Category Archives: clothing

Don’t give me tat!

Having spent numerous afternoons sorting through donations in a charity shop as a child, I was always amazed by the things people would give ranging from high quality goods to pure junk.

Last summer I was sifting through items to be sent to refugees in Calais, France along with some other volunteers. Many useful things such as clothing, camping kit, practical shoes and non-perishable food were generously donated by the public but on the odd occasion I’d stumble across what can only be described as  ludicrously impractical.

The collection had taken place in a relatively affluent part of London so good quality donations were to be expected. But designer Hugo Boss suits? Dinner dresses and stiletto heels? For refugees who have fled terror and war currently living in squalid conditions? Utterly unbelievable.

Perhaps if the clothing had been donated as part of a resettlement project, providing refugees with smart suits for job interviews for example, then this would make sense. But these items were stupidly inappropriate.

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The donors were clearly having a spring clean and wanted to contribute their unwanted wares to a ‘worthy’ cause, but their ‘charitable’ deeds were completely misguided. And herein lies the problem; Rather than acting primarily out of a genuine desire to help those in need, they were spurred on by a range of questionable motives; namely to appease their conscience, ‘legitimise’ their affluence and ultimately, make themselves feel better.

This also extends the other way, to those individuals who donate absolute tat which belong in one place- the bin. Soiled trousers, torn tops and weather beaten, worn- out shoes; surely if it is not good enough for you, why should it be for someone else?

I truly believe this is what happens when we operate from wrong motives – a sort of disembodied faux compassion. When we fail to fully see people as they should be, as fellow human beings, to be afforded the same dignity we would expect in turn.

There are other circumstances where this could apply such as donating unwanted food to a local food bank. Let’s be honest, how many times have you been tempted to give those unwanted tins, lurking in the kitchen cupboard since time immemorial, to your local food bank? Surely somebody would want that unidentified tinned fruit / vegetables, random pulse or such like, which even you haven’t gotten round to eating despite those bare cupboard / broke days. In all honesty, we would sooner find something else to eat, so why do we insist on giving food that we ourselves would not want? (This piece sums it up perfectly – excuse the naughty language.)

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Another related bug bear of mine, is the assumption homeless people will want things – food specifically- without considering their preferences. Its the equivalent of giving a homeless person who is vegetarian – due to deeply held personal beliefs – a ham sandwich and insisting they eat and be grateful. Just because they are homeless, we assume beggars shouldn’t be choosers. And although there is a modicum of truth entailed in this statement, (if you are desperately in need, you will pretty much take what you are given), irrespective of a person’s status – homeless, refugee, food bank user or someone whose simply fallen on hard times (which most of us have or will at some point) our response should be the same; We see the person, respond to their needs, respecting their being, preferences and desires, and where possible accommodate these accordingly.

May I hasten to add that I am not saying acquiesce to ridiculous requests; a Byron burger when perhaps you can only afford Burger King or a posh sandwich from Selfridges food hall when a similar sandwich from M&S or Tesco will suffice. (Disclaimer: If you can afford to and want to then absolutely respond with radical generosity. But I suspect most people who are in need would be content with a fairly standard version of the said item.)

Nor do I want discourage genuine acts of kindness – even if the outcome is slightly questionable! We may not always be in a position to give people what they want – whether it is due to time, finances or other constraints, but hopefully operating from a place of true compassion and common sense will minimise potential faux pas aka stilettos and Hugo Boss suits.

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets… Angela ‘Baruch’ Knowles

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing the passionate, driven and highly talented Angela Knowles, a British based fashion designer with roots in Ghana. Her beautiful blend of African print and Scandinavian design, has seen her work featured in Look magazine and on the Stylist magazine’s Emerald Street. More recently Ms Knowles’ Baruch boutique ( Baruch which means blessed in Hebrew) was short listed for the Time Out magazine’s Love London Awards.

Q: Angela this is so exciting. Your store is awesome, you work for yourself, making clothes and doing things you love. Would you say you’re living ‘the dream’?

