Having created a brand that successful celebrates inclusivity, we speak to Les Benjamins Founder and Creative Director Bunyamin Aydin to discuss the origins of the brands' Coca-Cola collaboration, the space where football meets fashion and an unquestionable love for maverick football players.

Speaking with a real openness whilst sharing a valued insight, the Les Benjamins journey is one we can all get on board with. Bunyamin Aydin is a charismatic creator and with a Coca-Cola collaborative collection he is bridging gaps whilst breaking stereotypes. Showing the world what happens when East meets West and streetwear meets football, his words below are partnered with a wide selection of from the capsule release.

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Your journey has been wild and you have created an incredible brand. How would you describe what the brand has become?

East now. I think a lot of people still don’t know about the East. Many still have a perceived image of the East which is stereotypical. Sometimes it’s negative and people will say things like “oh you still ride Camels there”. For me it’s about showing people that we actually have the sickest underground parties here. We have DJs coming over from Berlin to LA and all over the world to be here so with that in mind, with Les Benjamin and what I represent is what East is now from an idealistic perspective. It represents the creatives in Istanbul, the creatives in Dubai. You’ll see the carpet reappearing in many things we create and I use it as Jacquart across many items as for me that represents a commonality of the East. It’s something you have in India, Turkey, Iran, UAE, China, Japan so it’s all about ‘East Now’. It’s a contemporary take on the East.

Collaborating with a brand like Coca-Cola, it’s a milestone moment. What goes through your head when an opportunity like that comes up?

For me, it was a very special moment. Lacoste had flown me into Paris and I was invited by them to watch Roland Garos. I also got to play a game with one of the National Team captains which was this kind of experience event, while I was out there I received this email from Coke. It said “Benji, we really like what you’re doing in the Middle East, you’re a pioneer and there’s no other streetwear brand in this space...we’ve been doing similar things in North America with brands like KITH and other designers around the world but we’ve never done something with a Middle-eastern designer and we want you to be the first in that region.” I was like, “is this for real?”. The guy from Coca-Cola, his office was also in Paris so I hit him up while I was there, told him I was in Paris and we went for coffee. Everything was organic with it. They asked me what my dream was with Coke and told me to do it, so that’s what we’ve done with the collection.

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It’s an incredible collection. The football references are beautiful. Can you tell us about your connection to football and what it means to you?

I’m going to give you an exclusive. I’ve never mentioned in any interview that I’ve done that I used to play Soccer or Football. I was born in Germany in a small town near Dusseldorf. From six years old I would go to soccer practice. It was called ‘Bambini’. The Bambini team was the youngest team at the football club. [laughs] I wouldn’t play unless my parents watched me. I always had either my mother or my father there watching me. The game was a huge passion. When I went to high school, I was captain of the team for two years. All my life I was in competitive sports. In between I also played basketball in Galatasaray in the amateur league. I switched to tennis at points too but soccer has always been my sport. Rather than watching the game, I just loved to play. If I come to London and you say, “hey Benji, we have a game on” I’ll be there in no time.

Football was all around you when you were growing up then?

When you’re born into a Turkish family, you don’t choose your team. You’re born into one. It’s a bit like British culture. You follow what your parents tell you. Football was with me before I knew it.

Is football special in the way it can bring people together?

Dude. I think football and sports is one of the rare things where we are all equal. It’s so rare in life where everyone is equal but in sports it’s there for everyone to participate in. Especially with inclusivity going all around the world, I think we can learn a lot from football on a grassroots level. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your last name is, it’s only the score that matters. With that comes the idea of teamwork too. I learnt so much from those environments. If I didn’t play sports earlier on in my life, football specifically, I would never have made it here as a designer. In football, you have to be a team player. You have to have discipline. You will go through tough times and you have to motivate yourself and get your energy and enthusiasm back. There are so many things that I got from football that have made me the designer I am.

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What’s your take on where football finds itself now and how it crosses into the fashion world?

I think football fashion in a sense can be very boring. Especially when it comes to merchandise. It’s not been like basketball where the players are more allowed to express themselves and play with their own silhouette. Also a lot of football players love this Italian cut, a slim cut - I think they need to let go of that a bit and wear things that are more loose. I feel like everything is too tight in the game. I don’t know if that’s down to performance and it’s down to the intelligent engineering but from my perspective as a designer, I would like to see everything become a bit more loose, a bit more retro. I think there’s a huge opportunity in football and a huge market that hasn’t been tapped into when it comes to injecting new ideas and innovating away from what’s being done right now. An example being; I really like what 424 did with Arsenal. That shows what can happen when you innovate. A streetwear brand coming in and doing tailoring is something new, it brings a new take on it. I have done something in Besiktas back in 2007 but I feel like there is still so much that can be done.

What’s it like now when you see players wearing clothes you have designed? Do you become a kid with excitement again in that respect?

