Jason Davis and Ben White are two former LFE apprentices who rose through the ranks at Brighton & Hove Albion FC. Since their days on the south coast, the pair have endured two very different career paths. Despite earning a professional contract at Brighton, Jason’s dream of becoming a footballer was unfortunately ended due to injury. Ben on the other hand, has gone onto become a Premier League star, representing Arsenal and England. One thing, however, has allowed the two best friends to strive once again for a common goal – fashion.
The two former Albion players recently launched their own clothing line ‘Fraternite’, and Jason spoke to Touchline to discuss the brand, his and Ben’s goals for the future and his time at the Amex Stadium.
What is Fraternite and where did the idea come from?
“It’s something that me and Ben spoke about a while back. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” Jason told LFE. “Fashion is always something we’ve been into. Even when we were on a scholar wage, we thought we were fly. Me, Ben and all the boys would just go out shopping all the time. We always questioned things to do with fashion. At the time, skinny jeans were really in fashion, and we’d always just question little stuff like ‘why are they not tighter here’ and we just always wanted to start our own brand. People would come up to us in the street and ask what we were wearing, and we always felt that we were well dressed.
“It didn’t actually come about until we moved to London about 18-months ago, when Ben signed for Arsenal, and I transitioned from being a Project Manager to becoming Ben’s PA. Then we were just like ‘lets just start this up.’ Now, when I go to football on Tuesdays, there’s a lot of ex pros there and we’re all kind of in the same boat, all trying to start our own thing.”
Who’s Fraternite’s target market?
“Luckily for me, I have a lot of footballers that can wear it and market the brand, but at the moment we’re not going to do that, we want it to have its own legs first and it’s gone really well. The brand hasn’t got a specific market, we want it to be for everyone. For example, the other day, I went down to get a coffee near my new flat and some guy just told me he liked my fit, and I was wearing my own brand, so that’s nice. I spoke to his mum shortly after and it turned out he was a young, up and coming rapper so I said I’d love to collab. We want to bring people up with us. We see it as a big movement, everyone together.”
Have you always been passionate about fashion or is it something that you’ve developed an interest for as you’ve got older?
“I feel like fashion has always been our passion, even more than football at times! I think back in my football days, I almost took football for granted, but it’s good to have something else you’re passionate about.”
What are your plans for Fraternite?
“We’re quite lucky with the people we know. We’ve had people approach us even before starting asking us for look books. I’ve been trying to go to as many events as I can to show face, meet people and show them look books. We’ve had opportunities to get our stuff into stores already, in like a wholesale sense, but we’re not too bothered about that right now. I personally, just want to see people wearing it, seeing it around would be amazing. We just want to inspire people really.”
What does a day in the life of a fashion brand owner look like?
“It’s a mixture! Obviously being a PA for Ben, that throws up different things to deal with. Like for example, last week, he rang me up and he was locked out the house! So, it could be little stuff like that, as well as commercial work etc. But in the gaps, for me, it’s doing things like going to the studio, designing things, sending off orders and meeting with warehouses and suppliers to try and find new materials. It’s all about networking.”
Who do you look up to in the fashion world?
“George Heaton, he owns Represent. This guy has inspired me for a while. It’s a northern brand and I think they started out whilst we were in school. They did a pop-up shop in London not long ago and me and my friend Dylan queued up at like 4am for a 10am opening which was an early start, but we were like two of the first 30 people to get in which was great. We managed to speak to him, which was the main thing, just to ask him questions and learn off him. I was wearing a mix of his stuff and my stuff, so even then people were questioning me about my jeans (which were Fraternite) and that was a great feeling.”
What kind of challenges have you been faced with since launching the brand?
“The biggest one for me so far has been delays. We had everything ready for our first launch back in March, but because of Covid and stuff it got delayed, then there were more delays. We then set on a new date of September 27th, and everything was ready, but then that happened to fall right in the middle of me and Ben moving house, we didn’t expect to move so quickly. We still launched, but we’re still in the process of finding storage and posting orders. I wanted to make sure it was still a high-quality service. Clients shouldn’t have delays on the products they get, so that was annoying.
“Even finding manufacturers is hard, because we’re trying to do it on a budget, we’re not going crazy and when it comes to the manufacturers, a lot of them want a minimum order of say 300 of each product, in each colour. Thankfully we managed to get that down to 50, but that took some time to build up a trust with them.”
