Category Archives: Furniture

Random Afropolitan Childhood memories

Sometimes I am random and to celebrate this I would like to share a silly selection of childhood Afropolitan memories:

  1. Rice stored in the margarine container in the fridge rather than tupperware.
  2. School pack lunch placed in an ice cream tub, much to your embarrassment, whilst all your other friends had nice, child friendly tupperware.  To be fair, this only lasted for a short period of time (thanks Dad for the intervention).
  3. Sandwich fillings – when your mum decides to make your packed lunch for a school trip and  includes sardines, mackerel, boiled eggs- basically the smelliest fillings she can find deliberately designed to embarrass you. Meanwhile all your friends are eating Dairylea and cheese and ham.
  4. Old clothes used as floor rags.
  5. Always had a tin of ‘African milk’- condensed milk in the cupboard just in case.
  6. Old tights being used as a bedtime scarf.
  7. Mum styled your hair in threads because it grows your hair quickly but really it’s just an invitation for ridicule.
  8. Parents generous with their wisdom and their backhands too.
  9. You had to ask before you could help yourself to a snack at home.
  10. Saturday morning was spent food shopping and the dreaded visit to the market.
  11. You remember using the ‘broom’ even though you had a Hoover that worked perfectly fine.
  12. Having to do chores on Saturday before going out to play and feeling like you are missing out even though eventually the parents would let you- FREEDOM!
  13. Child of the 80’s living in London, I guarantee your front room had one of the following; brick wall paper, beaded curtains or a random cocktail bar.
  14. Visiting that one relative on the weekend when you really didn’t want to but had no choice. Felt like temporary imprisonment /punishment when all your friends were out playing and you were made to go against your will. Worst of all that person’s home was so BORING- nothing remotely child friendly about that environment but you had to suck it up!
  15. The ice cream van in the summer- 50p- screwballs/ Feast or the 99 – ice cream with the strawberry sauce and chocolate flake – brought many a smile to my face as a child!

What random childhood memories do you have? Would love to hear them x

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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 

12 items you will find in an old school Afropolitan Living Room

It’s the end of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and for many, undoubtedly a time of numerous visits to extended family. And if you are lucky enough, you might just have that one old school relative whose household is literally frozen in time circa 1980’s / early 1990’s. So in honour of these folk and for the sake of taking a trip down memory lane, here are some of things you might find in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan living room (I think everyone will be able to relate) but especially if a) you were were born / raised in the 1980’s and b) West African or Caribbean heritage.

1. The display cabinet filled with ridiculous amount of ornaments– I remember my dad having a collection from his various travels including mini porcelain figurines of random things like animals.

2. The net curtain– We like our privacy and they also look pretty.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

3. The faux brick wallpaper- This was the pinnacle of interior design amongst London based Nigerians in the 1980’s I kid you not. My dad was a trendsetter but also painter / decorator and was one of the first in his friendship circle to rock this. Shortly afterwards a number of his friends began to follow suit.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

4. The mini bar– A strictly ‘no go’ area for children because of all the pretty crystal, but I have fond memories of my parents entertaining their guests ‘behind the bar’.

5. The pot plants or fake flowers There is always some sort of foliage (real or fake) usually with a slight tropical twist in the living room.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

6. The beaded curtains– This is one of the abiding memories I had of visiting my best friend’s house (she is of Caribbean descent) and the authentic brown beaded curtains in the hallway (a touch of ‘back home’.)

Old school: Brown beaded curtains

Old school: Brown beaded curtains.

7. Religious iconography– If you grew up in a culturally ‘Christian’ household there will almost certainly be some item conveying this. We had the image of a ‘White’ Jesus, the serenity prayer carved in wood and the rosary hanging near the front door.

8. African wood carvings-beautiful (sometimes not actually-a few could be downright scary), hand-crafted, mahogany carvings and statutes like this one were everywhere in our living room.

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts.

9. A sound system with the gigantic speakers – ( i.e. A record player or  CD/cassette player combo)- A true Afropolitan would have at least one of these in their music selection. A) Country music: Jim Reeves for Christmas B) Motown classics: Stevie, Four Tops, Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye C) Reggae: Bob Marley/ Dennis Brown D) Original Afrobeat: Fela / King Sunny Ade / Ebenezer Obey /Dr  Orlando Owoh E) Soul: Luther Vandross/ Barry White / Alexander O’Neal F) Pop: Bobby Brown / Madonna (yes Marge think ‘Into the Groove’ ) UK: Aswad / Soul to Soul.