Not at all! I didn’t set out to inspire people or to ‘live the dream’; I set out to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and to really enjoy what it is I am going to do and doing. I try not to call this work as my perceptions of the word are pretty negative. In my mind, this is not work, this is fun and anything else which comes from it is an added bonus.

Q: Tell me a bit about your journey – did you always know that you would be working in the fashion industry?

When I was eleven, I knew at that point that my career would revolve around making things. I didn’t know who, what, where, why or when. All I knew is that I wanted to have a shop and sew. Some of my earliest memories are of being a small child, with my little sewing machine and sewing scraps of material alongside my mum. I didn’t have a clue about fashion although my mum was a seamstress; I only knew as much as she sewed. I learnt more about fashion over the years.

Whilst at 6th form, I decided I wanted to attend London College of Fashion but was discouraged by one of my tutors. As a black person it was assumed I would become a seamstress or a cleaner, there was a lack of aspiration. Fortunately I had another tutor who said that I was better than that. In the end, I decided to do something ‘sensible’ and took up sciences at A Level. I liked babies so figured why not be a midwife?! I failed biology and soon realised that wasn’t going to work!

I ended up studying Business Studies at Surrey University after going through clearing. Looking back it was definitely the right decision because it gave me all the tools I needed to do what I am doing now.

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Welcome! Owner and designer at Baruch boutique

Q: You have worked for a number of very established brands, what did you learn from working with them?

I have worked for brands like Fenn Wright Manson, Whistles and Jaeger all of which were great in different ways. Working at Fenn Wright Manson taught me about quality; I loved their clothing and had favourite pieces which I would share with the customers. I was so passionate about the brand and that is what helped me to sell. Jaeger was probably the best retail experience as I was tasked with turning around one of their poor performing stores and given the freedom to get on with it. It was great to work with a store that was so well established. I left to go Whistles to run a bigger store and was given a similar mission to improve one of their poorer performing stores which eventually became a store of excellence. It was a really exciting time to work with the brand because it was evolving. I loved Whistles and thrived working there; I stayed for three years.

Q: Given your successful retail management career, which you appeared to have enjoyed, why did you decide to launch the Baruch boutique?

Motherhood. I was on maternity leave and felt anxious about returning to work but suppressed it. I realised that I hadn’t got everything I needed to from the working world so went back to the same company but in a different store and managing a different team. There was a lot of work to do as they hadn’t had a manager for 6-7 months. I received very little support upon returning; the company didn’t do any ‘keep in touch’ days and I had no training to help me settle back in despite having almost a year off. I was Grade 9 – the highest level of managers and was a senior of those; I think the assumption was ‘you’re the boss get on with it’. I was still quite emotional and enjoyed being at home and doing a little bit of sewing on the side, even though it didn’t pay me. Looking back, all I needed was emotional support. I returned to work and the store quickly improved moving from 6/7th place in performance tables to to 2nd within four weeks. I maintained this up until the point I left.

I realised being a mum was the most important thing to me and needed to be in a space which would allow this to happen. I remember one busy Saturday at work and I was holding a baby for a customer, a mother trying on clothes, and it hit me; why am I holding someone else’s child? My child should come first. All I wanted was to be a happy mum. I just thought I will no longer stress myself to make someone else’s dream and bank account bigger and sacrifice my own happiness in the process. That’s when I decided to focus on Baruch full time.

Afro-Skandi: Unique blend

Afro-Skandi: Baruch’s unique blend

Q: So you decide to start Baruch full time. How did you fund your journey?

I applied for a start up loan through the Greater London Enterprise (GLE). I didn’t know if it was the right approach but applying for the loan was the only feasible way I would be able to buy stock and afford a deposit for a space. I just had a baby, my husband wasn’t working and I was on the verge of leaving my job…it was a make or break situation and I knew I had to make it work.

