It seems that since the beginning of time, women and girls have been forced to don their dad's over-sized football shirt that was only designed with a middle-aged man's physique in mind.
But Michelle D'vaz has had enough.
A life long Chelsea fan, Michelle, alongside her daughter Aasia, has created a collection of t-shirts made specifically with match-going women in mind. Sick of the "stupid, glittery diamante" t-shirts that'd she'd find in the club megastore, Michelle quickly realised that the female fan was lacking a classic, yet expressive look that epitomises their love for the game.
And so, Stilletos and Shinpads was born. But - not without years of fandom, inquisition and pestering.
"I grew up in a multi-racial family, my mums English and my dad is Anglo-Indian," Michelle tells me.
"Being of Indian background, football isn’t part of their upbringing, it’s not something that Asians tend to follow. They play a lot of football, but don’t necessarily have a team, so growing up, I don’t ever recall my dad watching football, it was more my mum."
"My mum came from a working-class family, my grandfather was a massive Crystal Palace fan and my mum was a Chelsea fan so that’s where my love for Chelsea came in really. They were on the TV a lot and I’d watch them,"
"I also was massively into watching the Dutch team play and the reason why was that they were so multi-cultural, and as a young girl growing up it was quite difficult because of my skin colour to know where my face was. I went to a Catholic school that was all white, I was the only girl of colour, then I suddenly discovered this football team on the TV that was really mixed and for me, that was massive because I really felt like I had a connection with them and my love of football really started there."
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It wasn't until Michelle was in her twenties that she really discovered her love and passion for Chelsea. With her parents sadly divorcing, her mother later remarried and Michelle suddenly had a Chelsea season ticket holder for a step-dad.
"That gave me the ideal opportunity to go to games with somebody because my mum wasn’t necessarily confident enough to take me to games on her own, being a female and of course having a dark-skinned child, I think she felt that it would be difficult but my step-dad, who was also white, was very much matter of fact about it."
"The fact that we bonded over football was brilliant. I also met my husband at Chelsea. Unfortunately, my step-dad passed away a couple of years ago so my passion for the team lives on and I will constantly be there to hopefully see them win further things for him," Michelle continues.
Stilettos and Shinpads was born just over twelve months ago, but it was actually many years before that, that Michelle first considered the idea for a female brand.
"I used to wear a small boys Chelsea shirt and it was really ill-fitting, not very nice but it was the only option for me. Then Chelsea, and a lot of other clubs, launched their women’s range, and I remember standing and talking with some other women at the football and we all had the new female cut shirts on, but we were mortified because our chests were exposed. All they had done is tapered in at the waist and lowered the neckline, so suddenly we had cleavages at football and women are quite sexualised at football anyway, so this shirt didn’t help that – it added to it! We didn’t want cleavages. That’s not how we wanted to depict our love for our club," explains Michelle.
It was at that point Michelle felt that women, like herself, needed a far more casual choice.
"Men have a t-shirt option that’s pretty cool and in keeping with fashion, whereas women didn’t have that. Anything that I saw [for women] in the megastore, was covered in stupid, glittery diamantes or pink, and I don’t want to wear that. I was talking to lots of other women and they were saying the same."
Michelle took matters into her own hands, spending a fortune creating and ordering her own t-shirts from online websites with slogans that were relevant to her club.
"I’d wear them to the games and people used to say “that’s amazing where did you get that from?” And so that's when I realised that there was something in this. I wanted something to wear that I don’t always have to wear to the football, I wanted something that doesn’t matter what team you support, but also shows that I love the game."
It wasn't until Michelle's daughter, Aasia, got involved that the brand really took off.
"I'd taken a short course at the London College of Fashion years ago around how to start this brand and then over time my daughter, who's always wanted to be a fashion designer, she’s progressed, is doing really well and is now doing a Masters in Entrepreneurial Fashion. So over the years, just by chance, she’s gone into that industry and she said why don’t we do this, let’s do it together," Michelle tells me.
"It’s a passion point for me and, of course, her love of fashion, so together we just decided to create it. We’re not expecting to take over the world with it we just want likeminded people to feel that there is something they can wear that fixes the challenges that I’ve faced."
Aasia and Michelle have a shared love for Stilletos and Shinpads, but, despite Michelle's efforts, Aasia hasn't inherited the passion for football that her mum holds so deeply.
"I’ve tried [to get Aasia into football] but I think I forced it too much! When she was a child, we lived two minutes from the Chelsea training ground and they used to have an open session where you could go along and watch them train, so I used to take her most weekends and put her into a place where I thought the players would come to speak to me because I’ve got this young black child dressed in a Chelsea shirt!" Michelle laughs.
"She often says she’s a football orphan because most weekends my mum would have her so I could go to the football. She has been with me to games and I think secretly she'd always cheer on Chelsea, especially with my stepdad dying and that being her Grandad I think she sees how important it is to us. I think deep down she genuinely does love Chelsea, but she wouldn’t ever get a season ticket."
