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Héctor Bellerín joins football's team of new fashion influencers

From George Best to David Beckham through to more recent stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Héctor Bellerín, footballers and fashion go together like

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From George Best to David Beckham through to more recent stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Héctor Bellerín, footballers and fashion go together like Posh and Becks.

But while old-school footballers influenced fashion purely based on what they wore, today’s contemporary crop reflect ideals of altruism and outspokenness in a way those who came before them did not.

Bellerín, who releases a sustainably made collection with H&M on Thursday, is the latest footballer to team up with a fashion brand, but in a more socially responsible way.

His collection of parkas, shirts and blazers, which are made from organic cottons, Tencel and recycled polyester, is a rare example of a collaboration between a high-street brand and celebrity that sets its stall out as a more conscious offering within mainstream fast fashion.

While conceding that “no brand is 100% sustainable”, Bellerín, who is vegan, stresses the importance of making his collection as close to it as possible. In a Q&A to promote the collection, he says: “To me there can be no other way.” He added: “Activism through clothes is also a way of protesting and walking in the right direction.”

His collaboration follows similar ones including by Marcus Rashford, who joined forces with Burberry in November on a series of initiatives to help disadvantaged young people, and the US women’s team co-captain and LGBTQ rights spokesperson Rapinoe, who took up the role of autumn/winter 2020 face of Loewe and told CNN at the time that she welcomed it as an opportunity to challenge the roles given to athletes in women’s sport, “where I feel we’re very boxed in”. The Lyon footballer Memphis Depay also partnered with the Italian luxury brand Valentino in collaboration with Gaffer magazine. In an interview to tie in with the campaign, he spoke on issues such as the detrimental impacts of social media.

The influencing role of footballers has evolved during the pandemic, and their fashion clout has grown in tandem. “This last year has allowed people more time for reflection and … brands [have looked at ways] that they can do things differently,” including tapping into new talent, says Jordan Wise, the co-founder of Gaffer and False 9, a content agency that often works with footballers.

From a footballer’s perspective, Wise says, “They’ve also had a lot more free time at home and outside of the bubble of going to the training ground and playing matches.” It was the extra time that made Bellerín’s H&M collaboration possible. “He had time to sit on Zoom calls with their design team in Sweden,” says Ehsen Shah, the chief executive and founder of B-Engaged, the sports marketing agency that represents Bellerín. “He lives by himself, so he had nothing else to do.”

Football, he thinks, was a barrier to footballers finding their voice outside the sport – he recalls “a lot of bashing” from the fashion industry when Bellerín began turning up at catwalk shows in statement pieces that Shah says he dressed in strategically to stand out. Even now, he says, “there’s still such a long way to go for fashion to ever take football seriously”.

But there are reasons this generation is finding more influence. They are, says Wise, “far more expressive than previous [ones], so the modern-day athlete or musician have interests outside of the remit they’re known for”, and increasingly, footballers “are expressing themselves from a fashion perspective”.

Belonging to Generation Z themselves, footballers such as Rashford and Bellerín speak to their large audiences in ways players of the past could only dream of. Wise gives Depay as a good example: “He really does have a personality larger than the sport. He’s just dropped his first music album, so he’s got a really strong following for his exploits as an artist.”

Footballers’ followings can rival that of Hollywood actors and pop stars – Bellerín’s 3 million on Instagram compares favourably with big names such as Morgan Freeman and John Travolta, while Rashford’s 4 millon Twitter following gives him more clout on the platform than Boris Johnson.

While once there was a pervasive stereotype that footballers had little to say and, if they did make it into the papers beyond the sports pages, it was often as they stepped out of fast cars or into nightclubs, many of the new generation are known on a deeper level.

“There’s always been a tetchy relationship between the press and players,” says Shah. “Now it’s direct to fans” – which gives footballers a chance to represent issues they feel strongly about.

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