Category Archives: We No

WeNo Insider’s Guide to…Wear Abouts!

 

Intro­du­cing Wear Abouts, a fam­ily busi­ness selling children’s fash­ion and school wear in West Norwood’s high street. The owner Bashir and his son Yusuf warmly greeted our intrep­id FEAST report­er and offered a tour of the premises. Towards the back of the shop, you can see an open stock­room with shelves to the ceil­ing stacked high with cloth­ing and shoe­boxes. Out of sight, bey­ond this, it’s like step­ping into the TARDIS – there’s an area con­sist­ing of a tall room crammed full of care­fully labelled items, a small kit­chen and, over­head, more stor­age space. Bashir explains this used to be the yard but as the busi­ness grew he con­ver­ted it, dig­ging out the rubble over a year, because it wasn’t pos­sible to use heavy machinery.

So how did Bashir come into this line of busi­ness? Simply, he was com­pelled by the need to earn a liv­ing. Back then he was a newly mar­ried man with chil­dren on the way. His broth­er was already run­ning a children’s clothes shop in Syden­ham (this has since been sold and still trades, but is not linked). He smiles broadly – West Nor­wood looked busy and didn’t have a children’s cloth­ing shop. So he took on the cur­rent premises in August 1993, ini­tially selling fash­ion wear for chil­dren aged 0 to 14. Bashir remem­bers his dad giv­ing some sound advice that he has grown to appre­ci­ate as the years have passed – “Price your stock as if you are com­pet­ing with three oth­ers loc­ally. Then, if you do get com­pet­i­tion later, you will be lean enough to with­stand it.”

The late 1990s was a pivotal moment for the busi­ness. Elm Wood primary approached Wear Abouts to see if they could pro­duce sweat­shirts bear­ing the school logo. Even­tu­ally they were appoin­ted the offi­cial uni­form sup­pli­er. Kings­wood primary was next, then St Juli­ans. Fast for­ward to today – Wear Abouts sup­plies the uni­form for an awe-inspir­ing 25 schools. This includes a school in Southend and one in Niger­ia! Bashir and fam­ily have so much expert­ise as a uni­form sup­pli­er, they are some­times involved in uni­form design. Although Yusuf points out: that does involve politely steer­ing the school away from over ambi­tious ideas, such as intro­du­cing polo T-shirts with ties!

If you were to stroll past the shop at the end of August, you would see what has become a fea­ture in the life cycle of the high street: a long queue of par­ents on the pave­ment clutch­ing uni­form lists, with chil­dren of vari­ous ages in tow. Bashir laughs, these days they are well rehearsed at man­aging the back-to-school rush.

At the end of July they over­haul the shop interi­or, start­ing with a Mad Sale to clear the fash­ion wear and the remain­ing stock is neatly stored away to make room for school wear. This trans­form­a­tion takes about a week and a half, with the shop remain­ing open through­out. Bashir hires a team of up to 15 staff for the last two weeks of August – often friends and fam­ily mem­bers are draf­ted in. With all hands on deck, staff are given ded­ic­ated roles to keep down cus­tom­er wait­ing times. There are ‘folders’ who solely pack­age up the pur­chases and shop assist­ants are assigned per cus­tom­er to give one-to-one advice. Cus­tom­ers are actu­ally invited to stand in the till queue as soon as they enter the shop. By the time they are near the front, the aim is to have sourced all the items on their list. If need be, Bashir’s wife Munira will sew the school badge on a newly pur­chased blazer. There is also a door man, jok­ingly referred to as ‘the boun­cer’, mon­it­or­ing the crowd to pre­vent total may­hem break­ing out (any par­ent read­ing this will appre­ci­ate what a bun fight uni­form buy­ing can become). In fact, Bashir recalls and grins, in the chaos one year a woman left behind her baby!

Come the first week of Octo­ber, when all the uni­form sales have died down, they trans­form the shop back to show­cas­ing fash­ion wear (the uni­form is fol­ded away and kept in stock). Its clearly a mam­moth task, like run­ning two shops in one space. It dawned on our FEAST report­er that this some­times coin­cides with fam­ily fast­ing for Ramadan – mak­ing the effort all the more Her­culean.

