ROK SOBA CO-FOUNDERS & BROTHERS, LEE & SHAUN
Lee, sober since October 2014, and Shaun, since January 2015, formed Rok Soba in December 2017, a collective and timed decision made 3 years into our sobriety.
Like many in recovery, our journey to sobriety had been a tempestuous one. As teenagers, we were fuelled by the excitement and surety of success and wealth, having both secured jobs in the City of London investment banking sector. It was the 80s; lunches were liquid and long, evenings were even longer. We were living the high life, although neither of us ever really became enthused about the line of work we had fallen into.
Years passed, seemingly trapped in the corporate world, with ever increasing personal and work-related responsibilities adding to the stress. But we would continue to push ourselves. It was expected of us. Without knowing it, we were simply a statistic caught in the trappings of society, spending our hard-earned money on lavish holidays, weekend breaks, cars and nice watches, not to mention the alcohol-fuelled episodes along the way, which was quickly becoming our coping mechanism; our antidote to life as we knew it, filled with pretentiousness and greed.
Our mental health was in decline, too, both suffering from severe bouts of depression and anxiety. Lee spent 8 weeks in The Priory for his OCD and depression, the same psychiatric hospital that our dad had been admitted to some years earlier for a nervous breakdown.
Lee’s City journey came to a sharp end as a result of his health. Instead, he embraced a new life in Spain with his wife. Shaun, on the other hand, battled on but was becoming unsettled with both his life and the aspirations that he felt were being carved out for him, but not by him.
Lee’s 5-year haul in Spain ended in divorce with the loss of two houses and the gain of an uncertain future back in the UK. The only certainty was that drinking heavily had become the norm. The same was to be said for Shaun, and his marriage too was in decline, eventually leading to divorce, the loss of his two houses and bankruptcy.
We were both on medication and drinking became compulsory to get through the day, through the night and often through the morning. As brothers, we would often encourage each other to drink more, regularly outstaying our welcome with the obligatory ‘one for the road’. Lee had no choice but to try and resume a career he had vowed never to return to; it was all he knew. Despite this, after 18 months of searching, Lee landed a job with a company willing to give him a chance. This would be the springboard to a new career and a fresh start. Lee remarried in 2012 and decided it was time to progress with his newfound career aspirations. However, his next job ended badly after drunkenly ranting down the phone to his boss late one evening. Several months later, determined to prove his critics wrong, Lee landed a contracting role at Deutsche Bank in the financial regulation department. Unbelievably, for the first time, Lee was becoming settled in this line of work and developed a very strong, sturdy relationship with his colleagues and peers.
Shaun, on the other hand, was struggling with his career in software sales, burdened by the constant pressure of meeting ridiculously high targets with people he simply could not relate to and products he could not get excited about. Whereas before his fate had been decided by a series of redundancies, Shaun opted to remove himself from a career that he was clearly not cut out for. It had taken almost 30 years, but his City career had to go.
In June 2014, however, future decisions were made for us and our lives were to change forever. A sleepless Friday night rolled seamlessly into Saturday with a barrage of alcohol. Our drinking continued into the afternoon until an ugly fracas ensued with the landlord of a pub. We were apprehended, arrested and subsequently charged by the police. The game was over and we were now knee deep in shit!
Both utterly distraught by our actions, we took so-called ‘comfort’ in even more alcohol. Our careers were in serious jeopardy and we were both facing the prospect of serving a custodial sentence. Lee eventually plucked up the courage to inform his work, only to be told that his contract would not be renewed pending a court case. Shaun, at this stage, was looking at an alternative career in the coffee industry and was being supported by his partner; perhaps, subconsciously, he knew this would become his saviour.
By now, our mental states were at their lowest; we had no enthusiasm, no drive and no zest for life. Our family and loved ones were close to disowning us, for they could see our appetite for alcohol was worsening, along with our mental and physical health. Our intoxicated episodes were fuelled by the devil’s fire, and we were rapidly burning out of control.
Lee’s contract with Deutsche Bank ended in September 2014 and he became reliant on benefits as a result of his deteriorating mental health, compounded by his expensive legal representation, the disbelief of a lengthy, ensuing court case and the possibility of a prison sentence. The outlook for us both was bleak, to say the least.
On 13 October 2014, Lee had reached breaking point, where a drunken argument with his wife prompted another night out on his own. In town, he remembers tearfully falling to his knees out of pure desperation and hopelessness: a cry for help. The following morning, having spent the night at his parents, he vowed never to touch a drop of alcohol again. On returning home, his wife had packed her bags and was ready to leave. His decision to kick the booze had not only saved his life, but his marriage, too. But only just. For the next couple of months, still struggling with his mental health, Lee became a recluse.
Shaun’s decision to quit the drink came at the very beginning of 2015. A drink-fuelled New Year’s Eve led him to pass out on his girlfriend’s kitchen floor, and concerned for his welfare, an ambulance was called. He strongly resisted any help or treatment and the police were called to apprehend him. He would see in the New Year in a cell. This was the final straw for Shaun and, on 1 January 2015, he made the decision to kick the booze into touch.
