Category Archives: Fashion

Meet the Locals: Birmingham Vintage Fair @ The Custard Factory

On Saturday 23rd November, Alice Cudmore wandered down to the Birmingham Vintage Fair, held in The Custard Factory, Digbeth, to meet and chat to some of the lovely stall-holders.

Name: Charlottevintage fair 1
Stall name: Lottie’s Lots
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I realised a few years ago that I’d come out of Topshop and see five more people wearing everything that I’d just bought. I got bored of mainstream fashion and decided to go into vintage. It’s much more exciting and it offers loads more interesting, one-off pieces.”

What’s your favourite vintage era?
The ’50s

vintage fair 2Name: Paul
Stall name: Madame Cherry
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“It’s actually my wife who owns the stall, I just help her on weekends. She’s really crafty and arty, and wanted to find an outlet for her creativity. She started making jewellery and then did a few test fairs, before deciding to do this full time.”

Name: Annavintage fair 3
Stall name: Dolly Anna Does
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“I’m actually a fashion designer by trade, and this was another outlet for my work, and also great for getting ideas and networking in the fashion industry!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

vintage fair 4Name: Kyshia
Stall Name: Newell Accessories (“It’s a family name – I wanted to keep it close to home and it means if I have any children they can always take over one day!”)
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“This is actually my first one! I really liked the jewellery I was seeing around with the new vintage craze, and thought I could have a go myself!”

Favourite vintage era?
The 60’s – “It was so exciting! I was born in the ’80s but I wish I’d been around in the ’60s!”

vintage fair 5Name: Chloe
Stall name: Elsie and Fred
How did you get into vintage fairs?
“Well we actually have a shop in Coventry called Elsie and Fred (after two of our friends). We wanted to spread the word and get more people interested in vintage!”

Favourite vintage era?
The ’60s

by Alice Cudmore

Imperial Purple to Denim Blue: The Colourful History of Textiles @ Book to the Future

colours

You go into that new shop you’ve been dying to visit and you’re met with the sight of multitudes of coloured clothing spattered everywhere around you. There’s that purple blouse, or the green sweater, the blue denim shorts, the white trousers, the black t-shirts and the red dresses.  And it’s these colours that make up our surroundings today. It’s these colours which hang around everywhere you go. And it was these colours that Dr Susan Kay-Williams passionately talked about in her lecture.

It’s taken for granted everyday how we can now buy so many pieces of different coloured clothing. Dr Kay-Williams took us right back to the start with the invention of imperial purple. Considered imperial as it was the colour which only European regents and the papacy could afford to wear. She enthusiastically went through the painstaking dying process workers had to go through to transfer small amounts of colour onto large materials to be sold by merchants. That wasn’t all, Dr Kay-Williams gripped the crowd’s attention from the start and went through each of the major colours through the hour. 

Her witty historical facts followed spontaneously throughout the presentation such as Alexander the Great’s fondness for purple robes and the Roman’s obsession of purple which soon reached fever-pitch all across Europe. Alongside this an exploration of Venetian scarlet was made which adorned the walls of the Royalty soon after purple, there was the bleaching white which Elizabeth I wore to acclaim and black which Philip the good wore till his death. Not until the final part of the presentation was blue delved into.

Blue: the most popular colour in the world. Blue, famous for adorning the Virgin Mary in paintings for centuries, later became the staple it is now when Levi picked it up to use on denim jeans. And as they say the rest is the past.

To stand in front of a small crowd of all ages trying to explain the historical values of dyeing clothes isn’t easy. But Dr Kay-Williams throughout the lecture stayed calm and represented her eloquent oratory skills which no doubt kept me absorbed. Combined with her refined speech her wittiness was appreciated and met with giggles from all ages of the crowd. She often dispersed heavy historical contextual detail with small pieces of trivia keeping the event lively but factual too.

Coming from a completely novice background in textiles, Dr Kay-Williams presentation was like a voyeuristic display filled with vibrant anecdotes of the glorious and not so glorious past. The discovery of these colours and their infusions with textiles is why we can afford to wear whatever we please in whichever colour we want. And expectantly it’s something which will always be around us for a long time to come.