I remember putting all the paper work together for the application process and saying to my husband, if I get it then that’s a green light. If not then I will have to save and do it over a longer period of time. The whole process took approximately three months from beginning to end. My advisor was really supportive and thought my business idea was amazing which helped.

As part of the process I attended a panel meeting similar to the BBC’s Dragon’s Den programme. In fact one of the guys who interviewed me resembled Theo Paphitis! I came really well prepared. They were very rigorous in their interview process especially when they asked me what I planned to do with the money. After the process I cried in front of them! I just thought this is it, I don’t want to go back to what I am doing.

The feedback from the panel was very positive- they liked the business idea, thought the plan was well put together and could tell I was passionate about it. They had a few things to discuss but would get back to me fairly soon.

By the time I got home from the interview the email was in my inbox! I handed in my notice on my birthday. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but it was going to work.The moment I handed in my notice, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Q: What were some of the practical things you did to get started?

I had a list of things to do which simply boiled down to; find brands I love, create stock, confirm a space and make it happen.

I went on to Gumtree to look for a shop space and didn’t find anything available in South London but was told about a possible space in East London. My husband and I went to visit the space which was at a back of a cafe. We visited six times and at different times of the day just to see what it was like. It was on a quiet street but it didn’t phase me as I was use to working in quiet areas. All I thought was if I have one customer a day who would buy something, then it will grow in its own time. You have to come to it with minimal expectations. I have since moved from the cafe into my own store, which was a huge move.

I set up the business in a short period of time, just over a year ago and the response has just blown me away. It has been non-stop. I am in my second year of business which is no small feat. I remember My GLE mentor saying don’t even expect to break even, more likely make a loss especially given the current financial climate. But do you know in my first year of business, I have never paid bills or rates late and have always had stock in. It’s growing slowly but surely. Everyday I come into work not expecting to have a customer – but they come and I am so grateful.

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Showcasing one of her fab designs

Q: I love your style- it’s very eclectic and fuses lots of different elements. Even your store layout oozes style. Where do you draw your inspiration from? How would you define Baruch?

In terms of the clothes it’s my wardrobe – a little bit rock chic, African, minimal and Scandinavian.
As a child I remember going to church with coordinating clothing and accessories I.e. Matching shoes and handbags which I learnt from my mum. I have incorporated this ‘coordinated’ approach into the Baruch range – ensuring I make pieces that match – which my customers appreciate. Similarly all the brands I have worked for, I have appreciated the high quality and excellence and this is something I am naturally drawn to and bring to my own range. Everything is thoughtfully considered and crafted even down to the African prints I use, it is not randomly selected; everything has a meaning and tells a story.

As well as my love of African print, I am also very inspired by Scandinavian design. I love their minimal approach. I remember going to Norway with my church as a young adult and being drawn to their style. This has since led me to coin the term Afro-Skandi; when I first shared this with my website provider – they didn’t have a clue what it meant but absolutely loved it!

Everything in here (the store) from the decor to the clothing, is what I would have in my own home. Everything I do, I have to love it, own it or want to own it.

Q: What are your future plans?

To keep doing what I love. I have no grand plans to expand but the natural progression would be to share the load with someone.

The number three keeps coming to me so maybe I will have several stores in the future- who knows? Over the summer I was commissioned to make three wedding dresses so I am looking to develop a Baruch bridal range.

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Check out Baruch boutique in East London

Q : What’s the one piece of advice you would give to any budding entrepreneur?

Do what you love. Do it because you love it and if something comes out of it then that’s great. I am not doing it to be a millionaire or to be on the catwalks of London Fashion Week. I like sewing, I like fashion and I like mixing it together. For me, the whole point of the journey is that I have fallen in love; with the shop, with the pieces I buy, with the pieces I make… As corny as it sounds I just want to to be happy. I have worked in environments when my state of mind has been compromised. I have realised that it is so important to be healthy; if I can wake up every morning smiling and the whole world is my friend, then it’s all good.

To find out more about Baruch visit Baruchboutique.com 

Wedding series: 5 ways to save money during peak wedding season!