We were both sober. Finally!
It was time for Lee to fill the huge void alcohol had left, whereupon he soon reconnected with his lifelong interest in photography. This new creative direction, coupled with his dual fascination with street life and the human condition, saw his distinctive work quickly recognised. He spoke openly to the media about his battle with mental illness and alcohol dependency and how this battle nearly cost him his life. In December 2015, he published his first street photography book, Pulse, with all profits donated to the registered mental health charity, Mind. One year later, he published Being Human, bringing together a compilation of his finest work, whilst questioning our own human characteristics and the meaning of being human.
He visited Nepal twice in 2017, and on his first expedition chose to volunteer to teach English in a monastery to young Buddhist monks. This was the perfect opportunity to immerse himself in his interest in Buddhism, witness Nepal’s diverse culture first-hand and document it using his passion for photography. His latest book, A Peace of Nepal, showcases his incredible experience, with all proceeds donated to help the young Buddhist monks of two monasteries in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Shaun, having kicked his City career into touch, trained to be a barista, simply because he had channelled his addiction into coffee when he stopped frequenting pubs. Cafés were far more positive, and were safer and better for him. Once trained, Shaun set up a mobile coffee truck business out of a vintage 1967 Citroën HY van. He loved it and it kept him on the right path. There was no work stress, just Shaun doing the thing he enjoyed most.
He assisted in the café of a local cycling facility, where he began volunteering his time to help the less abled enjoy cycling. He wanted to give something back to society after seemingly wasting so much time in a career he despised. Cycling was also another one of Shaun’s coping mechanisms, helping to blow away the cobwebs when times were tough.
But Shaun’s real passion has always been motorcycles. So, one of his goals was to save for the bike of his dreams from the money he had saved as a result of not drinking. It was surprising how soon he had reached his savings goal and before long he was on the phone to the nearest motorcycle dealer to organise purchasing his dream machine.
In between all of this, we were contending with a court case that took two painful years before a plea was agreed. We had narrowly escaped a custodial sentence and instead received a 2-year suspended sentence, lengthy community service, fines and were required to observe an electronically tagged curfew for 4 months. We were now also in possession of a criminal record, severely limiting our options for work.
'Uniting The Brave' & changing perceptions about sobriety...
The idea for Rok Soba was born mid-2017 after Shaun saw this name in lights during a dream. We were to give the idea and our concept some thought and made the decision to commence the project after we had both been sober for 3 years. The time felt right.
Our brand name simply evolved from the words Rock and Sober, but with an intention of eliminating the obvious and providing a unique alternative for someone who is contemplating sobriety, already sober or simply wants to wear a garment that rocks in style and promotes the benefits of a teetotal lifestyle.
Rok Soba, quite simply, is a brand that aims to inspire those who are on a similar path. Our decision to kick the bottle has offered huge benefits, both to ourselves and to our family; Rok Soba centres around offering inspiration from the experiences of ourselves and others, to include celebrities and respected public figures, which we believe encourages and empowers anybody who has taken, or is contemplating taking, the sober lane.
Our motto, Face Everything And Rise, is born from the acronym F.E.A.R. There are two options...Forget Everything And Run, or Rok Soba's choice, Face Everything And Rise.
Rok Soba’s branding is bold and badass, yet intricate and thought-provoking. It carries with it a very significant meaning and message. Moths represent darkness, light and transformation. Allow the moth to draw you to the light, just as moths are drawn to the light, and let it be your guide out of the darkness. Moths undergo an intense metamorphosis and so the moth is there to help guide you through your time of transformation, perhaps outgrowing your old self to make way for the new, allowing you to spread your wings and take to the sky. The Death's Head Hawk Moth, on which the design is based, can be seen as a representation of your old way of life coming to an end and a new beginning on the horizon.
To some Native American tribes, moths were thought to be sacred and powerful creatures, which is why other symbolic tribal items have been included within the design. Arrows can only be shot by pulling them backwards, and so act as a reminder when life is pulling you back with difficulties that you will eventually be launched into something better. Native American feathers have been used to represent freedom, power, wisdom, trust, honour and respect, and were awarded as a symbol of strength to those who had achieved a personal accomplishment or something great for the tribe.
The wings of an angel symbolise protection, affection and harmony, and can empower and inspire us to overcome any difficulties that life may bring. They also remind us that we are never really alone and can call upon an angel during times of stress, loneliness, confusion, illness or fear.
Rok Soba has a line of clothing and accessories that offers further inspiration. We have injected rock 'n' roll into sobriety, which we firmly believe is another mechanism to help people be proud to be dry. Our t-shirts, with their bold, meaningful designs and punchy slogans, will reinforce people’s backs, helping them stand tall. Our bespoke jewellery will be worn as a constant reminder of people's personal achievements and strength, whilst everyday items will act as small but empowering reminders to help and reassure those on their own journey. Our range of alcohol-free drinks have been passionately brewed for those seeking good times without the booze, all purposely designed to inspire and to make you stand out in the crowd for all the right reasons.
Take a look at our short film...