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In their own words – Anthony and Christopher Donnelly talk the rise of Gio-Goi

To celebrate our size? Exclusive Gio-Goi collection we caught up with founders, Anthony and Christopher Donnelly, to talk about the brand’s beginnings, the early rave scene, the brand’s future and all things in-between:

What was it like growing up in Manchester in the ’70s/’80s?

Christopher: “It was a very different time if you know what I mean? Me and Anthony were brought up on a council estate, our Dad was a scrap dealer. It was nice where we lived, it was green, just on the outskirts of Wythenshawe. My Dad was a bit of a character, the whole family was really – well known right across the city. In the ’70s I was a young kid, but ’77 was when it started getting interesting for me cause ’76-’77 the punk thing broke. 

“I’d be going into primary school with ripped jeans on, sort of Converse style pumps with ‘88’ on the side of ‘em, with a mohair jumper at the age of 9. There used to be a punk disco up the road that I’d sneak into, and they’d all be pogoing to Slaughter and Dogs (from Wythenshawe), Sex Pistols and all that, and I’d be 9 years old in there with geezers who were 18 to 20. It was an interesting time and place to be brought up in.”

Anthony: “We probably had a slightly different upbringing than most people, cause growing up we were surrounded by famous people. Our family was notorious and attracted all walks of life. As a kid, I would go to my dad’s scrap yard and you’d have Lou Macari, George Best, Rodney Marsh and other famous footballers of the time around. ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ by Thin Lizzy was actually written about, my dad’s brother, my dad and his friends. But my fondest memories of growing up were playing football, wherever we went. Our whole being was football.”

Where does the name ‘Gio-Goi’ come from, and what does it mean?

Christopher: “So, there are lots of rumours, and over the years I’ve made stuff up to make me laugh when I’ve been reading GQ or other publications. The real story is this: our offices in the late ’80s early ’90s were quite anarchic to say the least, nothing sanitised. 

“Basically, one of the lads had bought a Vietnamese dictionary and we stuck a pin in it, and it came up with the name ‘Gio’. Then we matched it up with the ‘Goi’ ourselves, and it means… well it means several different things in different countries, but in Vietnamese, it translates to ‘the call of the wind’. It just kinda worked, like one of those brands where people weren’t really sure how to say it, yanno? But that’s the real story, we just stuck a pin in a dictionary.”

How did the brand start?

Christopher: “Me and Anthony were totally immersed in the acid house scene; when it broke, we were at the forefront. Then we started to put on our own illegal raves – the first one in England – which was called ‘Sweat it Out’ – which actually features on the apparel in the new collection. So, we spent the next couple of years doing illegal raves and if I’m honest, more probably got shut down by the old bill than we actually got off successfully – but we did a couple of crackers!” 

“On the back of that we tried to do a couple of legal parties, but our names were so associated with the illegal side of acid house that when we tried to go legal the police wouldn’t let us and shut our legal parties down. So, what we then saw was other ‘corporate’ companies saying acid house ‘was about this’ or ‘was about that’, or it was wearing 20-inch flairs and that wasn’t for us, it was just proper lads and girls. We felt we had a point to prove to these ‘corporates’ outside looking in trying to make money from our revolution. We felt it was our thing and wanted to tell the real story. 

“So, me and Anthony started making clothes for the people who’d been around it, putting the real graphics onto t-shirts. It was what acid house really meant to people. That’s where it started, we just wanted to write a bit of a wrong, I guess.”

Anthony: “We were kind of already known for being in the clothing game cause we used to make bootleg merch for bands, travelling around the UK and Europe. We were also getting noticed by Tony Wilson, Alan Erasmus and New Order, amongst others. Then we got asked to do The Happy Monday’s official artwork and sell their merch at concerts. 

“Around this time acid house had exploded for us, which made our focus change. We saw other people then trying to cash in on the back of this acid house explosion, but because we were doing the raves, it made sense for us to have a brand of our own and push the message of what was actually going on.” 

At what moment did you both think ‘we could make something of this’?

Christopher: “It never entered my head once that this wouldn’t be a massive success. I’m not sure whether that’s because you’re young and you think a certain way. Loads of people would say to me ‘you’re going to go into clothing? You’ve not had any training’. I had no qualifications, but I’d always been into clothes. 