Mov­ing on to the fash­ion wear… There is an impress­ive range of afford­able spe­cial occa­sion cloth­ing, includ­ing smart suits and dresses for wed­dings, christen­ings, and church going. Sur­pris­ingly, there’s also a big selec­tion of Kick­ers shoes, one of the shop’s most pop­u­lar items. And Wear Abouts have provided work cloth­ing to other West Nor­wood busi­nesses – for example, polo T-shirts with a shop logo for the Baron Pol­ish Deli.

Any highs and lows over the years? Bashir recalls the time when they were asked to sort out a new uni­form for two affil­i­ated schools in the last week of July. Even with such short notice, they man­aged to kit out each school in time for the start of the aca­dem­ic year. Bashir smiles, they received a large bunch of flowers in appre­ci­ation. The lows – def­in­itely the night­mare of stock becom­ing unsellable. With a uni­form change, in one fell swoop their stock is out of date. No par­ent in their right mind wants uni­form that is being phased out. It’s a big loss of money for the shop. In that situ­ation, Bashir has loaded up a van and donated the whole lot to the Dis­aster Emer­gency Com­mit­tee.

So what does the future hold for Wear Abouts? They’ve recently ren­ov­ated the shop and they are work­ing to cre­ate a web­site offer­ing mail order – a big task. Yusuf rolls his eyes and laughs… he has star­ted pho­to­graph­ing the uni­form items and they will trial with a few schools first to get the sys­tem run­ning smoothly. Given they sell about 10 styles and fit of school trousers (slim fit, sturdy fit, elast­ic­ated waist, to name but a few), you can ima­gine how time con­sum­ing it will be to cata­logue each uni­form item. Bashir adds that they are firmly com­mit­ted to West Nor­wood and feel part of the com­munity.

 

And what do Wear Abouts pride them­selves on? The answer comes as no sur­prise, given the way Bashir and Yusuf had ser­viced cus­tom­ers’ requests dur­ing the inter­view. But Bashir was reti­cent. “Well we are chatty and friendly people and I sup­pose that feeds into our cus­tom­er ser­vice”. You only have to read the Google Reviews (over­all rat­ing 5 stars) for con­firm­a­tion. And Wear Abouts have been serving West Nor­wood for many years, so some cus­tom­ers who remem­ber try­ing on uni­form in the shop are now bring­ing in their chil­dren. Bashir says they also like to give good advice. “Cus­tom­ers are a bit sur­prised when I’ve said a shoe that their child is in love with and is insist­ing is com­fort­able, just isn’t big enough – even if I haven’t got the next size in. I want cus­tom­ers to be sat­is­fied.”

Which is exactly why FEAST loves shop­ping local…

Wear Abouts

358 Nor­wood Rd

SE27 9AA

Mon–Sat 9.30am to 5pm

 

 

 

WeNo Guide to…Hobby’s!

It’s Spring and FEAST is back! And so our intrep­id report­er set off once more to explore the streets of West Nor­wood, meet­ing local traders.

Present­ing Hobby’s, a fam­ily busi­ness for model makers and hob­by­ists since the 1950s. Stray behind Knight’s Hill into the quiet streets of the indus­tri­al area to find their large ware­house – the loc­a­tion of Hobby’s retail and whole­sale since the 1970s. Fol­low­ing the sign to the shop entrance reveals a bygone era show­room with a hotch­potch of doll’s houses, match­stick mod­els and power tools for model mak­ing. This belies the fact that bey­ond the counter and out of view of the cus­tom­er, lies a com­pre­hens­ive selec­tion of model mak­ing and hobby stock. Behind the scenes, there is a 15-strong team busy ser­vi­cing the mail-order side of the busi­ness, send­ing out goods nation­wide and inter­na­tion­ally. So if you have popped into the show­room to browse, make sure you look at the annu­al cata­logue. Ask, and a mem­ber of staff will source what you choose from the ware­house. To give you an indic­a­tion of the shelves and shelves of items nest­ling in West Nor­wood, the 2017 cata­logue boasts 324 pages, ran­ging from model planes, boats, rail­ways, crafts such as glass engrav­ing and candle mak­ing, and a large sec­tion on the fit­tings to cre­ate a doll’s house – everything the ded­ic­ated model enthu­si­ast could desire. But also lurk­ing amongst the spe­cial­ist model mak­ing goods, there are items for the gift hunter or bud­ding hob­by­ist – wooden self-assembly kits, remote-con­trolled toys and 3D puzzles to name just a few.