By Shantok Jetha

Is this fur real? Fashion and the fur industry.

The fur trade is always a hot topic – with animal activists and fashion addicts constantly at each other’s throats in the media because of it. Most of us will remember Sophie-Ellis Bexter holding up a skinned fox for a PETA anti-fur campaign a few years ago, and we’ve all heard stories about activists throwing red paint over models in white fur coats.

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     Similar to most people, I’ve never actually taken much notice of these sorts of things. I always thought it must be an exaggerated cause by do-gooders trying to shock people into signing petitions. Until recently, the fur trade was something that I had placed alongside fox hunting and animal testing – horribly cruel, yes, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actively checked a shampoo bottle to make sure it hadn’t been tested on animals.

     Heading into the depths of Digbeth in the few weeks of my first year, I quickly became a vintage enthusiast – it’s cheap, it’s different, and it’s usually great quality if you know what to look for. Shopping was no longer a depressing trawl around Topshop pining after things I could definitely not afford. But still, as far as I was concerned, real fur was for the rich and the fabulous – a far cry from a student like me with barely enough money for a return-ticket to Selly Oak. The closest I’d ever got to fur was a shaggy pair of moon boots that I had worn to death in year four.

     During a regular shopping trip, I headed to one of my favourite little shops in the city centre – Vintage on Ally Street (down the first side road on the left as you head down Digbeth high street). I picked up a really cool jacket – a denim splash-dye number that I fell in love with instantly. I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. Barely even inspecting the collar, I headed to the till and thrusted a grubby tenner at the lady who owns, and runs, the shop. As I handed over my money, she casually said, ‘I should let you know that it is real fur on the collar.’ I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded with the transaction. My reasoning in that moment was that the animal was already dead – and if this jacket was not worn, it had died in vain. Surely, that was a reasonable argument to buy it?

     For a fair few months I felt tremendous wearing my jacket. Friends would touch the fur and ask if it was real, to which I would proudly inform them that it was. Many recoiled in disgust, but I felt glamorous and fashionable so for some time that was enough to keep it as a firm wardrobe favourite.

     My opinion took a dramatic turn recently when I was doing my daily trawl of my Facebook newsfeed. A friend had shared a video entitled ‘Olivia Munn exposes Chinese Fur Trade.’ I would advise that anyone who stumbles across this video should not watch it unless you have a very strong stomach. By the end, I was in tears and felt physically nauseous after seeing terrified animals being electrocuted, choked and even skinned alive. The sheer disgust and anger that I felt after watching this absolutely revolting and shocking cruelty to such beautiful, innocent creatures stayed with me for several days. I grabbed my jacket and when it started malting, I felt like I had blood on my hands.

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     Since then, I have researched the fur trade – trawling through websites detailing some of the appalling realities of the fur trade. But it’s not only the fur trade that is so disgusting – leather is just as cruel, raking in £600 million annually from Great Britain alone. Countless campaigns have been set up by animal-rights activists to abolish huge fur and leather firms, but most of the time these efforts come to no avail, as the demand for these materials are still so high. What I found particularly upsetting was that much-loved, familiar pets such as cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea-pigs are mercilessly killed to feed the hungry fur trade – with around 2 million being killed every year in China alone and being sold on to European traders. I felt sick at the thought that my fur collar could have come from a puppy.

     Typing ‘fur trade in Birmingham’ into Google, I was surprised to find that there are so many fur traders in Birmingham who are feeding this terrible industry. Formally, these businesses are called ‘Furriers’, and most are not based in the city centre. One in particular that caught my eye was ‘Madeline Ann’ – a small shop in Solihull that sells fur items.  This shop has been targeted by a local mqdefaultactivist group who are campaigning to stop the shop from selling fur by sending angry letters to the owners and discouraging locals from entering the shop. I felt a pang of relief that something was being done, but at the same time a sad realisation that these efforts would probably come to nothing. Most vintage shops in Birmingham sell fur coats, and the vintage scene is most certainly thriving. Fur is fashionable, and unfortunately not enough thrifters are aware of the disgusting processes behind their ‘bargains.’

