How LUX ET ROBUR took the Prenton Park terraces by storm
If you scan the crowd on a Tranmere Rovers matchday, no matter where in the country, one clothing brand stands out above the rest. Not Stone Island. Not CP Company. Not even Adidas. With unprecedented zeal, Rovers fans are wearing the sharp and satirical attire of LUX ET ROBUR, an independent label created by one fan.
Amid a dormant spell for Planet Prentonia, I became fascinated by LUX, which seemed to pump the same insurrectionist vein as my agitating blog. Wembley was a sea of LUX bucket hats, while the fan tent at Prenton Park resembles a catwalk of their t-shirts, hoodies and pin badges.
I wasn’t writing much due a mental breakdown and LUX carried that flame of gritty truth at the beating heart of rebellious Tranmere counterculture. I was impressed. Very impressed.
Who owns LUX ET ROBUR?
After relaunching Planet Prentonia and publishing a companion book, I was determined to delve beyond the curtain at LUX ET ROBUR and meet the guy who spawned it. I reached out to Brad Gregory, the 33-year old retail impresario, and we explored possible collaboration projects in the fertile Tranmere space. The result was a merchandise partnership between our respective brands, but I was keen to drive even deeper into the genesis of LUX and how it rose to dominance.
“I was taken to my first Rovers game for my birthday in 1994,” says Brad, who was born and raised in Tranmere. “I was given the option of going to see The Mask or going to see Tranmere. We played Sheffield United and won 2-1. I’ve had a season ticket every year since, except for one year when I lived in Sydney.”
Introduction to the tragicomedy of Tranmere Rovers fandom compels us to make great sacrifices and conform to norms of loyalty that simply don’t exist in other spheres of life. When Rovers beat Aldershot in the 2017 National League playoffs, booking their first trip to Wembley in a generation, Brad embarked on a desperate mission to witness his beloved heroes at the national stadium.
“Over a beer the next day, my friend and I penned a GoFundMe plea and bombarded anyone and everyone with it,” he explains. “Within three days, it became apparent that I was going to have enough for a flight home. Thankfully, work gave me the Friday afternoon and the Monday off, so I flew back and spent 36 sleepless hours in London.
“After we lost, I got a bus straight to Heathrow. I landed in Sydney at 5am on the Monday morning and was in work for 8am scrubbing barnacles off the bottom of boats.”
Brad eventually moved back home and enrolled to study politics and media at the University of Liverpool. At the time of writing, he is about to start the second year of an undergraduate degree while developing LUX as a side hustle.
“I worked at Cammell Lairds for the best part of a decade before taking voluntary redundancy to go travelling,” he explains. “Other than going to see my first Tranmere match, that is probably the best decision I have ever made.”
How did LUX ET ROBUR become a thing?
Indeed, while on holiday in Bologna last year, Brad experienced a sudden burst of creativity. After buying a Jazz Up North t-shirt at one of their Liverpool events, Brad began pondering a similar design concept revolving around Tranmere. Sipping cold beers in northern Italy, he began to sketch ideas and brainstorm inspiration on his phone. The rest, as they say, is history.“I needed a name with three words to fit the design,” says Brad of his early Jazz Up North modification. “I decided on LUX ET ROBUR as it was on the badge and also on the Birkenhead coat of arms.”
Suggested by Canon Tarver of Chester, Ubi Fides ibi Lux et Robur is Latin for Where there is faith, there is light and strength. It speaks to Wirral’s unwavering resolve and steadfast optimism to punch above its weight.
Brad made a Twitter account under that name, surprised that nobody had thought of it before. He then began building what became arguably the most popular merchandise brand ever associated with Tranmere Rovers.
“I didn’t even have a laptop or any experience using digital arts materials,” he says of the early days. “When I was drunk, I just spammed my mate Gary who is a graphic designer in Sydney. He turned all of my ramblings and scribbling into what became the D001 and D002 t-shirts.”
The D001 is an imaginative reworking of The North Face emblem featuring the phrase LUX ET ROBUR.
The D002, meanwhile, took inspiration from alpine brand Patagonia but reworded the logo in tribute to Ian Goodison, Brad’s favourite player.
Some people criticised LUX’ use of famous designs as a baseline canvas, but Brad wasn’t particularly bothered. At that stage, LUX wasn’t the structured enterprise it would later become. Brad just wanted to sell twenty t-shirts to cover the cost of his season ticket.
“The journey to LUX becoming the brand it is now never really had any planning,” he says. “I’ve never ran a business before. I’ve never held any influence within our fanbase or been involved in anything that afforded me a level of notoriety. The whole process has been a learning curve, which sometimes has been difficult but, for the most part, has been really enjoyable.