The ori­gins of the busi­ness go back to the glory days of hob­by­ing. Owner Mike Cross­land explains how his fath­er WF Cross­land, who was sta­tion mas­ter at Tulse Hill, was per­suaded by a Swiss rel­at­ive to sell 50 music­al move­ments (for the unini­ti­ated, these are the music­al parts that can be used in toys, boxes, clocks and mod­els). He first placed an ad in Prac­tic­al House­hold­er, the busi­ness took off and even­tu­ally he opened a shop at 202 Tulse Hill. When his fath­er retired from the rail­ways, he took new premises at 109 Nor­wood High Street trad­ing under the name of Swis­scross, play­ing on the Swiss con­nec­tion and fam­ily name.

Even­tu­ally they expan­ded to 62 Nor­wood High Street and changed the name to Hobby’s to reflect the widen­ing of their stock. Mike com­ments that those early days of the busi­ness were an era when people made things in their leis­ure time, pre-digit­al revolu­tion if you can recall or ima­gine life then. Now, he says sadly, some of the model mak­ing high street shops Hobby’s sup­ply are clos­ing – a sign of the times. Mike expands: “People also made things because they couldn’t afford them”. Nowadays, model mak­ing is a niche mar­ket cater­ing for a dis­tinct com­munity. It’s a labour of love to cre­ate and dec­or­ate a doll’s house – you don’t do it because you can’t afford one. Indeed, the com­pon­ents avail­able for the lar­ger scale doll’s houses have become more soph­ist­ic­ated, with design­er wall papers and car­pets, and even elec­tric light fit­tings!

So, who are Mike’s cus­tom­ers in the here and now? Not sur­pris­ingly, many are older gen­er­a­tion. A lot of reg­u­lars have worked with their hands all their lives and now they have retired, immers­ing them­selves in a mak­ing pro­ject. Then Mike smiles sheep­ishly, there are quite a few liv­ing cour­tesy of Her Majesty, either buy­ing dir­ect or via the pris­on shop! A fact con­firmed by a heart­felt “thank you” from a former pris­on­er on their FB page. And what are their most pop­u­lar items cur­rently? Well, the biggest seller is match­stick kits, where you stick matches onto card tem­plates to make a model. In fact, Hobby’s cre­ate and pack­age the kits them­selves; some­times using the design sug­ges­tions of their model mak­ing reg­u­lars. Galle­ons are very pop­u­lar – model ships such as the Cutty Sark. And music­al move­ments still fea­ture in the cata­logue as a throw­back to the company’s ori­gins. There are some sweet self-assembly wooden music boxes for chil­dren. Mikes smiles – in the 1970s, they used to sup­ply music­al move­ments for ice-cream vans.

So how about tech… the digit­al mar­ket? Mike com­ments that they don’t stray too much into tech as you need to ser­vice enquires when a cus­tom­er gets stuck. Also, it’s a highly com­pet­it­ive mar­ket. He is con­tent – they have expert­ise in phys­ic­al model mak­ing and have the know-how to sup­port their cus­tom­ers, but they are on a con­tinu­al quest for new stock. Mike has been a reg­u­lar at Nurem­berg Toy Fair, stay­ing at the same hotel over a 20-year peri­od. Now, his son goes to what is the biggest toy fair in the world. Fairs provide a great oppor­tun­ity to meet sup­pli­ers and search for latest toys. Mike remem­bers with sat­is­fac­tion stum­bling over 3D foam jig­saw puzzles at an Amer­ic­an toy fair. It was a totally new concept at the time and he promptly bought £8000 of stock from the small Cana­dian sup­pli­er, sold it all and ordered anoth­er 11x 40ft con­tain­ers worth. Even­tu­ally, Has­bro broke up the party by tak­ing over the supplier!And then it was time to leave Mike behind the shop counter. Our report­er left mus­ing over a quote from the cata­logue: “Happy is the per­son with a hobby for they have two worlds to live in”.

Hobby’s Ltd

2 Knight’s Hill Square

SE27 0HH

Mon-Fri 9 to 5pm and Sat 9 to 1pm

www.hobby.uk.com — online cata­logue

WeNo guide to… Mosaic Workshop!

 

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Turn­ing into Chest­nut Road, just past the fruit and veg stall, our Intrep­id FEAST report­er found Harry Day Mews. This hand­some former fur­niture ware­house built in 1922 is now flats. Once you’ve buzzed the inter­com, metal gates glide open and the Mosa­ic Work­shop, London’s only spe­cial­ist mosa­ic shop, is across the court­yard.

