Oi Polloi

Interview: Ladi Kazeem and his Coca-Cola collection

Published: Wed Jul 13 2016

From the endless scrolls once housed at the Ancient Library of Alexandria to the cabinets of curiosities popular in Renaissance-era Europe, the humble art of collecting has captivated mankind for thousands of years.

These days people collect anything and everything, from trainers to train sets, and as the saying goes, “If something exists, somebody somewhere collects them.” One particularly prolific hoarder is Ladi Kazeem.

You may recognize Ladi as one of the lads from our Deck~Out thing, but he’s also a full time buyer/seller of vintage garb and possesses what might just be the largest collection of Coca~Cola stuff around (or at least in the Greater Manchester area).

I visited his domicile to discuss his love for carbonated soft-drink memorabilia.

When did you start collecting Coca-Cola stuff? And maybe more importantly, why did you start?

About a year and a half ago I was out in America. I’ve been buying and selling clothes for years, and I was out there thrifting. I ended up going into some small thrift store owned by some guy, and he had a little section in the corner—all specifically Coca-Cola. I remember seeing it and thinking, “That’s pretty cool.” There was a few items there that I remember my step-sister having when I was a kid.

So when I got back to the UK, it was on my mind to look out for things. I started spotting a few things, I bought a few things, I sold a few things—and then it got to the point where I was keeping more than I was selling.

Yeah, you’ve got a fair bit here. You said you’ve got more in storage too. How much have you got?

Yeah I’ve got more in storage, mainly bigger things like a big Hi-Fi system and a lot of stuff they use in cafes like dividers and chalk boards. I’m planning to find a studio at some point so I can fit everything in and exhibit it.

I know a lot of people collect trainers and records, but is there much of a scene for people collecting Coca-Cola stuff?

Yeah, but not in the UK. The people who do collect Coca-Cola in the UK are mainly a lot older. But in America and Japan it’s a big thing.

I imagine a lot of people who collect Coca-Cola stuff probably go for the older stuff, like signs from the 50s. But you’ve gone for the 90s stuff. Why’s that?

There are people who collect empty bottles from the 50s, and a lot of people collect the crates or the trading cards. But the stuff I go for is a lot newer and more modern, because that’s what I’m about. I’m into the caps and the beakers. I remember when I was a kid when I went to the cinema I’d always buy a beaker. And I was always into Pogs, so I’ve got the Coca-Cola Pogs.

At the end of the day, it’s pointless me buying stuff from the 50s because I wasn’t about in that time. It doesn’t mean anything to me and I don’t know anything about it. I’m buying stuff from the 90s that I used to see as a kid.

Is it a case of buying the stuff that you wanted when you were young, but couldn’t get?

When you were a kid you might have bought trading cards, but you couldn’t have every one you wanted. A lot of my friends come round and say, “I just don’t get it.” But they weren’t into it when they were kids.

My step-sister had a lot of it, I don’t even know why. I used to always see it and think, “I really want that.” And now I’m in a position where I can get it. It’s funny because I don’t really drink Coca-Cola. I’m not really into fizzy drinks. I just love the colours, I love how there’s so much of it, and I love how I can get it at a reasonable price… at the moment at least.

Did you collect stuff when you were young?

Yeah, Tazos… Pokémon cards… Simpsons stuff… comics. Whenever I got pocket money, I’d get a few items and hoard them. I always had boxes full of crap. Unfortunately when I moved out and left home a lot of it went to the tip. There were archives of stuff which I know have been binned.

What like? I don’t want to rub salt in the wound, but what was thrown out?

I had a lot of Beano stuff… probably every comic you could think of… every Pokémon card… every Tazo. I used to go to all the football games, so I had all the Middlesbrough programmes. It all went in the bin. There’s some money I’ve lost there.

You work full-time buying and selling vintage stuff. How does this fit in with that? Do you find it hard to separate it? And is it hard to let go of certain items?

Around Christmas I went through a period where I was buying, buying, buying. I had loads of stuff. I was buying more Coca-Cola stuff than anything else, and I wasn’t really making any money, so I went through a period where I was selling a lot of Coca-Cola. I use Depop as my main selling platform. I like to keep it moving. I’ve got the core of it here, and then I’ll just keep adding little bits. There’s still things I want to get.