 Wedding season is well under way and I am excited! But if like me you have a mammoth number of weddings to attend this year then you might be thinking of a few ways you can make your money go further-without compromising on generosity, gift giving and looking good!

1. Go second hand- I know, I know I sound like a broken record but there are some beautiful dresses to be found at a bargain rate in charity shops or on E-Bay. Here is one of the dresses I have picked up for under £10, which would easily retail at at least four times the price. Similarly you can find some amazing accessories, shoes and other items-you just have to look.

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Win: This is one of the dresses I bought for a bargain price!

2.Swap / borrow clothes from friends whose style you admire (and are hopefully the same size!). This goes for shoes, bags and jewellery too. Or better still, recycle or shop in your own wardrobe. Same dress, a different pair of shoes, accessories and make up will give it a completely different look every time. And don’t worry about whether you’re seen twice in the same outfit (oh the joys of Facebook) it is not a big deal!  

3. Go Dutch on wedding gifts if they are pricey! For expensive gifts, why not go halves with another friend? A while ago, I left it until the last minute to buy a wedding gift for a friend even though the wedding gift list had been open for several weeks. All the affordable things were gone, but still committed to buying the happy couple something they actually wanted, a friend and I decided to go halves on one of the items- which was much more affordable.

4.Make a weekend of it– If it’s out of town and you happen to be going with a group of friends, travel down together  making the most of group discounts or car pool. Similarly if it’s too far from home for a day trip,  book a hotel room sharing with a few friends and again look for discounts. If there is a sizeable group seeking accommodation you might be able to negotiate a deal for multiple bookings-especially if it’s not peak season and it’s not in a popular location. You may as well kill two birds with one stone and turn it into a mini break, as well as being part of the wedding celebration- result.

Save money: Put it away month by month and watch it grow.

Save money: Put it away month by month and watch it grow.

5. Put your money away! Most people will give you sufficient notice if they are getting married- 3, 6 months or even a year’s notice. By setting aside £20- 30 a month, which you probably would not miss or are likely to spend on unimportant stuff- over six months that is at least £120-180. If you can afford to put aside more do so- for example- imagine putting £50-100 each month? Over 6 months that’s between £300-600 which is more than sufficient for attending multiple weddings (unless you’re going overseas).

What money saving ideas would you recommend for the serial wedding attendee? Love to hear from you.

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Three thrifty fashionistas

A couple of months ago, I went to Saturday brunch with some of my sister friends from church.  It was a lovely time getting to know some of the younger ladies in our midst as we sat eating delicious food. During our conversations I complimented several of the ladies on their clothing and surprise surprise literally every item I liked was second-hand- what are the chances? Meet the ladies:

Sarra

Beautiful Sarra: rocking the oversized pattern jumper and kinky twists with style

Beautiful Sarra: rocking the oversized pattern jumper and kinky twists with style

“I bought this jumper in a Salvation Army charity shop in Manchester and I don’t think I spent more than a fiver for it. It’s so warm, snugly  and I absolutely love the pattern. It’s also great quality.”

Anjuli

Sultry Anj: rocking the vintage faux leopard print coat with style

Sultry Anj: rocking the vintage faux leopard print coat with style

“I love shopping on E-Bay as you can purchase some great items–really unusual pieces at a good price. I loved this jacket-as it’s warm and stylish and an absolute steal at  £13. The jacket is great quality and originally from River Island so I know would retail at a much higher price”.

Holly

Stunning Holly:  looking great in the dogtooth jacket

Stunning Holly: looking great in the dogtooth jacket

“I bought this jacket in a thrift store for £15.  I love it because I can wear it with almost anything and it’s really warm”.

Even though spring is upon us and the weather is getting warmer- now is a great time to pick up your winter bargains. Why? Because many high street stores will be selling their ‘winter’ stock  at a discounted rate such as coats (I tend to buy my winter coats during the Spring Sales). Charity shops are also great places to go, especially as many people will be doing a spot of spring cleaning and donating unwanted clothes in the process. And if you hate the thought of hitting the High Street, check out E-Bay and see what you can pick up?