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If mak­ing is your thing, a visit here is like being a five-year-old in a sweet shop, drawn to an array of bas­kets and invit­ing jars full of col­oured tiles. Notice­able are the edible-look­ing mil­li­fiori, glass with a pat­terned interi­or, remin­is­cent of sea­side rock. Then there are the pack­ets of hand­made smalti, tra­di­tion­al, richly col­oured mosa­ic glass impor­ted by owner James from the same Itali­an fam­ily for 20 years.

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Here also are ‘the treats’ as James calls them – bronze, cop­per, sil­ver and gold leaf tiles that an artist uses spar­ingly to embel­lish a piece. They shim­mer when sun­light passes across them. The urge to touch is strong.

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The shop is a large space with shelves con­tain­ing all the work­aday tools to make a mosa­ic: tile cut­ters, grouts, tiler sponges, adhes­ives and wood bases in vari­ous shapes and sizes, mir­rors and table tops. But it is the unglazed ceram­ic and vit­ri­fied glass tiles sourced from Mex­ico, China, India, France, Por­tugal and Italy in every col­our ima­gin­able that leave a last­ing impres­sion.

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So why is Mosa­ic Work­shop in West Nor­wood? The busi­ness was launched in Hol­lo­way by mosa­ic artist Emma Biggs in 1987. Back then the focus was on mosa­ic com­mis­sions. Selling mosa­ic mater­i­als evolved into an addi­tion­al income later. James joined in the early 90s, even­tu­ally tak­ing on the shop side of the busi­ness. Being local to West Nor­wood, he set up in the cur­rent premises nine years ago. He recalls some of the com­mis­sions they did in those early days – mosa­ic pieces for Sir Ter­ence Conran’s flag­ship res­taur­ants Quaglinos and Mezzo, res­tor­a­tion work at the Nation­al Por­trait Gal­lery, and a pair of box­ing gloves for the bot­tom of Frank Bruno’s swim­ming pool! One of the high­lights has been fix­ing a mosa­ic in a 13-storey cruise liner in Ger­many. James describes it as a float­ing tower block – from the top the people work­ing below looked like ants. The mosa­ic was 20 square metres and took a week to install.

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Who fre­quents the shop? About 10 per cent of cus­tom­ers are in the build­ing trade. And, of course, Mosa­ic Work­shop has artist reg­u­lars pro­fes­sion­ally work­ing on com­mis­sions, com­munity pro­jects or run­ning courses. Tessa Hunkin, a trained archi­tect, also part of the ori­gin­al Mosa­ic Work­shop team and respons­ible for some large-scale mosa­ics in West­min­ster Cathed­ral, now runs Hack­ney Mosa­ic Pro­ject. This group has cre­ated some of London’s finest com­munity mosa­ics, often work­ing thera­peut­ic­ally with people in the pro­cess of mak­ing. Examples of their work can be seen at Lon­don Zoo.

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But the major­ity of cus­tom­ers are people under­tak­ing dec­or­at­ive pro­jects for their home – a hearth for a fire­place, garden pav­ing slabs, bird baths, fea­ture mir­rors, and splash­backs for kit­chens and bath­rooms. Because it’s import­ant to see the col­ours in per­son, makers will often visit deep­est West Nor­wood, des­pite the mail-order ser­vice. What James enjoys most is meet­ing his cus­tom­ers, hear­ing about their pro­jects and shar­ing ideas. It’s a bonus when they send in pho­tos of the com­pleted pro­ject. James com­ments that there has been a resur­gence of interest in mosa­ics as an art form. Maybe this is due to the fact people are enhan­cing their homes rather than mov­ing house. He pon­ders, “but also mak­ing requires con­cen­tra­tion – it’s a good way of block­ing stress, it’s a moment of peace”.

That sums up the exper­i­ence of Mosa­ic Work­shop. There is a kind of serenity in the space and …some­thing oh-so-deeply attract­ive about those col­our­ful tiles.

 

Mosa­ic Work­shop

Unit 2 Harry Day Mews

1 Chest­nut Rd

SE27 9EZ

www.mosaicworkshop.com

 

Tue to Fri 10 to 5.30pm

Sat 10 to 4pm

Monthly Late Night until 8pm (1st Wed­nes­day of every month)