Samba Sunak vs Stone Island Starmer – a lesson in authenticity

Bryce Wilcock explains why Sunak attracting scathing headlines for wearing a pair of Sambas and Starmer getting off scot-free for wearing Stone Island is a valuable lesson in authenticity...

April 19, 2024
Why Sunak wearing a pair of Sambas was attracting so many scathing headlines and Starmer got off scot-free in Stone Island.

Podcasts, radio talk-ins and Twitter (it will never be “X”!) were awash with soundbites and videos of Rishi Sunak’s defence of his decision to rock a pair of Adidas Sambas with a navy suit and button-up shirt last week.

Given the increasing trend of pairing trainers and suits – and the fact that the Prime Minister seems to have a knack of fumbling into toe-curling situations – part of me felt slightly sorry for him at first.

That was until I heard the full interview where he expressed his “apologies to anyone he had offended in the Samba community” and shoe-horn in a reference to the “Samba community” two times thereafter.

Then, all of a sudden, confirmation of what many of us were probably thinking all along, that this wasn’t just a wardrobe malfunction or Sunak “trying to be hip”. It was a scripted, premeditated attempt to align himself with part of the electorate he and his party have struggled to connect with. Die-hard, working class football fans. “The Samba community”.

Now, given this demographic makes up quite a significant chunk of the nation’s electorate, you can forgive him and his team for wanting to win them over. After all, votes are just like goals for politicians. You can’t win without them.

But it also got me wondering why Sunak wearing a pair of Sambas was attracting so many scathing headlines. After all, it’s just a pair of trainers, isn’t it? What’s the big fuss?

Can Rishi Sunak leave the Adidas Samba alone, please? – GQ

Adidas Sambas: How Rishi Sunak cancelled the year’s coolest trainer – The Tab

Did Rishi Sunak Ruin the Adidas Sambas Trend? – New York Times

Well, you’d think that. But when Keir Starmer was papped donning a Stone Island t-shirt while on a trip to Berlin last year, another brand synonymous with football culture and high-end clothing aficionados, the headlines were fairly muted.

In fact, aside from a few memes of him “Getting The Badge In” an article in the Daily Mail and a few tweets from his usual trolls and critics – the response couldn’t have differed more to the response to Sunak’s Sambas.

So why is it that the banking analyst turned politician wearing Sambas was such a red flag (sorry again, Rishi) but the barrister turned opposition leader wearing a ‘Stoney’ hardly raised an eyebrow?

Well, I’m far from a fashionista, so I wouldn’t dream of sticking my oar in on the argument of ‘who wore it better’, but if you have a swift flick through their social media profiles and past interviews, there’s one thing that stands out instantly. Authenticity.

To be authentic is to be consistent and realistic in your messaging. Whether you’re a brand, political figure or Joe Public, it’s about keeping your actions and words in sync and simply being true to who you are.

Starmer is a great case in point. He takes almost any opportunity to talk about football and his beloved Arsenal FC and has held himself well during multiple TV and radio appearances, even on TalkSport, which can be the most punishing of arenas for those who don’t really know their subject.

His social media output is also stacked with photos of him playing five-a-side, cutting the exact same figure as any other over 50’s bloke who still loves nothing more than a kick about with his mates in his tatty old Copa Mundial boots.

Sunak on the other hand has never displayed much affection or demonstrated much knowledge of football.

In fact, just last month he was pictured in the crowd watching his hometown club Southampton FC and not only was his awkward demeanour and unnatural reactions swiftly jumped upon by Paddy Power’s ‘meme team, but he was also humiliated by the club’s manager in the post-match press conference.

But even before that, there was the car crash video he shared on Twitter wishing non-league Stockton Town FC luck in their Northern Premier League Final and spoke of how a fellow Tory MP had been telling him all about “the action down at Bishy Road”.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not following footy, either, so there’s no real need to pretend to, especially since football fans ALWAYS sniff out someone blagging it – remember David Cameron deciding he supported Aston Villa and then getting them mixed up with West Ham in this speech:

Consistency – as well as being realistic and relatable – is also a key part of establishing authenticity and this is also another great example of that.

While Starmer has worn Stone Island and other such brands on numerous occasions over the years, Sunak takes “flip flopping” – his party’s favourite slur for the opposition – quite literally.

His suede £495 Prada loafers and leather Common Projects boots have both drawn attention, critique and praise over recent years, but even putting taste aside, it is his inconsistency that would seem to make Sunak’s claim of being a “Samba superfan” all the more insincere.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Sunak’s brother may well have bought him his first pair of Sambas. And he may well have a shoebox collection in his bedroom to rival even the most dedicated Adidas Originals collector. But even if that is the case, then it just goes to further prove the power of authenticity.

After all, communities such as trainer collectors know their onions better than almost any other community of die-hard collectors and can spot someone faking an interest just as quickly as a pair of fake OG Sambas.

And if the online message boards and social media groups are anything to go by, the Prime Minister has a long way to go to convince them he’s an authentic “man of the Samba Community.”

It begs the question of why his team ever thought it was a good idea, especially given the number of own goals he has already scored when trying to align himself with the sport and its many subcultures.

As for the leader of the opposition, so long as he doesn’t start pounding garden paths in lace-up Doc Martens or Nike Air Jordans any time soon, he can carry on “getting the badge in” for a while yet without worrying about damaging his reputation…