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Saturday mornings in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan household

Saturday mornings as a child were not what I considered ‘fun’ although looking back it wasn’t mean to be! Yes we had cereal and watched cartoons but I mainly remember the obligatory Saturday morning routine of cleaning, polishing and going food shopping with my parents.

Captain Planet: 'By the Powers combined...'

Captain Planet: ‘By the Powers combined…’

I remember one Saturday morning – that I didn’t want to participate in the normal routine- I wanted to ‘sleep in’. Now to be clear, in our household on Saturday morning everyone knows the deal. My dad was a soldier in the Nigerian Army and ran our household on a fairly tight schedule; you get up, eat breakfast and relax for a short while then you better go and strip the bedding and get assigned your duties for the day. Washing up, polishing, hovering take your pick but everyone has to fall into line. However, on this occasion I continued to ‘sleep’ even though I could hear full well the loud conversations and various activities happening around me and boy did I get a rude awakening!

After our chores, followed by getting washed and dressed, we (my siblings and I) would then have to go food shopping with my mum. The journey was a twenty minute walk to the local shopping area, complete with the shopping trolley and market (aka Ghana must go) bags in tow.

Going shopping with my mum was an experience- entertaining, frustrating and very educational. My mum is a BARGAIN shopper- thrifty Afropolitan defined. She will literally go from shop to shop, stall to stall checking for the best price for items. An item may vary by 10p between two shops within a ten minute walking distance but know that my mum will walk back to the shop where the item is cheapest because – in her own words- ‘It’s the principle’. Similarly don’t ever try to short change my mum- if an item is £1.99- you’d better give her back that penny do not ‘assume’ you don’t have to because she will ask you ‘out of principle’. It’s only a penny- adds up over time!

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

First stop was the market- to the fruit and veg stall, to the man selling fresh eggs and then to the African Caribbean shops to buy what my Caribbean friends would call ‘hard food’; the yams, sack of rice, Gari (ground Cassava) and plantain (who remember the days of when you could buy five or even six for a £1?).

For the occasional treat we might pop into the local clothes shop. But woe to any store that gets into my mum’s bad books! I recall on one occasion, she bought an item of clothing which ended up being faulty when she got home. But because of the returns policy they wouldn’t acknowledge this nor exchange the item despite her loyal custom. So my mum the campaigner (her mantra-‘know your rights’), stands outside the shop- on a busy Saturday- telling people to boycott the shop (so embarrassing!). Shortly afterwards, they call her inside and settle the matter. The next week everything returns to normal as if nothing has happened- best friends again!

My mum's favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

My mum’s favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

Next stop was the Butchers, which I am not a fan of for obvious reasons (body parts and the stench of blood not for me), but found it fascinating because of the banter, the haggling along with the percussive sounds of meat being manually and mechanically chopped.

The Look: No it's not one of love it's the 'have you lost your mind' look

The Look: No it’s not one of love it’s the ‘I am going to count to ten, you better take that out of the basket before I do something’ look

The trip always ended at the big supermarket. And if you were lucky enough to be selected to accompany mum to push the trolley – thumbs up. But to be clear- you are literally just pushing the trolley. Don’t ever for one second think this entitles you to select items from the shelf to put to into the trolley because you will be greeted with the speechless stare communicating the  ‘have you lost your mind’ message;  the lecture- ‘So you have money?’ ‘You go to work?’ ‘Whose paying for this?’ (Word to the wise, it’s a rhetorical question DO NOT ANSWER!) ’. Or worse still- the lecture PLUS the walk of shame where you are made to take the item back to the exact place where you took it from. My mum has a shopping list and best believe we are not veering off course. She has accounted for every single penny and nothing over what she has put on that piece of paper is going into the trolley unless she authorises it.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the supermarket sweep it felt like an eternity of waiting at the set of chairs by the tills lumbered with the market shopping. Why? Because you know approaching early afternoon- it’s prime time for playing out with friends and you are ‘missing out’ (whatever that means). What seems like hours later but probably no more than one, mum would finally emerge at one of the checkouts.

