London in Focus: The Studio ALCH Guided Tour

END. heads to London to spend a day with studio ALCH designer and Nike loyalist, Mini Swoosh, to get her take on how best to spend a day in the British capital.

END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh at Newport Street Gallery
Home to an enviable roster of generation-defining talent, London is no stranger to creative genius in fashion and beyond. From Craig Green to Samuel Ross, London's ongoing contribution to the international zeitgeist swells each season as new artists continue to break through. Home to nearly 9 million inhabitants, including an eclectic blend of foreign nationals, London's unique voice is amplified by the power of diversity. One such foreign national is emerging sportswear designer and Nike loyalist, Mini Swoosh.

Coming to the UK after graduating from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2014, Mini Swoosh (real name: Alexandra Hackett) has since become a cornerstone of London's thriving creative industry. One of the city's most valued and engaging sneakerheads, best known by her Nike-centric Instagram handle: Mini Swoosh, Alex has built a name for herself as one of the sportswear giant's most expressive assets.

Impossible to dismiss as 'just another sneaker influencer', Alex lays claim to an enviable list of personal achievements. From her popular podcast 'UK 6' to her much-loved sneaker design which rivalled Sean Wotherspoon's in the 2017 Air Max 'Vote Forward' competition, Alex is a credit to her generation; successfully harnessing the depths of her passion to forge a career doing what she loves most. And none of it is more exciting than her own label: Studio ALCH.

Specialising in circular design and sportswear reconfigurations - and counting Skepta, Stormzy, Frank Ocean, and Kendrick Lamar among an impressive list of early adopters - the label is building an audience based on its unique repurposing of sportswear deadstock and an inventive application of unconventional textiles. Going from strength to strength as she gears up to present Studio ALCH's first official runway show at LFWM SS20 - collection now available at END. - we spent a day touring London with Mini Swoosh talking personal brands, podcasting, and why it's time we stop talking about females sneakerheads as if they're another species.

10 AM | Breakfast | Allpress Espresso Roastery & Cafe | 55 Dalston Lane, London E8 2NG
END. London City Guide: All Press Dalston
END. London City Guide: GIF of coffee beans at All Press Dalston
END. London City Guide: Exterior of All Press Dalston

We meet Mini Swoosh outside her studio in Dalston and head to breakfast at one of her favourite haunts nearby: Allpress Espresso. It's an early summer's day and the weather can't decide where to land, so an initial (albeit optimistic) choice to sit outside in the walled garden of Allpress is quickly met with rain and so we head inside to take in the 70s-industrial interior.

A network of cafés and community roasteries, Allpress provides independent coffee shops with their unique blend all across the world. Wildly popular with a young urban audience, Acne Studios and Macbooks are littered throughout the space: the perfect spot to catch up on emails or meet friends for a quick midweek lunch. We order some cold brew coffee and a couple of (so much better than your average) cheese toasties and sit down to talk about what brought Alex to London to start with.

"Australia will always be home, but the industry isn't really established there yet," Alex explains. "We're so isolated from the central hubs where everything happens in sportswear and sneakers so I knew early on that if I wanted to go down this path, I would need to make a move. London is right in the middle of everything so it just made sense to come here."

12 PM | Exploring | Newport Street Gallery | 1 Newport St, Lambeth, London SE11 6AJ
END. London City Guide: GIF of Mini Swoosh walking through Newport Street Gallery
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh at Newport Street Gallery

A set of rattling bones that sprawl beneath the streets of London, the tube system is the essential travel companion for anyone hoping to see the best of what the city has to offer. "London is so big, you forget how long it can take to get places. I have friends who live on the other side of the city who I haven't seen in months because it just takes so long to get to them," Alex explains as we take the train across the river to visit her favourite art gallery.

First opened in 2015, Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall is the realisation of Damien Hirst's lifelong ambition to share his personal art collection with the public. Often boasting pieces from iconic names such as Jeff Koons, Banksy, and Francis Bacon, the gallery is a must-visit art spot for those wanting to escape the chaos of the busy central galleries.

