As Seen in Manchester: Oi Polloi's Steve Sanderson

As Seen in Manchester: Oi Polloi's Steve Sanderson

Our customers are great, each one an individual who enters our store after a frame that perfectly reflects their style and personality. We’ve been around a while now, so we’ve accumulated some pretty fascinating ones over the years.

So instead of going on about us and our glasses, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on the people that wear them. Steve Sanderson is one of them. He’s one of the founders of Oi Polloi — the Manchester-based men’s clothes shop that, thanks to its unique mix of sportswear, outdoor clothing and hard-to-find labels, has become a firm favourite in all corners of the world. He’s also a regular face here at Seen, and certainly knows a good pair of glasses when he sees them. 

Seeing as he’s based only round the corner from us, we thought it was time for a bit of a chin-wag. Read on to hear Steve’s thoughts on clothes, culture and the importance of a decent pair of spectacles.

“You can spend £1,000 on a jacket, and have a £500 pair of shoes, but if your hair is shit, it ain’t working. And glasses are the same.” — SS

How did Oi Polloi start?

It was just me and Nigel, chatting about shoes. I used to see him when I was out an about. There was a small group of people who wore Clarks Wallabee Weavers and vintage trainers, and we used to talk about shoes a lot. I think we’d gone out for a friend’s birthday dinner, and we were chatting about this idea of tie-dying Lacoste polo shirts. And off that mad little idea, we thought it would be a good idea to open a shop. And that was the start of it.

When we first started, it was vintage sportswear and outdoor gear, mixed with contemporary menswear, which at the time, wasn’t really being done.

How has it changed from back then? Has it changed?

I think it’s evolved. The basic idea is the same, but it’s not so much about vintage now, it’s about finding interesting items. At the time, vintage was more readily available. That’s why the shop worked, because we knew where to find things. But the eBay phenomenon changed that and levelled the playing field. I think that has spawned what is now this ‘sneaker’ culture.

Oi Polloi, Manchester

Do you think stuff is less niche than it used to be, now that everyone can find everything so fast on the internet?

It’s a lot less niche than it used to be, but there’s also a lot of different types of collectors, into different type of things. There’s now a value to this stuff, but initially people used to collect because they were completists. Some people just want to get everything.

With Oi Polloi there’s a bit more to it than just clothes. There’s a lot of references to films and music and things like that. Where does this come from?

I think cultural aspects are a lot more important than people give credit for. For me personally, it’s always been the cultural stuff that drives the interest and makes me get into things. And that’s all to do with whatever you’ve grown up watching, the music you listened to and the art that you were into. And thanks to the internet, we can express that side of what we’re into.

There’s a lot of interesting things out there, and I think clothing is not the be all and end all. It’s the end result of a lot of these things that have influenced you.

Yeah, clothes are just another thing, like albums or paintings or films or whatever.

It’s just another thing that fits to make the whole picture. It’s one component in it. But to some people certain things are really important… like jackets or shoes, or the right kind of jeans. It’s whatever floats people’s boats.


What were you into growing up?

I grew up in the mid-70s and 80s. That’s the time that massively influenced me. But I’m the type of person who likes to adapt and change, and see what’s new. I’m always interested in whatever is happening. But at that period, watching videos was big. Horror films and all the mad films that were out at that time… the stuff that later became banned videos. That was the stuff we were watching in our early teens.

I had a weird soundtrack of heavy metal and 70s rock music, interspersed with stuff like Talking Heads and New Order. I’ve always been into loads of different types of music. Later on, when I heard things like Balearic, that it kind of encompassed a lot of those things. A lot of my mates were heavy metal characters, but I didn’t really like those kind of clothes, so I wore sports casual stuff, like tracksuits and adidas trainers.

“Like wearing Gore-Tex jackets with suede shoes. It’s not right, but it is right.” — SS

I suppose that fits with Oi Polloi, mixing up all these different things.

Yeah, with working class movements, like casuals and things like that, the thing that makes it interesting is how regional it was. People dressed certain ways in certain cities, it wasn’t quite as fast. It was taking all these influences and remixing them to make something new. Like wearing Gore-Tex jackets with suede shoes. It’s not right, but it is right.

You might have seen Desert Boots in Quadrophenia, but you don’t want to dress like a mod. I’ve never been into dressing like you’re from another period. I might take items from another period, but the things I like are the ones that bridge the gap, stuff that will always look relevant.

You don’t want to look like you’re dressing up.

When things come around the first time, it’s really, really interesting. The first time you see something, it’s pretty mad. When punk first came about, it was amazing. If you look at pictures of John Lydon when he was young, it wasn’t a million miles away from what the likes of Joy Division were wearing, and that was quite understated and normal looking. But then you see all these weird cartoon characters with Mohawks, leather jackets and tartan trousers.

The mod stuff is the same. I never saw an original mod because I was too young, but then I saw the 70s version of the mods, off the back of Quadrophenia. They were just teenagers wearing bleached jeans, boat jackets and funny little pork pie hats. Pretty shit really.

When you look at the people who instigate these scenes and movements, they’re super individual, out-there thinkers, doing stuff that other people aren’t doing, so much so that other people want to do it.

Garrett Leight glasses

I suppose we should talk about glasses now. How do they come into this?

It’s a funny thing because I’ve always liked glasses, but I’d never wear glasses if I didn’t need them. If you need to wear them, finding the right frame and the right shape is really important. It’s a bit like the hat thing. You’ve got to wear the hat, and not let the hat take over. For me, I think they should just sit there and not be that noticeable. 

I didn’t know how much I needed glasses, but when I first got my eyes tested and got glasses, I couldn’t believe how clear a computer screen was. I thought computer screens were meant to be fuzzy.

We were talking about inspirations and references and that sort of stuff before, who do you think looks cool in glasses?

Peter Sellers looks good. And Gary Oldman. Michael Caine always looks alright, but Gary Oldman is probably the best, because he’s pretty subtle and low key. 

What glasses do you wear?

Garrett Leight. They’re a good, easy shape, and the colouring is good on them. There are loads of different colours, so you can get the right frame for your skin colour. 

I couldn’t believe how clear a computer screen was. I thought computer screens were meant to be fuzzy.” — SS

Do you think glasses are the sort of thing people maybe ignore a bit? They might spend £500 on a jacket, but not really think too much about their glasses.

The thing with glasses is that you’re wearing them every day. It’s like people who don’t spend money on a haircut. If you’ve got a shit haircut, you can spend £1000 on a jacket, and have a £500 pair of shoes, but if your hair is shit, it ain’t working. And glasses are the same.

You can find glasses that look alright that are fairly cheap, but if you’re wearing them every day, they’re going to get goosed. When I first started wearing glasses, I was a little careless. I’d put them down with the lenses on concrete, scratching them up.

I suppose we better wrap this up now. Anything exciting in the pipeline?

We’ve been working on a project with Levi’s based around Manchester and San Francisco, comparing the music scenes in both cities. We went over to their design lab in San Francisco and we made some coloured jeans with them. They’ll be coming out in November. We’re quite excited about that.