But before you start getting excited, you are not home and dry yet because now comes the ‘packing’ issue. If your mum is anything like mine it’s never just straightforward packing- there is a strategy. My default position is to always help with packing because if you don’t you get in trouble, but as soon as you help for every bag you have arranged my mum is there rearranging- so why bother!?

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping.

More often not, we would get a cab home or dad would come and collect us. But if my mum is feeling particularly thrifty and she doesn’t ‘think’ there is much to carry be prepared to walk it!
How many of you can relate? What is your favourite childhood memories of Saturday morning shopping with the family?

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Sally’s Saturday Swap Shop

A few weeks ago I went to a clothes swap hosted by a lovely old friend from secondary school. Sally is just about to make a long term move to Japan with her husband and so organised a clothes swap as a way of catching up with friends whilst also getting rid of excess clothing.

Lots of wonderful clothes on offer!

Lots of wonderful clothes on offer!

It was a lovely afternoon- although it ended too shortly (my bad) as I not only got to spend quality time catching up on 10 years worth of shenanigans in an hour’s conversation but it was nice to meet new people and explore some of the wonderful clothes on offer.

I didn’t come well prepared at all but that didn’t matter as my friend and her friends brought plenty of clothes.  In the end, I didn’t come away with anything but this was not for want of quality, stylish clothing- quite the contrary. Just check out this marvellous tartan cape modelled by my friend’s friend (she didn’t mind!) for example.

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And this beautiful navy and purple patterned scarf below:

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My friend is a great artist and has been for as long as I can remember. Her home was full of sumptuous creative, hand crafted things. One of my favourite things was a web of mini tree-shaped cushions hanging in the corridor. The trees were all the same size but each was unique- with no two bearing the same pattern.  Intrigued by this I asked Sally the story behind this and it turns out this was something that my friend and her husband put together for their wedding. Each tree comes from a family or friend, representing their unique identity but is stitched together leaving heart-shaped gaps–which to me symbolised the wider love, unity and support network they have. However they chose trees simply because they love nature and got married outdoors in beautiful mountainous surroundings!

Coloured web of trees

Coloured web of trees

My friend and her husband at their wedding

My friend and her husband at their wedding

Visiting my friend just reminded me that organising a clothes swap doesn’t have to be complicated. You could easily organise a small scale one in your home and invite over a few friends and get them to invite a few of their friends to. It’s a great way to spice up your wardrobe at no extra cost, spend time with friends and potentially make new ones. So what are you waiting for?

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Happy New Year! Plans for 2015- Coming soon!

***HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE*** 

May 2015 be your year to aspire to greatness and the fulfilment of your heart’s desires!

I am very excited about the New Year for a number of reasons one of which includes this blog! There are some wonderful things happening this year at the Thrifty Afropolitan and here is just a little glimpse into the goodies I have in store for you.

Clothes Swap event– Stop press! If you are having a good old new year’s clear out and donating clothes to charity please consider keeping hold of a few choice items for a clothes swapping happening in London in the next few months in conjunction with the Style Closet! Good, quality clothes and shoes will be accepted with no more than five items per person. More information to follow soon.

Say cheese! And bring your top quality items to our event this Spring in 2015 please!

Clothes Swap: Say cheese! And bring your top quality items to our event this Spring in 2015 please.

Meet the Thrifty Afropolitan series…. I will be interviewing a number of inspiring and creative people over the course of the year who are real life thrifty Afropolitans. (Definition of a Thrifty Afropolitan: Roots ‘back home’, raised in ‘the West’ and living in a resourceful and creative way, all whilst making the world a better place in the process. Phew- not much to ask there then!) What are your plans for 2015? Would love to hear from you! x

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