“Growing up in the 70s, most of my mates weren’t into clothes as much as I was, whereas I was always into ‘em. I remember seeing mods – after the second revival in 1980 – in the newspaper, all these kids on scooters – I was just blown away by it. So, yeah, I’ve just always been into clothes. 

“So, what me and Anthony did was get a couple of kids in who did graphics, a couple who did garment design – they’d all been to college. Then we just put a collection together, went to a trade show with it and it was absolute carnage! It was a tradeshow called ‘MAB’ – ‘men and boys’, full of men in grey suits; a grey affair. We had Adamski playing on the stage, the Happy Mondays playing music, with a stand full of paint splatters all over it; it was literally painted by dragging another person through the paint – we were just an explosion of colour! They shut the music down, but we still took massive orders. 

“We still didn’t have any know-how about the business side of things in fashion, we knew how to create a party, but not making clothes. I found a geezer in Leicester, did a couple of tees up there, then found an embroidery place in Manchester, started embroidering tees, then went to all shops that had originally put orders in. We gave them 50 tees each on SOR (sale or return), and it must have been within two hours they were back on the phone saying they’d sold out. It just went ballistic. 

“Stores would announce they were getting a delivery and there’d be a queue of people waiting for the gear. People just knew it was proper lads making gear. There was no social media back then, so you had to find it or be a part of It. Like-minded people, a connection.”

Anthony: “There was always an entrepreneurial spirit around us. I mean, if you have confidence in yourself to know that if you set something up, that you could make a success of it. It was like just a self-belief… when Christopher did his 21st Birthday party, the NME, The Stone Roses, London Records and anybody who was anybody turned up to share an experience with us. Everything we do we know we’ll put the effort and energy in, so we expect the rewards. Those rewards came fast.” 

What was the early design process for lads with no traditional background in fashion and design?

Christopher: “We’d have kids working with us who’d been to Saint Martin’s College, studied fashion for years; they were doing creative stuff. From my side, I was looking at their work and thinking ‘it’s cool, but I know what my mates want to wear’, so I just started doing my own thing, putting graphics together, getting shapes of jackets that I liked and I knew that the lads would wear. 

“So, we kind of had three designers, two doing the traditional side and me doing my thing. So, I’d say I’m kind of like self-taught doing rough drawings, and, you know what, I’m still the same today. So, for example, I’ll draw something, take a screenshot and send it to a designer to turn into a CAD.” 

Where did the inspiration for your early designs come from?

Christopher: “The brand was born out of music, fashion and football. That’s essentially where me and Anthony came from. We spent years on the terraces, went away with the lads. It’s interesting because the casual thing really mixed with the acid house thing. Really it was just about making clothes that the lads would wear. Listen, you couldn’t even get a tye-dye t-shirt then, so to find something slightly different that wasn’t the norm that you could wear to the match, then wear on the dancefloor was what we done. It wasn’t intentional, it was just our background.”

Anthony: “At that time, we were looking at other brands and thinking ‘we can do better than that ourselves’. We know what the message is, we know about the dancefloor and we know what’s current. The designs pretty much all came from Christopher. I’m on the business side and Chris is on creative.” 

How important is music to what Gio-Go are as a brand?

Christopher: “It’s probably everything because we’ve always been involved with music. Like my brother Anthony would tell you, ‘I’m not in fashion, I’m a music promoter’, where I would say I’m a bit of both. 

“From our early days we’ve always been involved with music. We’ve launched some of the most iconic artists in the world, helped people, created music videos for artists. ‘Blind Faith’ by Chase & Status – that video is actually based on my 21st birthday party, so there’ll be stuff me and Anthony have done that people won’t know about. Deadmaus ‘I Remember’, I put that video together with a good friend of mine Colin O’Toole, it was Deadmaus’ first video and we made a 10-minute movie, which I think ended up in MTV’s top 25 music videos of all time. 

“I wrote part of the 10-commandment speech that was performed by Stephen Graham. My two kids are actually in the video at the end playing Mouse Trap, and it says ‘to be continued’ – that video was 10-11 years ago, and I actually had a conversation with a huge name in the music industry about doing part two.”

