High street stores selling lookalike stab-proof vests

Ashna Hurynag, news reporter

Knife crime offences are at a record high but Sky News has found major retailers are cashing in on the epidemic.

Sleeveless jackets which resemble stab-proof vests are being sold in stores across the UK and online, with clothing brands including Topman, boohooMAN and Urban Outfitters selling what they often brand as "tactical vests".

At first glance they look like a stab-proof vest, but offer no protection.

When 37-year-old Dean Dawe's teenage step-son Darren was held up at knife-point twice in 2017, he decided as a parent to take matters into his own hands.

While Darren, 17, turned to making music to cope with the anxiety he developed from the attack, Mr Dawe began creating slash-proof clothing for adults and children.

The items are lined with Kevlar, a material that can offer protection against knives.

When asked about the lookalike vests on the high street, Mr Dawe told Sky News that he understands fashion houses need to appeal to the masses, but is worried that wearing these vests could attract unwanted attention.

Mr Dawe told Sky News: "If you're walking around with a stab proof vest you're going to get other people who might want to put it to the test and challenge it.

"They may think, you've got something to hide or you've got something that they want. So as discreet as possible is the best solution."

Sky News spoke to a number of anti-knife crime organisations who said they fear the vests are glamourising violence and promoting a knife crime culture.

One of these is The Ben Kinsella Trust, one of the biggest anti-knife crime charities in the UK.

It has educated more than 16,000 young people about the dangers of carrying a knife, after being founded following the unprovoked knife attack that took teenager Ben Kinsella's life in 2008.

Patrick Green, CEO of the trust, is worried the trend normalises the wearing of stab-vests.

He told Sky News: "What worries me more is that for many young people this is just a normal garment that you would wear. They don't think about what it's really saying. They don't think about what it's saying about the society we live in, and that's the real worry.

"You do not need to go around wearing a stab vest - this is not something that is normal."

One online retailer claimed the vests it sold offer some protection, alleging on social media they were stab-proof.

Elegant Troops, which posts its vests alongside clips of street violence and young people showing off weapons, told Sky News the trend has been propelled by popular culture.

"The major force behind the success of the brand is the fact that a lot of influencers perform wearing similar types of vests," a spokesman told Sky News.

Last year, grime artist Stormzy made headlines for wearing a stab-proof vest designed by street artist Banksy on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival.

This was widely seen as a political statement, but similar vests were seen at New York Fashion Week last year and have also appeared on Fashion Week catwalks.

Lydia Banjo, 17, who has worked as a young mayor and regularly meets with organisations to tackle crime, says she has friends who have been stabbed and knows people who have died as a result of knife crime.

Asked about the vests, she says she would wear one and that her friends do because they see them as fashionable.

She told Sky News: "You see people in the street wearing camouflage trousers, tops and tracksuits and it's not like they want to fight and bomb another country - it's just a fashion statement.

"So I feel like if you're going to use something like that and say that it's igniting violence, you're going to have to cut a lot of things down in the fashion industry."

Sky News approached Topman, Urban Outfitters and BoohooMan.com about their decision to stock a range that so closely resembles stab vests.

BoohooMan.com's spokesperson said it was a "street wear trend" and they do not "condone any form of violence and would never use fashion or trends to condone this sort of behaviour".

Following Sky News' request for a response, the vest sold by Urban Outfitters featured in this piece has been taken down from the website.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Violent crime destroys lives and devastates community and we are determined to do all we can to tackle it.

"The government is delivering on the people's priorities by recruiting 20,000 extra police officers, jailing violent criminals for longer and expanding stop and search powers."