Christmas:  A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

Christmas: A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

10. Mirrors- Growing up we had mirrors in EVERY room except the kitchen.

11. Family photos- whether they be on the wall, on the mantle piece or in photos albums, there is always a family photo collection containing, but not limited to; the dreadful standard school photo (with mum always quibbling about the price but paying it anyway ); the cheesy pose I.e. Your parents looking into the distance, hand on hips or leg hitched on a raised platform or better still donning the trends of the day – think Shoulder pads, Jherri Curls and Afros.

Old school: Me in the late 80's

Old school: Me in the late 80’s.

12. The ‘pregnant’ TV– the bigger the better (those born after 1997 won’t understand the struggle).

Pregnant: The old school TV

Pregnant: The old school TV.

What do you remember from your childhood? Is there anything I have missed?

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Thrifty Afropolitan meets…Hortense Julienne

Earlier this year I visited one of the most amazing women I know and the very definition of a thrifty Afropolitan! Hortense Julienne was born in Cameroon, West Africa; raised in France and is currently living in London. By day she is an event’s organiser but by night (and on weekends) she is a food blogger, activist and chef extraordinaire.

The hostess with the mostest.

The hostess with the mostest.

This particular time of year is very significant for Hortense; less than three years ago she embarked upon a Daniel Fast for Lent; (A vegan based diet on the fast conducted by the prophet Daniel in the Bible.)

Hortense decided to start an online food diary (blog) to document this journey whilst also using it as an opportunity to promote the virtues of vegan cuisine  combating the stubborn stereotypes that it is often boring, bland and tasteless. Little did she know what God had in store for her on this 40 day journey.

Fast forward three years on and Hortense is now a prolific food blogger with several websites dedicated to her love of food and has had her work featured in the Times Newspaper, New African Woman Magazine, Premier Christian Radio and most recently the Voice Newspaper.

I went to visit Hortense at home and was blown away by her hospitality and all round thriftiness. I have known her for a while now and never cease to be amazed by her resourcefulness and the effortlessly stylish way with which she does it (must be that French Je ne sais quoi!). This visit didn’t disappoint. Hortense made lunch which consisted of several courses- all beautifully presented and tasting every bit as good as it looked:

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.

Drinks: sweet, delicious tasting non-alcoholic wine with pomegranate seeds.

 

Say cheese: Hortense's very own homemade cheese!

Say cheese: Hortense’s very own homemade cheese!

 

Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits

Canapés: Camembert and olives, smoked oyster, pate on a variety of savoury biscuits.

And her thriftiness is not just reserved to cooking, this approach also comes to home décor too. Just look at this tea light candle holder (further below) which she made from a piece of wood taken from an old bed, covered in foil.

Similarly, in the past, Hortense has been known to recycle old greetings cards and bits of material, transforming them into lovely pieces of art which adorn the walls of her flat.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

Broken bed part covered in foil.

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

After: Transformed into a tea light holder!

And if that’s not enough, she is also a big fan of charity shop hunting and showed me some of the amazing spoils she has found – which I will share for another post!

One of the most recent and exciting developments in Hortense’s journey to date has been the creation of her first booklet called the ‘Bank Cook’. The recipe book utilises ingredients from food bank packages- transforming them into sumptuous, nutritious meals offering both variety and dignity to food bank users. Hortense’s passion for food justice issues- namely seeing people on very low incomes eat well- is nothing short of inspirational and extends far beyond creating cute recipes; when she is not busy events organising, taking over the culinary world or using her thrifty ways to transform her home, Hortense volunteers at her local homeless shelter and has done so for almost 10 years.

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So what motivates her to do what she does? Hortense cites her Christian faith as a huge motivating force and unsurprisingly her favourite Bible passage is Proverbs 31- a Godly woman who is both resourceful and enterprising.

Five minutes of wisdom with Ms Julienne:

On general thriftiness:  “I like create to stuff from things people will happily throw away.”

On Food Banks: “Foodbank users are a section of society that the media often bash around- seeing all the cooks on TV I have not seen any reference to people on low incomes/ food bank users. God inspired me to do it.”

On her favourite shop: “My number one shop is charity shops. You can find the most original pieces and you can find designer pieces for less than £10. Tip: Don’t just go to one, go to a few and see what is out there.”

On her home: “My house is full of recycled items – I just love how things can be transformed.”

On being ‘skint’: “If you are skint all the time- don’t be afraid to use charity shops. If you are embarrassed then don’t tell anyone. You can find original pieces-  you just need to learn how to put them together.”

On enterprise: “You have your own path- just go for it as long as you don’t put your rent money in it!”

On getting creative in the kitchen: “Just try and be creative- if it turns out good then great but if it doesn’t then you don’t have to do it again.”

To find out more about Ms Julienne’s work visit:

  • TheBankCook.com to download the Foodbank recipe booklet
  • All-Vegan.Blogspot.co.uk to view the exciting range of animal free  dishes
  • HortenseJulienne.com for all future developments of this rising star.
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