Anthony: “Predominantly myself and Christopher are music promoters, we made a conscious decision to move into fashion because of our talent with bootlegging bands’ merch. We chose to become a rock’n’roll brand instead of a rock’n’roll band. Gio-Goi is music. What you have to take into consideration is, when we were on the dancefloor – in the Hacienda – we might have stood next to Alan McGhee (Creation Records), a lot of those people that we were on the dancefloor with, they’re now CEOs of record labels. 

“We currently manage DJs; we’ve managed famous bands. In the background, we’re involved with music, heavily. We’re intrinsically linked with the music business. It’s something that we’ll never get away from and it’s something we’ll always be involved with. All the new DJ’s and Artists seem to want to be associated with Gio-Goi because of what we’ve done in the past. It’s kind of like a two-way thing, they respect what’s come before.”

Were there any brands you guys were looking out for or took inspiration from?

Christopher: “The brands we were wearing growing up were the likes of FU.S, Fiorucci, Pringle, Kickers and Pod. It was the same right around the country, that casual vibe. Then in the ’80s, we were into Lacoste, FILA and Sergio Tacchini. But I’d say a brand that I really like and used to wear when I started designing was Duffer of St George. They were cool guys. 

“Once we started making clothes, the lads from Duffer put an order in for Gio-Goi, because they just got our vibe. For us as a young brand coming through to be embraced by these guys, guys I looked up to. It was a great moment.”

Anthony: “Brands that influenced me growing up were Lois Jeans, Fiorucci, Martini Knitwear – mostly being sold at Paris de Sept in Deansgate, by a cool hippie. I’d also go to Austin Reed’s for tennis brands that were heavily worn on the football terraces. Don’t forget we were labelled ‘scallies’, fashion and football were equally important to us. Cause that was our life.”

Manchester in that time was coming into its own as a cultural hub, what influence did that have on the brand?

Christopher: “At the time, we didn’t actually realise it but the whole world was looking at Manchester, because of the club and acid house scene. Then you had Factory Records, New Order, The Roses, The Mondays, the fashion… everything! It was just a melting pot and we were right in the thick of it. I mean, my sister, Tracy, worked at Factory Records, she worked at the Hacienda, so I knew all the DJs, I had my own guest list. 

“Even prior to all that, everyone talks about the Hacienda – ’87, ’88 onwards – but I remember going to the Hacienda in the early 80s, I was there for their first birthday party when I was 13! It’s been documented, but underneath the Hacienda dancefloor there was a hairdresser’s called ‘Swing’ and the geezer who ran it, Andrew Berry, was a DJ at the Hacienda, so there’d be all types in there, it was just mad! I’d go and get my hair cut and Morrisey would be there, Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr, The Fall and seeing those guys made me think ‘that’s where you need to be. That’s where it’s at – music and fashion’. So that was definitely a turning point in my head. That was the route we needed to go.” 

Anthony: “We arrived at the same time. We were there at the start of acid house, with a few others. At the time it wasn’t really about the Hacienda it was about ‘Stuffed Olives’; you hear similar stories about ‘Studio 54’ and how it was impossible to get in. People would have panic attacks thinking ‘what are you going to do if you can’t get in?’. Obviously, we didn’t have that problem. 

“So, you’d have all the bands, acid house and our label kicking in at the same time. Publications like the NME were coming to Manchester to find out about this thing and what was going on. The bands that they were interviewing would be wearing Gio-Goi in videos, magazines and wherever else when they were touring around the world, so the brand was getting great exposure. We were naturally becoming part of the history and fabric of the town.” 

Can you tell us about the birth of acid house and early dance culture?

Christopher: “Me and Anthony were going to the Hacienda, then we found out there was a club on Sunday night called ‘Stuffed Olives’, it was just off Deansgate. At the time, with licensing laws, everywhere shut at 10.30pm. So, this club opened at 10pm, but it didn’t serve alcohol, so if you were going there you were going there to dance, if you know what I mean? So, there was sort of cult culture thing going on, but very, very small.

“It was just electrifying, Jon Da Silva was the DJ at the time, but it wasn’t all house, it was everything from hip-hop to soul, to James Brown, just a complete mixture! There’d only be a few people in there; Shaun & Bez, The Roses, Mani, New Order, just everyone who was into the fashion and music scene. So, it was like ‘if you know, you know’. But you’d get all the football heads in there as well, so it just had this mad energy. It was thick with smoke, strobe lights and thumping, thumping music! I’ve described it in the past as a zoo that was out of control! It was hedonistic.” 

