OK so my latest news isn't strictly Japan Crafts but I am sure a lot of you will be interested to hear what has been happening behind the scenes. This fortnight was supposed to be a well-earned break for Man and I, but instead we have embarked on an exciting new project together - we are opening a shop!
As many of you know, I have a rather large collection of vintage and antique kimono (including all the accessories and many other things I've picked up in Japan over the years). I've been wanting to downsize it for a long time but most of it is not suitable for selling online or sending through the post.
Last week we happened to visit a new, very cool indoor venue in Digbeth (Birmingham) called Red Brick Market. It is a former factory which has been converted into lots of units for independent traders and artisans and has been likened to Camden Market in London. The traders themselves don't have to attend - you just pick up your purchases as you go round, and pay at a central desk. We found ourselves buying a few bits and pieces, then later that day the lightbulb started to go on for both of us...why not rent a unit ourselves?!
Within 24 hours we had picked a unit and signed the lease! A fleeting trip up to North Yorkshire to load the van full of my collection and now we are busily preparing for our opening launch on 3rd July.
The beauty of this venue is that we don't have to be there, so we can operate Retro Kimono in our spare time, popping in once or twice a week to restock. Don't worry, Japan Crafts will continue as usual! But since Retro Kimono is completely separate, I'm afraid I can't offer any of the kimono goods for sale online - you will have to come and visit us in person.
Our key concept is 'authentic and affordable', so we will be offering genuine, beautiful pieces from Japan at reasonable prices so that everybody can enjoy these stunning textiles. We also promote the idea that it's ok to repurpose the fabric into something you will use and love, rather than pass up a kimono because you won't wear it. This is done in Japan all the time as people don't wear kimono so much nowadays but they still appreciate the beauty of the fabric and want to give it a new lease of life.
In time we will also be supporting the work of some of our creative friends, and we already have Seedology, Toslisy and Equality Cards lined up to showcase their products in the shop.
We've already got more stock on its way from Japan so there will be new things to look at each time you visit!
The address is
Red Brick Market
119 Floodgate Street,
Monday to Saturday 10-6
We would really appreciate if you could follow us on Facebook and Instagram where we are posting regularly to show new stock and give more information about kimono, Japanese culture etc.
Red Brick Market Birmingham also has social media pages where they show the various traders so you can get a flavour of what else you will find there. It's a real treasure trove! It is right next door to Birmingham Big Bake, and directly opposite the famous Custard Factory where you can find more wonderful independent shops, bars and restaurants. Why not come for a day out?
I've had about 10 shipments stuck in various Customs depots over the last couple of weeks which can get very frustrating when there are new and exciting products in the boxes! The delays are all due to the extra paperwork associated with Brexit, now that everything coming to and from Europe has to go through Customs. Even my shipments that come straight from Japan to the UK get stuck in the same system, so everything takes at least a week longer than it should, and in some cases more.
After what seemed like forever, I have finally received new stock from Japanese sashiko company Hobbyra Hobbyre. Despite the weird name, I like this brand because they have some really lovely variegated sashiko threads, in 56m skeins which are a perfect length for a couple of pre-printed samplers or as an accent on a larger panel.
The colour combinations are very different from other sashiko manufacturers and I can't wait to stitch up some samples and make some kits with them!
Hobbyra Hobbyre pre-printed sashiko samplers are also very distinctive, with traditional designs drawn from Japanese culture. I've got a few designs in stock now but plan to get more over the coming weeks, as they have already proved popular since I put them on the website to pre-order.
There is definitely a trend for luxury sewing goods and accessories at the moment, perhaps because people have honed their needlework so much over the lockdowns that they now want to spoil themselves with the very best tools! Clever storage ideas are also popular, and I'm not going to comment on the reasons for that except to say that my own 'stash' also requires ever-more ingenious storage solutions...
Hobbyra Hobbyre have designed several adorable tins in which you can hold all your sashiko tools and threads. The first is specifically designed for sashiko tools and even comes filled with them so there's no excuse for losing anything!
A traditional wooden Japanese 15cm ruler, 3 sashiko needles, 2 sashiko thimbles, a handmade pincuchion and a quality pair of thread snips are inside this beautifully designed tin which will look gorgeous displayed in your sewing area (or by the sofa. I know what you're like!). There's room for other bits and bobs such as a marking pen, pins, threads and even a folded-up sampler you're working on, too.
If you find your threads are always going a-wandering, then the next tin might be a better choice as it contains 11 of Hobbyra Hobbyre's most popular shades (plus a pack of sashiko needles) and the design on the front makes it very obvious what's inside! This set costs much less than buying the threads individually would, so you're saving money too. Win-win.
I think either of these tins would make a lovely gift for someone who you perhaps haven't seen for a while but who you know would appreciate it. And of course, I've already snaffled one of each for myself (as you can tell I hate my job...)🌸
In other news I have curated a special collection of goodies for Pride month, with 10% of the proceeds going to York LGBT Forum until the end of June. This is a charity that I have been closely associated with for a few years now and have made many friends from, and the work they do literally saves lives.
There are always accusations of 'rainbow washing' during Pride month, as corporations and big businesses increasingly use Pride as a commercial opportunity and many in the LGBTQ+ community see this 'support' as a crass, disingenuous gesture which doesn't last beyond 30th June.
Even as a small business owner who is very much part of the community, I am liable for backlash if I am seen as profiting in any way from Pride, so this year I am donating a percentage of takings to charity rather than having any discounts or special offers.
In case you didn't know, Pride started as a protest against police brutality towards the LGBT community, and in particular was started by and for Black transgender women. It was (and for many, always will be) very far removed from the carnival floats and celebrations we see at parades today. You can read the history of the Stonewall Riots here
When Man and I visited New York in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we were absolutely flabbergasted when Stonewall veteran Victoria Cruz sauntered into the pub! Even more so that nobody else (including the Stonewall bar staff) recognised her, I mean she's hardly a wallflower! Here I am having my little fangirl moment with her.
Personally, although I agree that it's galling to see big businesses flying a rainbow flag whilst having an appalling LGBT record, I also think it's important for smaller businesses to be able to flaunt their goods during Pride. For many customers, it's affirming to see and be able to buy LGBT merchandise and it's a real shame that several friends of mine who own LGBT businesses feel they have to hide for fear of being seen as 'rainbow washing'. I also know people who are trolled online and who have lost customers simply by showing their support for the LGBT community. This is the very opposite of what Pride stands for.
If you own, or know of, an LGBT-owned business, I would like to invite you to comment with a link to it below so that others can have the chance to support it. LGBT people also need allies, so you don't have to be part of the community to add your support. And I have to approve each comment before it is shown publicly, so don't worry about trolls!
🌈🌈🌈 Happy Pride Month to Everybody 🌈🌈🌈
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I started Japan Crafts in 2006 and have been bringing wonderful fabrics and techniques to people in the UK ever since.