Rat Race: Timeless threads
We talk to the men at the centre of Rat Race, a Margate independent store with decades of youth culture at its core
It is stated, by Rat Race themselves, that 60 years of youth culture runs through Margate like your classic piece of seaside rock. Since 2014 the shop has attracted swathes of mods, skins, punks and more to the old High Street.
Owned by style devotee Laurence Clifton and manager Pete Noble Jr, the shop shows exactly what can be done when classic styles meets modern polish.
“We don’t really see this a trend, it's more like something that has never gone away,” says Laurence. “Brands we stock like Fred Perry, Gabicci, Brutus & Ben Sherman have been around forever, they've been worn by many types of well-dressed individuals throughout the years. Cool never fades.”
Though Laurence worked abroad as a carpenter and Pete played in a band for many years before the incarnation of Rat Race – not your usual entry routes into retail – the shop has seen continuing organic growth since it opened and has a reputation for stunning retail and visual merchandising. The window displays are something else and the online presence is on-brand and on-trend.
“We've been working hard to grow our online business over the last couple of years,” says Pete. “We regularly take orders from overseas with the most popular areas being Europe, Japan, USA and Malaysia. We have a new website currently in the making which will have some really cool features.”
Of course, like all good retail outlets, Rat Race utilises its social media, being able to tap into mod culture a hashtags on pic-based platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
“Social media has been hugely beneficial to the British subculture scene,” says Pete. “It has given thousands of similar minded people a platform to share their own personal style and interests while sharing and connecting with others.”
With Margate’s rich history of attracting youth culture factions, was it a smart business move or a project of passion to start a shop dedicated to a genre that refuses to fade away.
“While Rat Race certainly suits being in Margate with its history of different subcultures and tribes,” says Laurence, “the brands and styles we stock are a reflection of our personal tastes.”
The Soul, Mod, Ska and 60s revival festivals that take place in Margate, and the pilgrims who continue to make their journey to the historic culture hotspot, means that you are never too far from a scooter, a Harrington jacket or an RAF roundel (target).
“There is definitely still a strong community in town,” says Laurence. “We see youngsters new to the scenes and the 'originals' still looking as sharp as ever. Margate has always been an important town throughout the history of British subculture. Margate has a thriving community of like-minded people brought together by a love of classic fashion and music.
“It’s not uncommon for our customers to travel many miles to visit our store,” adds Pete. “We really appreciate the support from our regulars, too. We've even had a customer hop on a ferry and travel over from Belgium to pick up a latest release.”
Just a quick look at the shops online presence will render pics of some very famous faces hunting down the latest mod wear in Margate. The link to the music that underlines the subculture is never too far away either. Our models for the shoot, The Gallery’s have even played in Rat Race in the past.
“Music and these types of fashion go hand in hand. We often have DJs playing vinyl instore,” says Pete. “The music we play is very important to the shop. The genres we play include ska, reggae, soul, Britpop, indie, 60s garage rock and everything in between. Our favourite songs playing in-store at the moment are; The Streets - Let’s Push Things Forward; The Clash - Train In Vain; Ini Kamoze - World-A-Reggae; Iggy Pop - Lust For Life; and The Specials – Gangsters.”
Rat Race has recently become an official stockist for Fred Perry and are all set to take delivery of Ellesse Heritage for this Autumn. But it is arguably still the classics that get the most admiration.
“Trojan is one of our favourite brands,” says Pete. “They always create fantastic colours throughout the collection.
“But our biggest selling item has to be the Dr.Martens 1460 8-eye Cherry Red boots, whether it is youngsters buying their first pair of boots or the older generation replacing their 30-year old pair. There is always a buzz around the Dr.Martens.”
Rat Race will be moving from their current position on the High Street onto Margate's main Parade later this summer. Find them on social at @ratracemargate