Following our tasty collaboration with Wild Card Brewery, we’re sitting down with our founder Gem and Wild Card’s Head Brewer Jaega to earwig on them as they chat beers, business, and the importance of creativity.
A Conversation with Jaega & Gem
J - Hey Gem, I’m Jaega Wise, I’m the head brewer at Wild Card Brewery in East London. We’ve been going for about ten years, and we’ve also got a pub and two bars as well, with around 30 staff members total. It’s not always been the easiest, particularly over the last couple of years. But we’re still here, so I’m very happy.
G - We too have managed to survive pandemic pandemonium, which I’m very proud of considering I started Lazy Oaf on a market stall in 2001, hand printing my designs and selling them alongside some dodgy magazines. I’ve grown it from there bit by bit, and now twenty years later, there’s about 45 of us. Two stores, one site. Global domination…I don’t know. It’s been hard though, we’ve faced some challenges.
J - For Wild Card, the biggest challenge has always been money. We don’t come from rich families, we’re all from Nottingham with modest backgrounds, and in order for any business to start you need capital. And getting that when your network isn’t rich is definitely challenging. For us it’s always been very hand to mouth - we get something, we sell it. Climbing the next rung of the ladder has always been with quite significant weight on our shoulders. I don’t know what your biggest obstacle has been Gemma?
G - I totally resonate with what you’re saying. Our growth has also come bit by bit each year. I’m really proud of it - we don’t have loads of investment or super rich parents that are like, “just go and start something from your hobby darling.” Everything feels like a risk when you’re growing like that, and you obviously need an element of certainty, but also the guts to take those risks and just go for stuff. Even in spite of challenges - even pandemics…
J - Where everyone was forced to learn disaster management. The pandemic has been one of those things where, as bad as it was, it’s really forced us to sort our shit out in certain areas. Before, we didn’t have an operational web shop, but we’re coming out the other side - we hope - with a really popular web shop, in actually a stronger position than prior. And with staff who were with us throughout that whole period. I don’t know about you guys, but we really ended up with a bond over these two years - I feel closer to the people that I work with than I ever have before.
G - I feel the same. It feels like we’ve all been through it together and that definitely brought us closer together, but also just cut out a lot of the bullshit. We now just look at the priorities and what we’ve got to do. I’m really interested in your work around International Women’s Day - are you doing something this year?
J - It’s probably my favourite day of the year - It’s like Christmas in the beer industry. So every year we do the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. It’s where women all around the world brew the same beer. Brewers go to a local brewery where it’s either led by a woman or there’s a woman on the brew team, and they get together and brew. It’s really fun - it’s pretty much everyone getting together and having a piss up and making connections, but I think that’s important.
G - Definitely. You must get asked a lot about what it’s like to be a woman working in such a male dominated industry?
J - I do, but I’ve always said I’m a brewer first before I’m a female brewer. It’s something that people obviously take note of because it’s unusual, but that has improved over my time in the industry, there’s a lot more women coming through the ranks. Beer traditionally has been quite gendered. Even the layout of pubs; there’s the lounge for the women and the children, and the bar for the men. And there’s this idea of beer being a male drink, which probably has a lot to do with pub culture, more so than it being about the drink itself. I don’t know what the gender balance is like in fashion?
G - Well, I started as a menswear brand, and was doing a lot of streetwear trade shows with my product and trying to sell it. There were not many women doing that at the time, and I remember feeling very judged. My product wasn’t deemed good enough because I was a girl, and that this was a place for hetro dudes that skate. There were those assumptions that it was a hobby, and not something I was going to turn into a real business. Even now when I tell people I have my own fashion business, the assumption is that I run it from my bedroom. I always have to explain the size of my business, without trying to sound like an absolute dick, like: “Nah, I’m probably more established than you think.”
J - Just constantly having to prove yourself? Someone pulled me up on this the other day, they said, “Jaega I’ve read loads of interviews with you and you always talk about how you’re a chemical engineer. I’ve never seen a man having to talk about their qualifications.” It’s a question I get all the time: “How did you get here, that’s unusual?” You wouldn’t necessarily get the same quizzing of your credentials…
G - Yeah absolutely, it’s like, “Here is my CV, here are all of my achievements thank you very much…” Something I really admire about Wild Card is how you work with artists for the can designs, you must have worked with so many great creatives? I love the way you put creativity into your beers, it’s so fun and it brings the cans alive.
J - We love working with lots of different artists because we love lots of different ideas and lots of different looks. We get so many out of the box ideas by working this way, and get to work with new people all the time.
G - I love approaching anything from that creative perspective. Creativity is our heartbeat at Oaf as it was the way I dealt with the shit going on when I was younger, and it's been the way that I connect with people and the way I talk. There’s so much talent out there that just gets applied in all sorts of ways, and why not through beer? Why not through t-shirts?!
J - We’re with you on that - this collaboration between ourselves really was an absolute pleasure, and it was really easy from our perspective. And we’re really happy with the final product. For us it’s so important - especially with how competitive the industry is now - to make beer that is world standard. You just won’t survive otherwise, particularly in London. The consumer knows what great beer is now and they can taste it in a second if it's not. So with the specials we create, we’re always looking to make world standard beer.
G - I don’t feel like I’m a connoisseur, but it tastes bloody lovely. Gold standard in my book, definitely. And I absolutely loved working on the can designs, it’s all just been really fun and easy.
J - It has. Thanks Gem!