Lewis Hamilton is a change agent. It may be tough to notice if all you see are the wins he racks up on the racetrack with the Petronas Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team. But if you take a closer look at everything Hamilton touches, you’ll see it’s been heavily influenced by the 6X Formula One World Champion.
Take, for example, the car he drives on race weekends. Traditionally, Mercedes-Benz grand prix cars are silver. It’s such a part of the team’s identity that since the 1950s they’ve been dubbed The Silver Arrows. But for the 2020 season, the team fielded a pair of black cars and the driver overalls, as well as the pit crew uniforms, were also black. Who was responsible for this shift from the team’s storied colors? Hamilton, who after seeing the Black Lives Matter movement taking root around the world, implored his team to make a statement.
The 35-year-old racing star’s mission didn’t stop there. Hamilton also worked with Formula 1 to implement a series of new campaigns meant to signal it no longer was turning a blind eye to the institutional racism that kept the sport’s majority white. Together, they’ve started the We Race As One initiative that includes, among other steps, a pre-race segment in which the drivers come together to kneel before they take to the grid. Taking such a public stance on issues of racism marks a big change in the way the sport conducts itself. It’s tough to imagine another driver having more of an impact on the racing world than Lewis Hamilton over the past half decade.
Away from the track, Hamilton’s record of change continues. In addition to music (he’s recorded a few songs and is teaching himself how to play the piano and guitar), Hamilton is fully engrossed in fashion and the environment. Out of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid, he is far and away the most stylish, seen on his Instagram rocking the latest designers and attending some of the hottest fashion shows in the world. But more than simply being a purveyor and customer, Hamilton always dreamt of designing his own line of clothing—one that completely aligned with his personal viewpoints and style. Enter: Tommy Hilfiger.
When Hamilton and Hilfiger first met the two hit it off and talked often about the prospect of working together. There was just one problem: The Mercedes-AMG F1 team already had an apparel sponsor. In order for Hamilton to do anything with Tommy Hilfiger, he would have to convince the legendary American brand to come back to Formula 1 (Tommy Hilfiger sponsored the Scuderia Ferrari team in the early 2000s) and sign on as the new apparel sponsor for his team.
Once that was done, the TommyXLewis collection was greenlit. But there was one condition Hamilton couldn’t shake: He wanted to be hands on and directly involved with every aspect of the line. From the designing to the sourcing of materials, he wanted to have a heavy hand in how the garments came to life. Lest you think this was just an example of a high-powered celebrity having a power trip, you have to understand Hamilton’s end goal with the TommyXLewis collection: Sustainability. Now in its fifth season, the new Fall/Winter 2020 LH collection has reached 80% sustainability. In order to make that happen, Tommy Hilfiger had to change and retool factories, pick new suppliers, and think of different ways to produce the pieces. It was a shift both Hamilton and Hilfiger were aligned on from the beginning.
To get a better understanding of all that the British polymath is working to change, we caught up with Hamilton in Germany on the Friday before the Eifel Grand Prix at the famed Nurburgring circuit. During the course of the conversation, Hamilton explained what exactly went into producing his new collection with Tommy Hilfiger, how he feels about the racial justice movement sweeping the world, and what he’s doing to make sure Formula 1, the sport he’s loved since he was a youngster in karting, is changing for the better.
A PARTNERSHIP BUILT ON FRIENDSHIP
It's been an amazing journey. When I met Tommy... The fact that he even knew who I was, it was obviously pleasing. Not only that, but he was just one of the most positive people I've ever met. When you see him, he literally radiates positivity towards you, and it's contagious, you know? He'd always be so positive, like, “I love what you're wearing” or “Oh, we’ve got to do something together.” I really thought that he was pulling my chain and just being nice. Because there are people out there that just say things for the sake of saying it, and don't actually follow through. But we kept bumping into each other, and he continued to be that positive icon towards me. And, I was like, “Okay, how am I going to make this work?”
I remember sitting down and talking about what we're going to do together, and they're like, "We want to do a collection with you." And I was like, "Okay, but I really, really want to be a part of it. I want to learn. I won't have all the answers, but hopefully you do." And we've gone through this crazy journey... From the moment of sitting down and designing the logo, sitting with Tommy, and both sketching out ideas, to the first collection design meeting, where I brought a few bags full of clothes and images. They're like, "Oh, wow, you've come prepared," which they were not expecting… To now where we've gotten to the point where Tommy's like a big brother. Our partnership goes far beyond a business venture. I feel like I've really created a long-term friend. And I'll always be able to call him for anything that I need moving forwards.
MAKING SUSTAINABILITY THE STANDARD
Whenever I see Tommy, I always talk to him about it. Ultimately, in so many different genres, accountability is such an important thing. It's nothing to be ashamed of that we've not done enough up until now in many areas, but it's super important that we acknowledge that we need to do more together. We need to look at new ways of moving forward. So I hope that I've been in my partnership with the team that I've kind of been an experimental catalyst for them. It's not going to happen overnight, but I think over time.