Have you learnt anything about yourself since venturing into the world of fashion?
“That’s a deep one! You know what, coming out of football I was very lost, I had no idea what to do. I tried to carry on playing but doing my ACL twice, the doctors had to remove some of my hamstring tendon to make a new ligament in my knee. So as soon as I tried to sprint, my hamstring would just snap. So, then I had to come to terms with going into the outside world, not having a clue what I wanted to do, so me and my girlfriend at the time went travelling to I know it sounds cliché but ‘find myself’. I came back and went into Project Management, but I knew I’d always wanted to give the fashion thing a go, so after I did, the thing I learnt was just push and do what you want to do, because there’s no harm in trying. So, that’s where I’m at now, just trying.”
Who’s been your biggest help with launching the brand?
“I’d have to say Ben. He’s always given me support; he’s helped financially with it, and he’s given me the opportunity to actually do it. Working with him every day, he’s quite laid back about everything and chilled, so he gave me the chance to overlook the whole thing and manage it. He knows we’ve always wanted to do this, so yeah, Ben.”
Looking back at your time at Brighton, what memories do you have of that period in your life?
“I think at the time I almost took it for granted, but looking back at it now, I realise how good it was. It was just a laugh, but it was of course professional as well. You were going in every day, seeing your mates every day, playing football and learning. Just playing football for a living, it was great.
What skills did you learn off the pitch that have helped in your new business venture?
“Discipline, for sure. You know, we had to be up at a certain time, be in college for a certain time. You also had to make sure you made your grades at college, because you couldn’t get a professional contract without them. So, yeah, discipline is a big one. Now, I get up at the same time every day and get done what needs to be done and to the highest standard.”
After leaving Brighton, how hard was it for you to make that transition into the outside world?
“Like I said, I went travelling, because I did really struggle at first. Doing my ACL twice was tough. The first time I was 16 and I went to Germany for an operation and got it fixed. The second time I did it I was 20, and this time it was a full rupture. I tried to get back into it after, but I was just getting frustrated. They (Brighton) then spoke to me about halfway through the season and told me I could continue my physiotherapy, but they were going to pay up my contract at the end of the season. So, after that, it was just a case of trying to transition into normal work. I did try and continue a bit but kept getting injured. It was tough to accept. I feel like after I left, I just went into jobs because they were there, and it was something to do, something to keep my mind busy.”
What support did you receive after leaving Brighton?
“Initially I kind of took it upon myself to be honest with you and seeing as I was a professional when I left and not an apprentice, I wasn’t specifically entitled to help from LFE, but they did provide me with help which was nice. I did go into personal training for a bit, and they helped me with that with the PFA, funding the course. They also put me in contact with people to help with my injury.”
Were you always totally driven on being a professional footballer, or were you realistic about your chances of making it?
“I wasn’t crazy about football. It’s the same with Ben. That’s why we both got on so well, because outside of football, we wouldn’t even watch it or speak about it, we’d just play Xbox or go to the gym!”
Was it hard to accept seeing friends go on to be successful, whilst your dream was ended due to injuries?
“I’ve never been like that to be honest. Like seeing Ben do so well, it’s great. I’m very close with his family. When we lived in Brighton, we’d never get stopped by people asking for pictures and stuff with Ben, but since he moved to Arsenal and we’ve moved to London, he gets stopped everywhere he goes when I’m with him, but to me he’s just Ben. He’s a role model to people and people idolise him and I think that’s great.
Do you still have feelings of anger towards the way your career was cut short?
“I did, but I’m past that now. I did used to think back and wish I had done little things differently. Like I said earlier, I did take it for granted at times and there were things I could’ve done differently to give me a better chance, for example, extra work on my injuries, injury prevention. I needed to, I just kept getting injured. I’ve torn almost every muscle in my leg, but that’s the past now, you can’t dwell on that. It’s all about what’s next now.”
Are there similar challenges in the Academy environment to those that you’re faced with nowadays in business?
“Working on your resilience and perseverance. Also, meeting a lot of different people and personalities. Clashes of personalities. You must try and engage with these people and it’s the same in football, in the dressing room. There are different types of people, but you have to try and get on and work with these people. So, being able to communicate with different personalities.”