     However, I have started doing my bit. I can’t deny that I still love the jacket, but it mainly lives in the depths of my wardrobe these days. When my grandmother recently offered me her old fur coat that she wore when she was ‘a girl… and a size 10’ – the first question that I asked was, ‘is the fur real?’ My fingers were firmly crossed as I observed the beautiful garment, until she assured me that it was fake. The coat is my new favourite item of outerwear. When people ask me if it’s real, I can proudly tell them that I no longer wear real fur, and that fake is most certainly the way forward.

By Meg Evans

@mkevans92

The Birmingham Vintage Fair Christmas Special @ The Custard Factory

In today’s hectic lifestyle it has become all too easy to religiously stick to the familiar and reliable; Topshop, H&M, Primark… We troop in, jaws set with determination to find exactly what we’re looking for. We buy it in silence and leave as swiftly as possible, desperate to get to our next vital appointment. The Birmingham Vintage Fair offered a portal to a simpler and better time: before clothes shopping became a chore, rather than a luxury, and before internet retail robbed us of any creative flair and spontaneity when it comes to our outfits. Those who made the journey to the Custard Factory, hands numb and quivering, were not left disappointed.

416941_414022851985158_1212544024_nIn the heart of Digbeth the Custard Factory certainly takes some effort to find, but it is more than worth it. The secluded development offers a perfect juxtaposition of elegant, thought-provoking sculptures with colourful and quirky wall art and modern architecture, all alongside musty antique shops, vintage clothing stores and bespoke dressmakers. There is nowhere quite like it, and there is nowhere better for a Vintage Fair to set up shop.

A veritable treasure trove of retro fashion, the fair offered a sea of originality spanning six decades of style. With no two items the same, customers were invited to forage for their fashion – the result was a much more rewarding experience than selecting one of forty identical crop tops in Urban Outfitters. Tantalisingly soft, faux fur coats drew the strokes of tentative fingers. High-waisted, acid-washed jeans were being bought with enthusiasm, and, for the less faint hearted, 80s sequined tops with shoulder pads to rival the cast of ‘Dynasty’ were seized with vigour. There were maxi dresses made of the most luxurious velvet and irresistibly fine silk, adorable floral tea dresses, and lace gowns in rainbow shades. There were ikat-printed capes and fur-lined ponchos, denim jackets and sequined shrugs. For those feeling suitably festive, there was an abundance of Christmas jumpers emblazoned with reindeers, holly berries, and images of ski lodges, all wonderfully soft, and most importantly, wonderfully affordable.525591_414023138651796_1857095148_n

In terms of accessories, there were stunning evening bags in jewel tones alongside rich leather doctor’s bags, floral carpet bags, beaten satchels and mahogany coloured suitcases – all crying out to be bought. Laid out on soft velvet was the most beautiful jewellery; fine gold chains with beautiful pendants, creamy pearl bracelets and ear rings in every shape and size. After their purchases had been made, shoppers were then rewarded for their hard efforts with mouth-watering cupcakes and hot, milky tea. There was undoubtedly something for everyone.

525891_414023315318445_1255874669_nThe next time the Vintage Fair rolls into Birmingham, I suggest you go and breathe some new life into those Topshop jeans with a 50s pussy bow blouse, or make your River Island just that bit more special with a diamanté brooch. Let’s make clothes shopping an uninhibited joy again.

Susie Dickey

@SusannahDickey

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Hidden Gems: Sack Sales on New Street

It’s undeniable that as a student, a shopping bargain is always very welcome; whether it’s new winter boots or a jumper that will keep you from freezing, as you refuse to turn the heating on. Trawling around the Bullring can usually be a hassle but somehow, when you find a real gem it can all be worth it. ‘Sack Sales on New Street’ has taken the bargain-hunter experience to an entirely new level.

sack sales on new street

‘Sack Sales on New Street’ is what is known as a ‘pop-up shop’. Located just past the Tesco Metro, on the left-hand side, it’s there for a limited time, and if one wasn’t looking for it, it would be easy to miss. It works like this – there are two floors; the ground floor is your standard vintage store full of ‘on-trend’ items for prices around £10 – £20 (a bit more for fur and leather). The alternative option is to head up the stairs, brandishing a bin bag to fill with whatever you like – the best way I can think of describing it is ‘Garment pick ‘n’ mix.’ Although, you could argue that some of the things one can find in this establishment are far from appetizing.