“I now positively engage with a lot more of our fans than I did before starting LUX. The experience of running the business has enhanced my relationship with the club.”
Why is LUX ET ROBUR so popular?
Like me, and like many people who identify with Tranmere Rovers, Brad is not a normal football fan. He isn’t likely to wear a replica shirt over a hoodie or stretch his arms out wide in jubilant exasperation when an opposing player shoots wide. Brad resides in an altogether more indoctrinated echelon - at the lower league lunatic fringe, if you will. That’s where LUX ET ROBUR struck a chord with people, creating a movement through which people can express their working-class soul.
“You can’t rid yourself of that feeling, almost like a drug, for which you need your weekly fix,” says Brad. “You develop these nostalgic sensations that you reawaken every week as you recreate your matchday routine.
"Going to the match also becomes a release of emotion. How many places are there that allow you, as a 30-year old, to scream until your voice breaks and hug strangers and call Karl Robinson a cunt so many times he spits his dummy out?”
Tranmere fans love that sense of humour. They can’t get enough of that authenticity, that us-against-the-world sentiment. With daring designs, LUX ET ROBUR literally represented the fabric of our club, strikingly independent and feverishly proud of its local roots.
“The initial response to LUX was hugely positive,” says Brad. “I don’t think in my wildest imagination I could have predicted how popular it became. I remember the first few weeks, orders were trickling in and I was quietly pleased with it. Once the season started and word of mouth took hold, there was a real pop in orders. A week later, they slowed again and so I held a sale. It’s fair to say the ensuing two weeks were absolutely chaotic.
“I think at one point, I had to write out a schedule for local post offices and how regularly I could conceivably visit them in one day without majorly pissing anyone off. It was a while before I had the balls to do another sale.”
From the early imitation phase, LUX ET ROBUR grabbed hold of that niche counterculture, rebranding to create original concepts and expand productivity. Keen to give something back to the club, Brad looked to sponsor the ball at a home game and his mate designed some promotional artwork for the event. The brand’s future logo featured heavily in the marketing collateral, blazing a trail of opportunity.“I think initially, it helped to grab people’s attention and get them used to the brand name,” Brad says of the more recognisable products in his catalogue. “That juxtaposition between a recognisable logo and an unusual phrase causes people to ask questions.
“We’ve since supplemented that concept with our own artwork and developed a logo, so LUX ET ROBUR itself has become recognisable without the need to borrow familiar graphics, although I think that will always be a popular part of the brand’s wider identity.”
The few dissenting voices actually helped steer LUX ET ROBUR on a path to charitable enrichment. Brad realised that, by aligning with the club’s values and fan culture, his brand could have an even bigger impact than anything he tried to recreate.
“Nobody would accept a business that came in and rinsed money out of fans without giving something back,” he says. “We’ve had enough mercenaries over the years who couldn’t give two fucks about the club.”
Why Tranmere fans dislike Liverpool and Everton
This is the kind of story that often goes untold in the local media. It’s easy for people to see a brand trying to monetise Tranmere Rovers fandom and get a bad first impression. Contrary to such criticism, Brad has developed an admirable ethos around LUX, collaborating with local suppliers and broadcasting the greatest aspects of Wirral life through art.
“My printing is done by one of the other dads on the school run,” he explains. “Local highstreets and independent traders are in decline, as we all know. The local post office is essentially an independent business that feels the squeeze just as much as the local butcher or newsagent. If we don’t support these parts of our community, they’ll just quietly disappear, much to the detriment of the most vulnerable.
“Maybe I could save 5p per delivery and save myself the hassle of queuing with the old dears who are withdrawing their pensions, but what is the wider cost of that decision?
“I realise it’s not the biggest problem we face, but if you’re in a position to make choices that positively affect the community as a whole, then I believe you should.”
Such a mission statement meshes with the greater purpose of Tranmere Rovers, a hub around which the frustrated and forgotten gather for a sense of belonging. Founded in the same spirt as Planet Prentonia, LUX ET ROBUR cuts through the cliché to serve as a vital organ of Tranmere pride. Only a few understand, but those few are special.
“You want people from out of town to know that Tranmere is in Birkenhead, not ‘near Liverpool,’” Brad says. “There’s only so much the official club output can do in that regard. You only have to look at how the owners cosied up to Liverpool in pre-season to see that.
“Historically, choice of clothing has served as an identity marker for supporters of different clubs. Specific Adidas trainers and various designer coats were the callings cards of firms in the 1980s. I see LUX as a continuation of, and a respectful nod to, that culture.”