It's been so hard to get [the TommyXLewis collection] to the 80% mark with the sustainable pieces, in terms of discovering new factories and new ways of making these materials, but it is out there. I think because we've created a demand for it, we're starting to push the technology.
I'm most proud of the pieces that make sustainable strides. So there's like the three-in-one 100% recycled nylon bomber jacket. I would say that's probably my favorite piece. I think the boots continue to take strides. We received an award last year for the previous collection for the vegan boots. And we've just taken that to another level.
I'm really into hiking. And actually the other day, I really got to wear some of the pieces. Now winter has hit and I'm glad they work as well as I was hoping they'd work because it's getting cold as hell over here.
USING INSPIRATION AS MOTIVATION
I'm very much inspired by people like Virgil [Abloh], which is a given. What Virgil has done in this space… I look at what he does and I'm always racking my mind of how. I'm sure he's got an incredibly great team because there's nobody doing it on their own clearly, from what I've experienced. Naturally of course I will always be an admirer of Tommy's, but watching what Kim Jones has been doing; I've had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with him and getting to know him on a deeper level and it's really quite impressive.
I think there's also been some really impressive young designers like Martina Rose. I really love what Grace Wales Bonner is doing. I like what a lot of these people are doing to also utilize the platform to speak out on politics, in terms of identity, sexuality, and race through their collections is important, particularly in today's world. Yes, it's cool having cool pieces and stuff, but I think it's so important that we all use our platform to make sure it's having a positive outreach to people out there.
STANDING ON YOUR PLATFORM
I don't feel that there was a clear moment where I decided to speak out about race. Ultimately, it's been something that I've been dealing with my whole life and I would say that watching George [Floyd] for those eight and a half minutes brought so much emotion and past things that I didn't even realize that I'd suppressed. Experiences where I remember being told, "Go back to your country." And I remember it started early, when I was five years old. And I'm a fighter, I want to fight back, but my dad would always be like, "Do your talking on the track," and it was difficult to walk alone, particularly in the racing world, from eight years old. Luckily, I'm just so appreciative of having a strong Black figure who was next to me the whole way, who I could relate to and lean on, and that was my dad. Super strong man. For me, he's the strongest man I know.
In the past I've been speaking about it in my world, that there doesn't seem to be any diversity at all, and I never put enough thought, I would say, into what else I could do. I thought me being here would be enough. I was like if I'm constantly at the front, and I'm showing that it is possible, hopefully that'd help open doors for people. But at the end of the year, they always do a team photo of each of the [racing] teams, and I was sitting there last year looking at all these pictures and I’m like, “Oh, my God, it's literally maybe three people of color in 10 of these teams and the picture probably had 100 people in it.” That frustrated me, and made me realize, Jeez, I've got to do more. No one here seems to care enough—or didn't at the time—to dive in and do some research. I was like, "I've got to come up with something to find out what the barriers are.”
So, I have to do a bit of research that tries to understand why there is such a lack of Black people within my industry. I hope that with the findings I will be able to hand this to some of the people in the fashion industry, and obviously continue to do that in the racing space... A lot of meetings are happening in the background, and it's really fascinating. It took a long time, but I've got this great core commission group who are all so enthusiastic to see change. A lot of them were working on the ground in communities and in some of the schooling systems, and in the government, so we can also help them lobby for change. I'm super happy about it. I really want to see change. For me, that’s more important than winning all these championships.
RACING TOWARDS THE FUTURE
There are only 20 drivers in F1, so when I first started talking about the lack of diversity people interpreted it as I was talking about drivers. It's not that. It's in so many of the other areas. Racing continues to be an extremely and even more ridiculously expensive sport. It's twice as expensive as when I was coming up. Originally, I was like, as soon as I'm done here I'm gone. But now I realize that I have a responsibility. I've got to stay connected. So when I'm having these conversations with Formula 1, they are long-term conversations and when I'm sitting down and speaking with the chairman of Liberty Media, which owns Formula 1, I'm speaking to him, like, "Okay, how are we going to work together?"
There's no one else coming up to follow me at the moment. If I leave it will go back to an all white racing cast. What are we going to do together at the moment? Because there's a lot of people out there [saying], "Okay, we're going to put a million [dollars] over here, we're going to put a million over here." But what does that really mean? It doesn't really go far when you really look deep and so that's why, instead of me saying, "Okay, I'm going to throw a bunch of money over here." I'm actually really trying to get to the root of the cause in this industry. It's a lifelong battle and I think that's what I'll move my efforts towards just more in the background. Someone's got to keep F1 on their toes because otherwise it may drop away.
So I think I will always remain close with them and hopefully have a much bigger role with Formula 1. I'm more wanting to work with the actual governing body right at the top to try and see if we can shift things for all these youngsters that are coming up. That's why I try my best to utilize the platform as much as I can to show them the opportunities that are here, but I've got to do more, that's for sure.