As you enter, you are greeted by an extremely loud sound system – a personal hate of mine, in regard to shopping.  The ground floor is dedicated to all the second hand clothing that these entrepreneurs have deemed worthy of labelling as vintage, and the rest is sent upstairs. Most of the stuff on the bottom floor looks really great.

But there are a number of things wrong with this place. Looking at some of the very fashionable Levi’s shorts laid out, it was obvious that the owners of ‘Sack Sales’ had seen an opportunity. Upon closer inspection, only about a quarter of the shorts were genuine Levi’s – the rest poorer quality denim shorts that had had Levi’s labels stitched on the back. Personally, I thought it was a cheap trick to take advantage of the less label-savvy. In addition, a lot of the items were quite dirty – making me question the quality, and indeed, hygiene of the rest of the shop. 

Nevertheless, having been to a Sack Sale in the US, I had high hopes. You are given a bin liner, which you can either fill for £10, or fill halfway for £5.  The first floor was pandemonium. There were piles and piles of clothes supposedly designated categories, such as ‘denim’ and ‘dresses.’ Most of it was, to my disappointment, complete and utter tat. IMG_1333

 

Being a retail-magpie through and through, however, I was not about to give up. If you are willing to throw yourself (literally) into the musty piles, it is probable that you can claw a few gems out. On a serious note, only go here if you have a lot of spare time and an industrial-sized vat of hand-sanitizer. For those shoppers who like a calm amble through a vintage market, this is not for you. If you grew up going to church hall jumble sales and car boots, on the other hand, you could be in for a few treasures.

 

By Megan Evans @mkevans92

The Student Lock-in – worth the hassle?

Student lock-ins are shopping events held frequently around Birmingham – enticing all students in the city to squander their student loans by taking advantage of big discounts and offers. Shopping on a Saturday, in the Birmingham Bullring, is for most, as enjoyable as attending a 9am seminar with a hangover. I discovered that student lock-in events can be a similar experience.

Lock-ins tend to run outside of day-to-day shopping hours (usually between 6pm and 10pm) and involve the big-name chains such as River Island, H&M and Topshop; offering out-of-the-ordinary discounts for students.

But here’s the catch (well, one of them) – it is key to sign up online for these events, which involves a tedious online form. Then, upon arrival at the Bullring, there is a queue to pick up your confirmation of registration before you can actually start shopping. This whole routine is what one might call – for want of a better word – a ‘faff’.

Granted, if you are willing to go through the motions, lock-ins can be brilliant when it comes to finding bargains. For example, Forever 21 – a huge high street store exclusive to Birmingham and London in the UK – has, on several occasions, offered a huge 21% discount for students. So, if one had seen something in there prior to the event but couldn’t justify paying full price, these sort of events can make buying a treat less of a blow to the student purse or wallet.

However, with some of the shops (Mango for example), there is a further requirement – having a standard University ID Card is not enough. For a few of them, you’ll need an NUS card – so it is a good idea to check the small print before setting your heart on something.

The main thing that personally turns me off is the sheer amount of people. Topshop during a lock-in can get pretty claustrophobic, and if you’re more of a ‘browser’ the packed shops are not ideal. In addition to this, it’s near impossible to try anything on as the queues become ridiculous. 

On the other hand, lock-ins can be a great way to socialise – making a refreshing change to a night out. And for some, a lock-in may prove to be a cheaper alternative! As well as the shopping perks, a lot of food chains also offer deals during these events – big names such as The Homemade Burger Co. usually make an appearance on the list. So it does provide a cheap meal out for a group of housemates who don’t fancy 9p noodles for the 4th night running.

Lock-ins can be fun. But if you are looking for an easy amble around the shops then you’re better off going on a weekday. If, on the contrary, you are a ruthless bargain-hunter with your eye on the prize, you could find a real gem. Or a pair of gems.

 Megan Evans

@mkevans92