sell. By contrast if the design is contrived, you will already be familiar with it. And that familiarity is likely to make you interested in what we have to offer.
Daniel Davidson’s take on Kandinsky’s take on creativity, is probably my current favourite shirt. It is a good example of admiration and perhaps love. There is love in Daniel’s design for sure. Before Daniel sent me the artwork I only associated Kandinsky with the Bauhaus movement, but he was a creative polymath. Daniel’s work captures some of this. The T-shirt got to me, taught me something about Kandinsky and has quickly become a best seller. (Theo is wearing that particular shirt in the image below).
What is the story behind We Admire and what gap do you fill with your business?
It started when I visited my sister with my family. She was a bit late preparing Sunday lunch and invited me to get sort of lost down South with my four kids. So I’m walking through Camden market (I wasn’t shopping) and I saw a T-Shirt with the abstraction of The Bayeux Tapestry. (It is half a meter and about 70 meters long embroidery, which displays 50 scenes that show how the Duke of Normandy conquered King Harold at the battle of Hastings in October 1066.) It’s a huge piece of work and it’s interesting. It was the first time I saw a T-Shirt when I thought “get out of the way that’s got my name on it” because it had a real meaning and real resonance.
Theo is wearing a replica of the shirt which changed his life.
What got me started in this business We Admire, is that I spent another 20 years looking to be similarly excited about the prospect of buying a T-Shirt. What I found was corny jokes, meaningless abstraction of bullshit, brands, visual puns but nothing that really expressed anything meaningful.
The gap that I fill is that the T-Shirt market today keeps things for most parts meaningless, jokey, because if it has meaning then there is the danger that you put off more people than you attract. Though if you produce the shirts to order, as we do, it allows you not to be too concerned about putting people off by delivering meaning. If something is well done and has meaning it will resonate with a larger audience than you will expect and if you get the distribution right you will sell enough and have T-Shirts that can for example change people’s love life. We have the stories people come back and tell us… The T-Shirt market is normally meant to be attractive to an age group between 20 and 25. I think that’s complete nonsense. Everybody I know has got more than one T-Shirt. My mother had more than one T-Shirt and she’s in her 80s. The vast majority of people over 30 have undecorated T-Shirts. So we fill this gap of expression with meaningful T-Shirts.
How would you describe yourself?
Disorganised I suppose. A thing that irritates me. I have a chaotic attitude towards administration. The thing I am least pleased with.
And what are you most pleased with?
Uhm, bababa,… personally, well, in terms of business I suppose Iam game for the chance. I think, well it’s a cliché, but we regret the things we don’t do rather the things we do. To do it is to get on with it basically.
We Admire Ltd. is both a shop, T-Shirt printing site and an office. It is run by Theo Stegers and one to two co-workers.
Can you please state your full name?
Theodore John Stegers
Is there anything to the John?
Both of those names are the English version of my father’s names. My father was Dutch.
We met Theo when we walked around Shoreditch and ended up having a long chat at his store We Admire.
We opened the door and stepped into the the world of T-Shirts. Not just T-Shirts, no, but a world full of stories, history and admiration.
This January we would like to introduce to you Theo Stegers, the founder of We Admire Ltd. based in Shoreditch.