Casey Bannerman’s Zoom background is much better than mine — he’s seated in a brown leather club chair, flanked by his own framed illustrations of various NBA stars, and wearing a gorgeous mohair cardigan which I later learn is part of an upcoming drop of his new clothing line Butter For The Bread.
Bannerman’s work has floated around the corner of the Internet that is the intersection between the fashion, entertainment and sports for a while, where basketball players get the superhero treatment and jerseys are love letters to the city of Toronto. But it was his knit, retro logo-inspired Raptors jersey that stopped me in my scroll. It’s arresting, jaw-dropping. But who could be surprised once you learn that Bannerman has been building to this moment his entire life?
His designs have been worn by some of the same athletes whose jerseys he uses as inspiration, including Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Scottie Barnes and Andrew Wiggins. But the roots of his success might be traced back to his childhood in a clothing shop in Peterborough.
“Shoutout to Peterborough Square,” Bannerman says. “It’s a graveyard now but it used to be a mall.” It also housed his parents’ growing clothing business. Back then, before it became the success it is now, Bannerman’s parents didn’t have a lot of money.
“I didn’t have babysitters or anything, so I just grew up in the back of a storeroom with a bunch of clothes. All I had around me to really entertain myself was a bunch of pens and what are called style sheets,” Bannerman recalls. “I would just sit there and I would draw and draw and draw to the point where I would actually cut out my little drawings and those would be my toys, paper toys.”
This was around the same time that the NBA finally brought a franchise to Toronto. Bannerman knows that his Raptors fandom is partly a byproduct of good marketing: a cartoon, red and purple raptor is far more appealing to a small child than an adult man. Soon, he had a basketball net in his driveway, the easy accessibility of the sport another driving factor of his interest.
“That’s one thing that’s so cool about basketball — anyone and everyone can play it. We find that with the Toronto Raptors fanbase, it’s a very diverse fanbase for a reason,” he says. “And I don’t mean just diverse from what we visually can see but diverse from what we can’t see. It’s people from all different thought patterns and walks of life. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Growing up, illustration was a passion but Bannerman never believed that it would be his Plan A. “People in my life thought [it was] a good idea to go to university to get your bachelor’s and then go to law school because that’s a good meal ticket. So I went to university to just get my Bachelor of Arts in political science — what a waste of money that was!” Bannerman jokes.
He continued on the course that was prescribed to him — law school, cushy law job. “I tried to follow that path, and it led to a life unfulfilled, which led to substance abuse with alcohol, and eventually just sort of not living my own life,” he says. “At a certain point, right about when I was turning 30, I made a decision: Okay, I’m gonna kick that type of stuff out of my life but the deal is that I have to do what I love, and what I love to do is design and create things.”
His life change slowly led him to his now iconic designs. “I decided that I was going to follow art, and I didn’t think it was going to be this. I decided that I needed to get my chops up in drawing, and I was watching so much basketball — that’s when I was doing it — so I thought, ‘I’ll just draw these players,’ and slowly but surely some of the players took notice.”
Since then, Bannerman’s career has taken off, between prints and shirts to jerseys and knitwear. There’s more on the horizon: many drops under his own brand, as well as for his aforementioned Butter For The Bread, which is in collaboration with Aly Jamal of Northern Touch Vintage and Andrew Thompson.
Casey Bannerman is excited for the future, but he is also one to always appreciate what he’s got now. “If you can’t ever stop for a moment to see where you are, then you won’t ever know where you’re going.”