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