Assuredly, casual culture is deeply ingrained at Prenton Park, and I for one welcome such a movement. I’ve been through that phase myself and, far from the misconceptions, I can tell you it was incredible fun. Casual culture isn’t all about boozing and fighting, drugs and vitriol. It is about clothes and music, mates and dreams. It is about passion and emotion and pent-up love for your hometown. As Tranmere fans, we are great at that. Such identity should never be suppressed.
“Birkenhead town centre has an LFC shop,” Brad says with rightful disdain. “The sports shops all sell Liverpool and Everton merchandise. Likewise, the local media fails in its obligations to report accurately on the club at the heart of their community.
“Brands such as LUX, Planet Prentonia, This is Tranmere and Deadly Submarine have gone ‘nah, fuck that! We’re going to fight back against this!’ and I encourage anyone else who feels that way to do the same.”
Why you should develop a brand around your passion
After publishing my first book and tasting minor success, I’m very excited about turning passionate side hustles into full-time careers. Influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk and Darren Rowse are my role models in this respect. Brad shares a similar drive, motivation and desire to break from the norm. I was intrigued to learn about his creative process.
“As someone who spent almost a decade hating my job, I sympathise with that sentiment,” he says of modern entrepreneurship. “I never set out to create a fashion brand. I knew nothing about garment printing or graphic design eighteen months ago, but I had a passion for, and knowledge of, Tranmere. I think people recognise that passion and that’s why it has been successful.
"If I had attempted to do something similar for a different team for which I have no affinity, it would have failed miserably.”
Yet LUX ET ROBUR didn't fail miserably. It soared from strength to strength, illustrated finely as Rovers have achieved back-to-back promotions in recent years. In particular, the League Two playoff final against Newport masqueraded as a LUX fashion show. Everywhere you looked, likeminded fans wore bucket hats and iconic t-shirts designed by Brad. It was a humbling experience for everyone connected to the embryonic brand.
“Orders were coming in at a scary rate,” he says of the runup to Wembley 2018. “I was on the phone to my printer checking stock levels and getting updates on when we would need to stop taking orders.”
LUX launched three designs in the immediate aftermath of Rovers beating Forest Green to book their third successive trip to the national stadium. One such design, a play on traditional London Underground branding, referred to Wembley as Prenton Park South. People snapped them up, creating a surreal week for Brad, who was also completing his end-of-term exams simultaneously.
“On the Thursday night before Wembley, I should have been revising but I was out delivering parcels in Bromborough,” he says. “I managed to get everyone’s orders to them in time for the game. The only person who didn’t have their gear for Wembley was me. Just as I got on the train, I realised I had left my bucket hat in the house!”
Of course, Rovers won on that sun-kissed day, an immortal header from Connor Jennings in the dying embers of extra-time catapulting Birkenhead back into the third division. For Brad, the symmetry of such an achievement was intoxicating. It represented the ultimate peak for LUX ET ROBUR, from concept to reality.
“To have an active involvement, however small, in all of those people’s Wembley day out is special,” he says. “Fans treasure mementos from occasions like that, so it’s humbling to know that I played a part in such a memorable experience for so many people.”
How LUX ET ROBUR is enriching the lives of Wirral people
When you drill through the misconception and stereotypes, that is the ultimate modus operandi of LUX ET ROBUR: to play an uplifting role in the life of local people. It’s a simple concept really, and one that Brad has mastered. The future looks bright for Tranmere’s ultimate merchandise brand, and there’s no telling how big this project could become.
“I have formed good relationships with the Tranmere Trust,” says Brad. “We raised over £300 for community tickets by co-promoting one of my t-shirts. There are also a couple of other things in the pipeline with those guys that I’m very excited about.
“I’ve organised a coach for the Ipswich game that sold out very quickly. I discussed with a mate how, for some away games, the train options are severely limited and traditional coach travel was a little cramped and uncomfortable.
We had a look to see if there was something in between and found a coach that offered more spacious seats, TVs with Sky Sports plus Wi-Fi. The uptake for it far outstripped availability, so if Ipswich goes well, we could offer that for a few more games this season.
“Who knows? Maybe we’ll be chartering planes to games on the south coast soon!”
On a personal level, Brad and his partner have a baby due this month, so watch out for the inevitable range of LUX ET ROBUR dummies, bottles and baby-grows. Juggling a passionate side hustle with obligations at home and university can’t be easy, so I believe it is even more important that we support Brad’s project at such a crossroads in its future.
LUX ET ROBUR has been a breath of fresh air to the Tranmere Rovers community. With stirring defiance, Brad Gregory has built something that deserves greater praise. Grab a t-shirt and support local creativity. We’re all fighting for the same thing, to amplify the stature of our beloved club, so let’s achieve it together, one product, podcast or blog at a time.