Michelle thinks that's how the brand really came about. She would pester Aasia to make her something to wear to the football, Aasia would get fed up with her moaning, and so the brand was born.
"It was probably a year ago that she created the first t-shirts. We would sit down and write slogans and things we’d all say at football that I thought were funny or relevant as a female football fan, and then she would then start the artwork. We wanted them to be simple enough that you could wear to football, but you could also wear them under a suit jacket."
She goes onto tell an anecdote from when Chelsea first won the league.
"The year Chelsea won the league, my friends had arranged a proper night out with dinner and it was an event that I couldn’t get out of. I went up to Chelsea to watch the game anyway and it ended up being the night we won the league. I was beside myself, people were dancing in the streets, they were on lamp posts, so I rang my friends up and they said to me “if you think you’re not coming, we’ll never talk to you again!". I was trying to explain to them “do you not realise what this is?!” and they just didn’t get it. So, I had to then go to this dinner wearing my Chelsea shirt underneath this formal dress thinking “I don’t want to be here!”
It was this memory that inspired Michelle and Aasia to create some t-shirts with smaller, wearable slogans so that, if needed, they could be worn as part of a more formal outfit.
"With some of our designs, the slogans are on the sleeves so that if I wanted to, I could wear that under a blazer for work and nobody would know. We liked that it was a little bit kooky, a bit alternative, because that’s what we are really and we don’t want to conform and we don’t want to be like everybody else, we want to feel cool and edgy and fun and fashionable. I sometimes see poor women having to wear these awful pink diamante Chelsea shirts whereas I’m sure all they want is something that is just a little bit cooler," Michelle adds.
Where Aasia lacks in football interest, she makes up for in fashion. The mother-daughter duo works collaboratively, with Michelle inspiring the slogans and Aasia illustrating, designing and creating the pieces.
"It’s my brainchild and she’s just taken it and run with it. She will consult me on everything because she knows that I’m the market for other women like me, so she’s always checking in, seeing if it’s an idea that I’d like, asking what I think. Then I sit with a lot of women at Chelsea now so I will always check in with them and see what they feel about the t-shirts."
The t-shirts are made organically, with specific sizing, something that was important to both Michelle and Aasia during the creative process.
"We haven’t gone hugely small on sizes, we’ve got a small but we’ve gone bigger because there’s a lot of women, like me, middle-aged, who over the years have put on weight, that still wants to feel fashionable but also wants something that fits. We wanted to embrace that part of it as well and be as all-encompassing as we could be. Also, all of our t-shirts are organic, they’re all printed with sustainable ink, everything’s created in the UK and we’re trying to be as good to the planet as well with the brand."
Stilettos and Shinpads have also just partnered with the homeless charity, Glassdoor.
"The homeless appeal has always been something that resonates with me just because I came from a family that didn’t have anything, on a council estate and I can see how easy it is to end up in that situation. Stress, wellbeing and mindfulness, it really resonates with me. With every t-shirt that we sell, we donate money to them because that was really meaningful to us," explains Michelle.
Stilettos and Shinpads currently have five t-shirts and one scarf available to purchase from their online store. They're also stocked in Wembley Park Market, an indoor independent curated space for young designers, situated directly under the arch of our national stadium.
"I love all of [the t-shirts] but I guess the 'Church' one means a lot to me because of my stepdad. My daughter's grandparents are extremely religious and so her Christening went on for about five hours. At the Christening, this man came over to my stepdad and said "oh where’s your church, where do you pray?" and very straight-faced my stepdad went, "it’s the Church of Stamford Bridge" and that’s where the slogan came from, it’s based on what he said. So that t-shirt is our nod to him," explains Michelle.
"I also love the 'For Heaven’s Sake' which is the illustration one, it was done by a tattoo artist that we worked really closely with to create something that was all around the strategic thinking of the games of the Gods. It’s something that I’m constantly shouting at Chelsea players: "For Heaven’s sake, just clear it!" And so that’s probably my favourite."
To Michelle and Aasia, the brand is much more than a few t-shirts that can be worn to the football. Stilettos and Shinpads represents an entire group of women who, although once felt misrepresented, now feel authentically themselves whilst still sharing their love for the game.
"We don’t want to conform. We want to feel that there’s something there that talks to us, and enables us to bring across the spirit of what we want to say. That’s always what I’ve wanted from what I want to wear. I’ve had tendencies to cut Chelsea shirts up to recreate something just because I just don’t want to look like everybody else," says Michelle"
"I’m somebody that really likes fashion, I’m somebody that really loves my football, so I just wanted something that gave across my personality, and my sense of who I am without conforming to everything else and what the football club tell me that I should conform to. I want to be me, I want to be individual and have my own take on it."News Now - Sport News