"I think it's important to look at art from a cultural standpoint. In terms of my work, I wouldn't say galleries are somewhere I look for inspiration. I'm more inspired by the mundane and the everyday. I like looking at things on the street and taking inspiration from there," Alex explains as we make our way around the exhibition. This interest in everyday materials - the things people discard in the street - has become a central theme in Alex's work for Studio ALCH. "I always start with materials. Whether its found materials or something I'm repurposing. If I’m working with discarded pieces of sportswear stock, I’ll always take everything completely apart to see what I’m working with. There’s always so much more material than you would expect and I like figuring out what I can create from the materials I have; what functional elements like zippers can be transposed over onto a new design? That’s where the design process starts for me: figuring out what I can do with what I have."

2 PM | Refreshments | Pharmacy 2 | 1 Newport St, Lambeth, London SE11 6AJ
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh at Pharmacy 2 designed by Damien Hirst at Newport Street Gallery
END. London City Guide: Pills in Pharmacy 2 by Damien Hirst at Newport Street Gallery
END. London City Guide: Pharmacy 2 designed by Damien Hirst at Newport Street Gallery

After taking in the gallery's exhibition - at the time of our visit, John Bellany and Alan Davies' 'Cradle of Magic' - we stop off in Pharmacy 2. Designed entirely by Hirst himself and featuring a range of artefacts which initially served as pieces in Hirst's own artworks, Pharmacy 2 offers a casual menu of snacks and refreshments in a far from casual setting. A quirky commentary on the commercialisation of big pharma, the cafe provides the perfect backdrop to learn more about the commercial elements of Alex's practise.

"I’m very into the idea of appropriation. So taking a logo out of context and then reapplying it somewhere you might not expect it to kind of challenge people’s notions of what a logo is or what it’s used for," Alex says, as we make our way round the glass cabinets which proudly display the logos and branding of pharmaceutical companies and their product catalogue from across the world. "Likewise with textiles, I like appropriating textiles that aren’t traditionally used for apparel but analysing its properties to see if there’s a way to apply it to clothing that are still fit for purpose."

3 PM | Lunch | Camisa & Son | 61 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 6HS
END. London City Guide: Camisa Deli Soho
END. London City Guide: GIF of sandwich artists working at Camisa Deli Soho

Next, we make our way to Soho: London's internationally renowned shopping district, home to a swathe of stores that truly encapsulate its position as one of the world's leading cities for retail. When we arrive we make a quick pit-stop at Camisa & Sons for some sandwiches.

As delis go, Camisa's is as traditional as they come and is a beacon of yesteryear which sits surreptitiously amidst the madness on Old Compton Street; a secret insider's lunch spot for many of the local retail community and creative professionals working in the offices above. I let Alex order for me and her selection doesn't disappoint: freshly baked focaccia, mozzarella, pesto, fresh tomato, and sundried aubergine, which we eat as we walk through the cobbled streets of Soho, discussing the thriving local sneaker scene still alive and well in the city.

4 PM | Shopping | END. Soho | 59 Broadwick St, Soho, London W1F 9QS
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh trying on sneakers in the END. London store
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh shopping for sneakers at END. Soho

Arriving at the END. flagship on Broadwick Street, Alex makes a bee-line for sneaker wall which fills the entire front wall of the upstairs. Her passion for Nike - and great sportswear design in general - is palpable as she makes her way along the wall, requesting sizes and talking about the releases coming up. "I think most people presume that everyone's seeded everything, but it's not like that really." she says. "I'm so lucky and honoured to get gifted pairs now, but I think a lot of the Nikes I own are ones I bought over the years I worked retail."

Making our way around the space, I ask where Alex's interest in sneakers and - most importantly - the Swoosh came from. "I had a pair of old Pegasus when I was in primary school. I just remember being stressed because they had rose gold tints on them and we were only allowed all-white shoes," Alex laughs. "Everyone expects you to have a story about growing up around trainers, but I got into Nike from a branding and technical design perspective. Besides, I think it's good to have a bit of a personal brand and Nike is a big part of mine."

