Words || Angus Dalton
Warwick Levy’s childhood was filled with so much TV and Street Fighter II that he talks with a slightly American accent. He found his first long-term relationship on a Neopets chat room, has a strange obsession with Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and 5 years ago, he started an online clothing label.
I met Warwick by chance on my way home from St Leonard’s train station after I spotted a sign that read ‘Lonely Kids Club’. At first I thought it might be some sort of sad day-care. But when I walked in, I wasn’t met by a group of sullen-faced toddlers, but rather 10 bolts of fabric printed with fluoro paisley patterns and retro cartoon designs. A freshly painted blackboard was drying on the wall opposite a rack of Friendlyjordies merchandise. By my feet, an open trunk spilled over with The Simpsons-themed fabrics and scraps of cloth covered in Pokémon and characters from Rugrats.
The semi-bearded dude behind the counter leapt up and introduced himself as Warwick, founder of Lonely Kids Club and owner of the newly-established flagship shore. I stayed for almost an hour as he explained how his brand is a creative, hand-made revolt against the 3-dollar mass-produced crap from stores like H&M that dominate Sydney’s fashion. Lonely Kids Club is all about injecting some vitality and fun into an increasingly corporatised Sydney starved of arts funding and strangled by lockout laws.
‘When garment creation first started, you’d go to a clothes maker and you’d pick out the fabric and design the clothes together,’ Warwick explained. ‘But now people just buy garments that are mass-produced in China in unethical circumstances. There’s this Westfield culture in Sydney particularly, where shopping centres have all the same stores, the same products, the same artists, and we’re all dressing the same. That’s not what clothing should be.’
The ethos behind Lonely Kids Club is to create a community where people can visit the shop, go behind the scenes and design their own piece of custom clothing, be it a Simpsons tee, Mario Kart 64 jacket or a pair of Postman Pat-themed chinos. It taps back into the golden age of pop-culture, when Seinfeld, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Space Jam and Cheez TV graced our screens.
‘I’ve tried to take clothe-making all the way back to step one, where people come into the story. It’s very inclusive, and regardless of age, identity, or whatever, you can meet me and our designer Rach, you can see where we make the clothes, and we can design together. That gives me a buzz that I don’t get anywhere else.’
Warwick quit a soul-draining construction degree five years ago to start Lonely Kids Club, which was named after a marriage-pact he has with his best friend. His obsession with t-shirts began with a habit of digging deep into the internet to find one-of-a-kind shirts to populate his wardrobe.
‘I had really bad social anxiety. Having an interesting t-shirt on was a way to express myself and attract conversation without having to be verbose,’ he explained.
Warwick channelled this passion for unique t-shirts into kick-starting the brand, and soon organised his first line to be designed by a guy he found on MySpace.
‘The first line was really strange. I flew to Melbourne to meet this guy I didn’t know and he ended up being a drug dealer. I slept on a soiled mattress in his garage for a week. But we smashed out a bunch of drawings during that time and that’s how the first range came together!’
Now Warwick collaborates with a bunch of local and international artists, like a couple from Philadelphia who take a lot of psychedelics; they designed a neon-green collage of characters from Hey Arnold and Cow & Chicken dominated by a multi-eyed Milhouse. I bought that shirt immediately. The piles of classic 90s fabric piled around the stole are a result of vigilant internet research and hungover excursions to fabric fairs.
‘There’s a Venn diagram of me and 60-year-old nannas and we overlap in the middle with out obsession with fabrics,’ Warwick laughs.
A deceased estate sale from a lady who had been hoarding Rugrats fabric was a lucky find for Warwick – he bought the lot. He hit the jackpot again when a bunch of teenagers broke into an abandoned warehouse and discovered stacks of old (possibly haunted) Goosebumps prints, which they then sold online. The renaissance of Pokémon has his stacks of pokéball prints and Pikachu-themed fabric rapidly dwindling.
‘I always watch 90s stuff with really powerful nostalgia,’ Warwick says. ‘My parents divorced when I was young, my Mum had her own issues and my Dad had issues with me – I wasn’t the child he expected I guess – and I didn’t have friends. My release was watching these TV shows. To this day, people say I have a slight US accent from watching so many American TV shows instead of talking to people. The reason I got through those tough times is because I had all this pop-culture stuff, and I really like re-contextualising it all into a new expression.’
Lonely Kids Club has a strictly ethical mindset, donating to places like ‘Golden Oldies’, an animal shelter for older pets that get neglected, and they’re looking at supporting a charity that aids schizophrenics on the brink of homelessness. The store has also been completely gender-neutral from day one.
‘When clothe shops say “this is how men dress and this is how women dress”, that’s a really negative culture. The person that does my mailing for me is trans and they just do the best job ever. It’s such a comfortable working environment for them. I always felt bad because they couldn’t really get a job in the past because they had these issues of how to dress, look and feel, and they couldn’t really fit in. I really believe in gender neutrality. However you want to dress you should, it doesn’t matter.’
Warwick is candid about talking about his own mental health and identity issues he had while growing up. He gets to know people through chatting with them on the Lonely Kids Club website, and often finds that people open up more easily online.
‘I’m digital like that. I grew up on MSN. My first long-term relationship was with someone I met on a Neopets forum. I genuinely think people open up more easily online. So many people I’ve gotten to know are so chill and amazing, and when we get to the next level of our friendship they’ll start admitting that they have mental health issues. I think to myself, you could have said that from day one and I would not have thought any less of you. Mental heath is a real thing, we should break the taboo and shouldn’t be embarrassed about talking about these issues. If anyone judges you about it that’s their issue, not yours.’
Now there’s not only an online hub for people to open up and engage with creativity on the Lonely Kids Club website, but also an offline hub in the form of the new store. There are beanbags, good vibes, a super inclusive atmosphere and heaps of nostalgia-inducing fabric to riffle through. Before I leave, I profess my obsession with Goosebumps, and am faced with a tough choice between a skeleton with a mohawk, a fanged rabbit lurching out of a top hat, or a hamster spewing green slime.
I pick the hamster – it’s a classic – and the designer, Rach, cuts out the design in front of me and stitches it straight onto a shirt. It’s super fun to see the sowing machine in action and to walk away with an original, 90s-themed piece of clothing that I know is one-of-a-kind.
‘We don’t need to exploit people in other countries,’ says Warwick. ‘We can use our creativity here. Everyone’s saying that there’s no creativity here, but I’m actually trying to do something about that and bring some positive energy back into Sydney.’
Lonely Kids Club is located at 58 Atchison Street in St Leonards and open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am until 4pm. Head to their website to check out the full range and get to know their adorably lethargic sloth mascots.