Founders Blog – Urban Species

Founders Blog – Urban Species, Hashem Hirji

2012 Roots Manuva-Banana Klan Roundouse.

What is the origin story of Urban Species, how did it all begin?

Emerging from the Punk Rock and Hip Hop scenes of London in the 1980s and the 1990s; Urban Species family business pioneered several key brands on the scene. My Mum and founder Sarah Haque wanted to create something of her own. Together we recruited a collective of independent artists, designers and creatives, to develop our multi-media pop culture hub Urban Species. Showcasing fashion, music and art which we felt reflected London’s urban culture of the time.  Putting on gigs, fashion shows and exhibitions – we were brought in to be the creative ‘right arm’ for Marvel Entertainment UK, spearheading the eventual launch of Marvel Studios.  As well as collaborating with the likes of DMC (The World DJ Championships)

Sarah, Hash and the team with Stan Lee at the Peavey Guitar Launch London Film & Comic Con 2014.

Why did Urban Species become a founding member of the Guild 10 years ago?

We had worked with various organisations supporting independent businesses from our start in 2004.  This led to us being introduced to Guild Director Krissie Nicolson. Thoroughly impressed with her mindset, and her vision – It was a completely natural fit to become a founding member. The idea of paying respect to history, community, roots, mutual support, combining resources, diversity, and being part of something bigger than ourselves, are all core reasons.  The synchronicity charged everything forward, with a classic ‘family feeling’ being at the centre.    

Urban Species Origin Launch Party 2004
Hash, Luke Coster Kollier Din Bangura, Krissie Nicolson and Rob Gardner outside Brent town hall after securing a meeting with Sadiq Khan at the Peoples Question Time 2016.
Sadiq Khan honours his commitment to meet with members at the legendary Pellici Cafe in Bethnal Green. Hash, Nadia Abbas, Rosie Wolfenden and Rob Gardner.

What has been the most valuable aspect of Guild membership for you since you joined?

Too many to mention!  There are the most obvious things to say regarding business such as potential funding/investor introductions, negotiating rent with landlords, sourcing a rental space, various networking opportunities, and legal advice. Over the decade we’ve brought our concerns to the Guild for support. But the moments when we felt the community truly mattered are the inspirational moments, moments of clarity, emotional support, brainstorming, the fascinating stories every company has, and the quirky personalities.  Most importantly learning from everybody’s individual experiences, and remembering that we’re not alone. Strength in numbers is what a movement is all about.  

Len Maloney, Sarah Haque and Paul Gardner outside 10 Downing Street after delivering the EETG business rates petition to Theresa May. Photograph by Krissie Nicolson.

How has your business changed in the last decade?

More than I ever truly imagined. Being adaptable is one of our strengths, and that’s been truly pushed to the limits. In 2004 we had several retail stores, held frequent events, and launched one of the first ‘Urban Fashion’ websites in the UK, as well as the very first Marvel-related website in Europe and the first California Lowrider Bike store in the UK.  This was before YouTube even existed.  We were classified as a ‘Content Creation’ Company well before we even knew what it meant!  We shifted from high-end retail to supplying high-volume websites and high-street retailers.  From to Primark, and everyone in between.  

During this transition, we hosted various Pop Up stores and eventually landed on hosting a Tattoo Studio alongside the existing business. We launched Peavey’s Superhero Guitars / Accessories in Europe, and ran a local factory/despatch space for several years, which has led us into being modern experts in ‘Print on Demand’ and ECommerceTechnology.  

What do you want people to know about Urban Species right now? 

Subsequent to garnering together all these experiences, Urban Species was purchased at the start of 2020.  We’ve now been absorbed into the Portman Street Collective, a network of small businesses in the UK, which together rivals what large international corporations do. The mindset, and collaborative spirit, are akin to what the Guild is all about. As part of our, 5 and 10-year plans we will be hosting various exhibitions and events. Bringing our OG spirit into the modern pop culture pantheon.  Our website, and online platforms, are going to keep evolving, and multiplying. Getting much broader than we ever dreamed of previously!  We’re bringing back our indie content, and bringing new ranges with classic artists such as Junior Tomlin, as well as new big-budget collaborations via Netflix with Stranger Things. Watch this space homeboys and homegirls! 

Hash & Sarah Haque at Jam Exhibition, Ridley Road Social Club.
Wonder Woman NME Graffiti Wall Magazine Cover 2017.
Urban Species Brick Lane Studio 2015.
Sarah Haque at Transformers 3 Q&A Preview Screening 2014.