7 PM | Dinner | Hoi Polloi | 100 Shoreditch High St, Hackney, London E1 6JQ
END. London City Guide: Hoi Polloi Shoreditch
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh eating dinner at Hoi Polloi Shoreditch
END. London City Guide: Hoi Polloi Shoreditch

After more shopping in Soho, we head east for dinner at Hoi Polloi in Shoreditch. Nestled behind a boutique florist, Hoi Polloi offers a spread of contemporary bistro fare and classic cocktails in a relaxed art deco setting. We order a round of Oysters to start with and settle in to talk more about what Alex has been up to lately. Most notably, her sneaker podcast 'UK 6', which she launched in early 2019 with friend and collaborator, Megan Perry. "It was about establishing a space where we could speak to people in the industry from the ground up. Not just talking to the top-dogs, but more so speaking to real people with real jobs in the sneaker world who can truly give advice to people trying to get started," Alex explains over dinner. "We also wanted to build a platform where we could discuss the industry from our perspective."

As one of the UK's most prominent female sneakerheads, Alex is no stranger to acting as a de facto spokeswoman for women's place in a notoriously male-centric arena. I ask her how she feels about always being asked her opinion alongside the caveat that she offers a female point of view. "I get asked about being a woman in the sneaker industry all the time as if it’s a new thing. We’re already in the industry. We’re already in the jobs and buying the shoes. There’s this weird obsession with distinguishing between us all the time and I think it’s just about removing that from the conversation. We just need the top-tier releases fully available to everyone with a full-size run. Not a lot of women have a size UK 6 and upwards. That’s why we called the podcast UK 6 because Meg and I are both lucky to be the size which is the in-between for men’s and women’s releases."

9 PM | Entertainment | Rowans Tenpin Bowling | 10 Stroud Green Rd, Finsbury Park, London N4 2DF
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh at Rowan's Ten Pin Bowling
END. London City Guide: Mini Swoosh playing pool at Rowans Ten Pin Bowling in Finsbury Park

With dinner over, we hop in a taxi to one of Alex and her boyfriend, Dylan's favourite low key night spots. "Rowans is a great place to go and have a really good night because you know you're probably not going to run into anyone you know," she tells us from the back of the taxi. As we arrive, I know exactly the kind of night she's talking about. Rough and ready and the furthest thing from pretentious, the facade looks like an 80s beach-resort throwback, with much of the neon signage flickering on and off in syncopated rhythm with the hectic energy of London at night. Infamous for their 'lethal' frozen cocktails and boasting a unique 'bring-your-own-food' policy, Rowans has an established link with a local pizza place so you can get a fresh slice delivered directly to your lane if the mood takes you.

After a few games of bowling and a few too many beers, we head downstairs to round the night off with some arcade classics and to soak up the guilty pleasure playlist of 90s dance remixes and classic karaoke songs. After just an hour or so, I know exactly why Alex and Dylan rate Rowans as a place to kick back and have a few hours of good, old-fashioned fun.

As we make our way home, I ask Alex what she's got planned for the next few months. "Slow and steady wins the race has always been my approach. We have a show at the start of June, so that’s what we’re focused on right now," she says. "I’m also interested in hosting workshops on how to repurpose stuff, I think that’s so important right now."

As we've gotten to know each other over the course of our day in London, I've noticed that underpinning all of Alex's passion for sneakers and sportswear is a celebration of the elements of subculture and the community that surround them. Building herself from the ground up - from working retail in the sneaker stores in Soho to becoming an industry-insider and design force in her own right - Alex is committed to giving something back to the scene that welcomed her when she first moved from Australia. "The streetwear industry has become so big and so commercial over the past few years," she says. "I think it’s really important that we circle back around and hone back in on community, which is where it all came from to start with."

Studio ALCH is now available at END.