What went down at streetwear show PAQ’s London pop-up.

It’s the last Wednesday in August, and the streetwear enthusiasts of London have flocked to Shoreditch. No, not for the latest Supreme drop – although the turnout of well-dressed teens indicates a similar level of hype.

The excitement is tangible; girls are ripping promo posters off the walls and there’s a rumour flying around that someone from Brockhampton has turned up. Meanwhile Dele Alli (of England’s World Cup squad) mingles outside, chatting to strangers who’ve just become friends whilst waiting in line.

Everyone’s here to meet PAQ, the four friends behind Youtube’s most popular streetwear show, at their pop-up event “Ditch the Label” in collaboration with Lynx. Made up of models Elias Riadi and Danny Lomas, art graduate and poet Shaquille Keith, and musician Dexter Black, PAQ has been affectionately dubbed a “Top Gear for hypebeasts”. Each episode sees them take on challenges from customising fits and thrifting on a budget, to trying out different Yeezys and testing outerwear brands in the wild.

The labels have been removed from every piece for sale in the pop-up shop, in an effort to promote equality and authenticity within fashion – an ethos integral to the show. Money raised will also go to international anti-bullying charity “Ditch the Label”, a cause all four are passionate about supporting.

We grabbed Shaquille for a chat about masculinity, expression and the PAQ community – before he’s stolen by the most anticipated arrival of the day: his mum, a fan favourite, whose wavy outfit put everyone else to shame…

Hey Shaq! Why did you decide to use this pop-up as a platform to raise money for charity?
The one thing we have in common is a love for fashion, then that’s how you start to introduce real life issues. People are here and we’re having fun, we’re doing quizzes, we’re busting jokes, we’re taking photos, we’re signing stuff, we’re all just having a really good vibe. But we’re all here for one reason. This doesn’t feel like hard work, to me this feels like winning. And this is charity work, so why can’t it always be like that?

What’s it like meeting fans of the show?
It’s mad inspirational meeting people in real life. You never realise how much you have an impact on people until it actually happens. When they’re like “you inspire me just by being yourselves”, it’s so moving. It touches all of us on a whole different level and I don’t think any of us could be happier meeting the guys that have come down today, it’s been such a beautiful thing.

For those who don’t know, what’s PAQ all about?
A community where people feel comfortable and safe at all times. PAQ is a friendly invitation to fashion: you don’t exactly have to be into it, but you’re still welcome to the party. Fashion is literally just clothes – cuts and silhouettes. They don’t have to be branded, it’s just the makeup of the garment. So we take away all the stigma around fashion and try to put in a fun light. We show people how to thrift, how to upcycle clothes, how to DIY, what fashion can offer by breaking all the barriers and rules.

Do you think fashion can break down rigid stereotypes of masculinity?
Fashion is definitely one of the strongest ways to do that. I feel like we’ve all generated this idea of masculinity where a guy has to always be strong, never show weakness or a sensitive side, and can’t be into fashion or poetry. But whether we realise it or not we need these things, they’re an outlet. I do poetry and I don’t think that makes me any less of a man.

What would you say to someone who didn’t really feel like they can express themselves through clothes?
I’d say you shouldn’t care! In all honesty do what you want to do, because you’re going to be critiqued about something, at the end of the day you’ve got to do your own thing because there’s never a right or wrong answer. It’s equivalent to the question of what does it mean to be in love, everyone has their own different understanding.

What more can people be doing in the industry, or on a personal level, to help break down those stereotypes?
Talk about it. Don’t acknowledge something in a private conversation but when the cameras are on sing a whole different tune – bro! That’s just long. What I’m saying to you in this interview is the same thing I’d be saying on camera to anybody at any time, that’s just how it is. So I would say talk about it, don’t just sit there and observe it.

How did you come up with the Ditch the Label idea for the pop-up?
Prada, Gucci and Calvin Klein: these are the people who judge. Jack Jones, Primark, charity shops: these are the people who get judged. But when you take away the labels from the Primark t-shirt and the Gucci one and put them next to each other, you realise they’re the same. Nobody’s better than anybody. Take away that label? I’m the same as you.

It’s also the name of the anti-bullying charity you’re fundraising for – is that a subject close to your hearts?
Yeah, Dexter used to get bullied and Elias used to get bullied as well. It has a toll on all of our hearts and I think that’s why we’re so passionate about it. We really want to make younger people feel comfortable in their skin. I wish I had someone to make me feel comfortable but I had to go through all these years without that. We’re trying to be the voices we wish we had.

What’s next for PAQ?
World domination! We’ve got so much more coming, so many more brand deals, so much more exploring of the world. We’re going to try and expand more, we’re looking at trying to make our own merch, we’re going to have another pop-up soon, we’re going to Southeast Asia and Tokyo. The family’s ever growing. We just take every day as it comes and we’re grateful for every opportunity that we get.

With thanks to
Rosie Byers

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