It’s an incredible feeling. For them to pick something of mine, it’s amazing. Everything is about the changing room in football. What a player wears before training and when they’re not playing is what they truly love. If you’ve got into that space as a brand, it means a lot. It means that they are comfortable in what you have made, it’s real and it's organic. When I see that, it is a wow moment but I like to stay more humble. I don’t want seeing that kind of thing to take me to a place where I start thinking “I’ve made it, I’m the biggest guy” and all that. For me it’s about looking at the player that’s wearing it and saying, “he’s wearing it, he likes it - he’s human too”. I like to get excited but most of all I take satisfaction out of knowing that person is comfortable in what they are wearing. It’s organic. I don’t try to force that situation. I get messages from players which is nice but most of the time I see they have been to the store when they’ve already gone. In the store in Istanbul, we have players come in on a weekly basis.

Are there players out there now who you think dress really well that you’d love to work with?

It’s a good question. One of my closest friends who has been a great support is Cenk Tosun. He’s been a really big supporter and he loves the brand. Whenever he wears it, I just get happy because I see a friend who is supporting what I’m doing. I’d love to work with those players who are not yet established but also your head always dreams of someone like Messi wearing your brand. He’s a legend. If talking about players from the 70s, 80s and 90s I’d always say Pele and Maradona. I was a big big Ronaldinho fan when he was playing. Simply because he was different. The way he juggled the ball, it’s like he didn’t play so seriously. Of course he did but it was all fun. I saw him score an unbelievable goal when Barcelona played Valencia. It was a bicycle kick. I was there. I remember saying to myself, “what did I just witness”. I can never forget that moment. The two biggest names that really excited me were Ronaldinho and Adriano. I loved him when he was at Inter as well.

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With this collection, do you look at what was happening in the football world with kit design and that kind of thing or did you just concentrate on your own process?

It was all organic. I wanted to pay homage to legends from the 70s and 80s. People like Beckenbauer, Pele and Maradona. Also how the Goalkeepers used to dress. They were the OGs for me. They were the fashionistas that nobody was talking about. All the retro stripes are inspired by colourful goalkeeper kits. All the jerseys also have a jacquard pattern on them which is only visible once you get closer. We’ve added a tonal carpet design to the shirt which again pays homage to where we have come from.

All you’ve done in the fashion world, you’ve achieved so much. Is designing football inspired pieces a bit of a dream when you think back to your childhood?

It is a dream. Also, I wanted to challenge myself with this. I’ve added the tailoring element to the collection. Bringing denim into the collection was a little bit retro. It reminded me of this old German life from my childhood. Vintage denim and adding a jersey on top, it gives me that throwback feeling of the 80s and 90s. We’ve also produced blazers, coach jackets and a lot more. It’s not just jerseys and it’s not just sportswear. It’s very much a hybrid between sport and tailoring. It’s also about East meeting West. It’s a melting pot of references.

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Has this given you a hunger to do more in the football space?

For sure. This is only the beginning. This is like me warming up. It’s a huge project for me, this collaboration with Coca-Cola. But I want to be one of the people pushing the limits and changing what is happening in football fashion.

Brands like Off-White have dominated dressing rooms and players have bought into it enormously. What do you make of when a brand infects football like that?

I think it’s a good thing because it opens up a gateway for others. I think what Virgil has done with football is great. He’s opened the door for others to be able to get into that space. There has to be one that gets in there and breaks the boundaries. Then others will follow and take it into a different direction. It’s about all of us contributing for change. It’s never just one person. It takes a lot of people coming together to contribute to a greater change.

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Dropping a collection like this will elevate Les Benjamins even further. Is there a message you have for the next generation of creatives aspiring to do what you are?

Don’t be afraid to be different. Be yourself. Support the people that are under you. Ask the people above you for help. I spend time mentoring people when I can and it’s a huge thing for me. It opens my eyes too. I can see what social media does to people. I think fear is one of the biggest things we face right now. Our generation is scared of things, scared to get rejected. Social media has done that and we need to encourage people to try things. To not be scared to fail in life. It’s ok so long as you learn.

What do you think football can learn from the fashion world with that in mind? How do you tell football players that it’s ok to be different?

I have a lot of friends who are football players. What I see being the biggest issue is that the media doesn’t show these people as humans too. They don’t allow them to enjoy life in a way. They are always judged on a performance. Which is a horrible way to end up. You’re treated badly for life because of one bad performance - can you imagine that? It’s a crazy amount of pressure. One thing that can be learnt from fashion is that designers do their job. People realise it’s a job. We do our fashion shows and shine there but at the same time we have our personal life which is completely respected. I think what football needs to learn is to respect the personal life of footballers and celebrate those who are different. I understand why they are judged because there is so much passion but you also need to let these guys blow off some steam to enable them to perform better on the pitch.

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This football-inspired range is available at Les Benjamins stores & online now.