What like?

The Disney cups. For every Disney film in the 90s, they made a cup. These are quite hard to get. I’ve started getting the cards recently too. I want to get every card. I’ve got 150, but I think there’s another 100 to get. The Pogs too.

It seems like there’s so much of this stuff. Do you know much about who was behind it all, and who designed it? Didn’t Tommy Hilfiger have something to do with it?

I know a lot more about the clothing then I do in regards to the other stuff. They brought Tommy Hilfiger in because he was known for his block colours. They brought him in and he designed things like this bomber jacket.

Considering it’s just merchandise for a soft drink, it seems pretty mad that they made stuff like high quality bomber jackets. How much would something like that have cost?

I’m presuming probably about £150 quid. Or maybe more—it’s 100% wool. I found this in the UK for £15.

Looking around, you’ve got more than Coca-Cola here. What else do you collect?

Recently I’ve sold a lot of my Simpsons stuff, but I’ve still got a lot. I’ve got these deadstock Dunlops from 1991. I’m really into Space Jam so I’ve got a collection of that. I had a little Star Wars collection going, but I got bored of it. I’ve got a bit of McDonald's stuff too—McDonald's t-shirts and McDonald's Frisbees.

What about Pepsi? Do people collect that?

I had a bit of a collection going, but it just didn’t work. It just didn’t sit together.

I suppose it’s like supporting City and United at the same time.

Yeah, it’s like what’s the point? The pricing is outrageous too. I saw a Pepsi rugby shirt for £200, when you could get an old school Benetton one for £100. I’ve never spent more than £15 on any item here. Actually, I tell a lie, I spent £20 on a jacket, but apart from that, it was all less than £15. I think that’s the best way to do it.

It’s seems like you’re fairly early on to this stuff. I don’t think many people see stuff from the 90s as having much value yet… it’s not ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ yet. Do you think this will change soon?

I’m seeing it now. For example, Lad Bible put a post out about Pokémon cards, and suddenly the eBay prices went up and people were paying £200 for a Pokémon card that was £20 the day before. I think collecting is bigger now than it ever was. If it’s not Star Wars it’s trainers, if it’s not trainers it’s Coca-Cola.

I think as well, there are a lot of people who’ve had these collections for years, and now, thanks to social media, they can show them off. Then the kids see it and want to do the same thing.

How did you get into the buying and selling clothes thing? It doesn’t sound like a bad job.

I’ve been buying and selling for a long time, but that was just going into charity shops over here. Going abroad to thrift — that came about early in 2014. I realised there was a big scene in LA and New York. The clothes I was wearing at the time, I always seemed to be buying them from America. I realised I needed to save some money to get out there. Once I got out there I realised I could get the stuff that I wanted, really cheap. Much cheaper than the UK.

Have you been out there much?

The last time I was there I stayed for 10 days. I've booked my next trip. I'll be heading to New York this time instead of San Francisco and LA. Last time I was there I filled up loads of suitcases, but this time I’m going to be boxing up all the stuff at the end of every day, and sending it back.

The thrift stores are like big charity shops the size of supermarkets. Everything is everywhere, there’s no customer service or anything, you’re just in there. You can go there in the morning and staff will bring rails of clothing out all day. Last time we were in LA, we got in the car and we’d go to every town and hit every thrift store for the whole day—12 hours.

In the UK, going into a charity shop is a lot more accepted. You get people specifically working in charity shops to get the good stuff. Whereas most of the people who work in Goodwill have been sent there after prison. They don’t care what’s going on. That’s why it’s so good. You might get professional thrifters who will be in there all day, but because the shops are so big and so vast, they can’t find everything.

You can tell in the shops round here that they get cleaned up fairly fast. If I’m doing it in the UK I’ll stay out of central Manchester. When I first came to Manchester I was finding a lot of stuff, but now a lot of young people work in charity shops so it’s harder.

Definitely. They’ve got wise to it now. Okay, last question ‘cos we’ve talked for a while now. Where do you think this collector mentality comes from?

Some people can just get stuff and then let it go, they’re not bothered. But there’s that hoarder mentality, not being able to let stuff go. It starts young. I can’t really put my finger on it, but you can tell straight away who’s a hoarder and who’s not.