Was Gio-Goi big in other cities and countries?

Christopher: “We were selling in New York; we were selling in Japan. It was just word of mouth! We’d send clothes to ‘Flowered Up’ and ‘Galliano’ (the band) in London, to the Original Stussy store in Greenwich Village, the kids who worked in the store would be head-to-toe in Gio-Goi. The way we originally did our marketing was to send our clothes to bands that were playing relevant music shows like ‘The Word’. Then we had 5 sales reps in different regions. It’s funny, they’d end up fighting, because the rep in the North East would take all the gear, then our geezer in London would come in and all his stock had gone! The demand was mad.”

You guys have got 30 years plus experience as a brand. What’s changed over the years?

Christopher: “It’s got a back story, its clothes by the lads for the lads and girls. It’s still got that back story today, but now it’s got 30 years of heritage. The brand, like us, has had lots of ups and downs, but that’s just life. I’m not 20 years of age anymore, so I’m more experienced, but the ethos of the brand is exactly the same as it was back then. 

“That’s just me and Anthony as people, which is something you can’t take away from us; it’s who we are. Our latest collection harks back to the acid house period, and it’s relevant today as there’s lots of raves and things like that going on. 

“We set the art direction, we have young people around us now, so we can take a step back and direct the brand. Like my son, he’s involved now. He DJs, he’s into his clothes. He’s the next generation, carrying the torch.”

Anthony: “It’s been around for three decades; different age groups have experienced it and it’s never gone away. Because we were street kids it was very difficult to break into fashion or music. We setup Gio-Goi because we were unemployable, but we had the knowledge and the contacts to rent PAs, security and attract tens of thousands of people. The rest was history. Gio Goi has gone on to have the front cover of Vogue with Mario Testino, made a multitude of videos for famous artists and is sold all over the world. Not bad for two lads from a council estate who left school with no qualifications in fashion or music.”

Our exclusive collection features artwork from some early parties you both put on; can you tell us about them?

Christopher: “The latest collection features original imagery, such as the flyer from ‘Sweat it Out’, which was the first acid house party in the North. Originally, we were doing it on Store street, but we moved it last minute to keep the location secret. So, what we did, we painted ‘11pm. Wait here’ on the doors – the original image actually features on one of the t-shirts – and every time a crowd would turn up, we ferry them around the corner to where the venue was. 

“Inside we built stages, put a load of strobe lights up, and Jon Da Silva was the DJ and then Mike Pickering came from the Hacienda and it went on til about 8 or 9am, then the police turned up, but all that was on the floor was coke cans and bottles of water, so they didn’t have a clue what was going on or what acid house was. That was one of the most infamous parties. To put it in context if you compare acid house to punk, the Free Trade Hall gig with The Sex Pistols was to punk what ‘Sweat it Out’ was to acid house.

Advice for people reading this and considering a future in fashion?

Christopher: “It’s good to be different and the traditional way isn’t always the best way. I didn’t have any qualifications in fashion at all. Fashion isn’t always something you can teach, it’s something that’s in you. It’s a great industry to be in, but it can be very hard. My advice to anyone is if you work hard enough and stay focussed you can do it.” 

Anthony: “My advice is this; whatever your chosen career, when you work hard and you’ve got a good heart, if you stick at it, eventually it’ll come your way, whether that’s fashion, football… whatever! 

“There are three things you should be: 1. Be nice 2. Be nice and 3. Be nice. So, whatever your career, just work hard and be nice and I think you can get to where you want to be.”

What does the next decade hold for Gio-Goi?

Christopher: “More of the same. More rock’n’roll and a new generation that will be into the brand’s ethos.” 

Anthony: “When we were growing up, we were inspired by factory records. We were mentored by Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Alan Erasmus. So, for me and Chris, being of a certain age now and having kids that are grown up, we want them to take a more active role in the company. 

“The analogy I’m trying to use is, I think what’s really, really beautiful about where we are at the moment is that me and Chris can possibly help people by giving them opportunities to get into fashion or music and giving them good advice.” 

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