Thursday, 20 March 2014

Every old sock needs an old shoe

It’s a Sunday and the street is teeming with the scent of curries on the brew, roasted pork turning on a spit, spiced falafels roasting away and sweet hot chocolate on the churn.

Then you raise your eyes beyond the food (a difficult feat when the aromas are this good!) and see clothes, household appliances, antiques, jewelry stands, paintings, photo displays, fresh produce and much, much more lining the margins of this bustling thoroughfare.

The number of people is swelling as you navigate your way through the waves of groups, duos and lone individuals who meander their way through, just like you.

This is Brick Lane, the infamous “curry street” of East London that’s history dates back to the 15th century when the area’s brick earth deposits were dug up and used by local businesses and manufacturers – hence the name.

Over the years, it has been the home to various migrant groups including the French, Irish and Jewish, and now, the Bangladeshi-Sylheti community.

It is an area which hosts an ever-growing score of shops, market fronts and stalls that each prize themself on sourcing unique bits and bobs from times before. From moments of the past and memories of bygones.

It is here where you will find Swallow and Pips. Maybe it’s the tunes of 60s and 70s renegades like Kate Bush and Lou Reed mixed with drum’n bass that allure you in. Or maybe it’s the decadent design of the humble yet petite space. Or maybe - like me - it is Saskia Wild who screams funk, rebel and charisma who draws you in.

Once inside, you realise you have been transported to another chapter in time. 

A time of venetian masks, old pictures, ancient and at the same time, timeless looking Indian bags, and countless cameras. 

A time when felt hats, antique clocks, decade-old prints and chokers were in full swing.

This is a story about connection to the old. To the previously owned; to the tattered and worn out; to the rustic and hand-me downs; to the vintage and the unique.

Those treasured items and stuffs that were once upon a time someone else’s but now, will serve someone new.  

It’s about adapting and re-using, while honoring the past in our present and our future.

An idea that sits very closely to this concept is wabi-sabi; the Japanese world-view which means embodying the perfectly imperfect. It’s a way of living that acknowledges that scars, uneven finishes, and rust don’t mean something is broken – that you are broken – but rather, represent ‘the blossom of time’. Wabi-sabi sees the beauty and serenity that comes with age and celebrates the cracks and the flaws.

Saskia approaches her life and work from a wabi-sabi perspective. She is a lady of the arts; a muso, a designer, an ideas person, a vintage collector and seller. But what she does best is transcend the concept of time.

She sees value and potential in everything. Even your old socks and old shoes.

As she puts it, the different but also the seemingly normal are all uniquely special for their own reasons. 

“Normal isn’t normal. Crazy isn’t crazy. Normal is crazy. Crazy is normal. I see absurdity in everything.”

Saskia explains that after finishing a degree in music, she hit a writer's block. "So I put all my creative energy into the shop, mixing antique and vintage items that my colleague finds with things I made myself like mirrors, leather pouches and feathered hair pieces.”

“These old treasures carry memories and stories of love or horror – and often both – from all the previous owners, which makes them rich and intriguing.”

A believer in the old adage: ‘Someone else’s trash is another’s treasure’, Saskia says: When someone is ready to depart with something, it gives permission for someone else to enjoy it and make use of it. It gives it new life and that’s a pretty beautiful thing.”

Drifting originally from Amsterdam, Saskia has lived the last 14 years in London while traveling almost every three months to some new and far away destination. Here in England though, she says the earth is old and the culture is rich. “The landscape, the music, the stories and accents and way people speak is rich with connection to the past, which is a real legacy to its present.”

“The creativity, energy and potential in this melting pot called the UK and especially in an established city like London, always amazes me.”

Fascinated with curiosities, the interesting and the weird, she comments that consumerism is a hard beast to beat.

“The majority of things on the high street are mass-produced, soul-less or single-use products. But interestingly enough, this seems to work in my advantage since many people go back to items that were made to last and don’t look cheap or love-less.”

“At Swallows and Pips we sell ‘God knows what’ – everything really – antiques and items with historical value and products made with love and attention to detail, sourced with awareness and community involvement. The antiques come from all around the UK, with a story to tell, and the other products from Goa on India's west coast as well as from the north.”

Last year Saskia spent five months taking a much needed break trying to re-invent herself in Goa. Here, she stumbled upon the Samarpan Foundation and one of their projects called ‘G’litter from Litter’ where she volunteered, connected with disadvantaged women and in this way learnt about the craft of up-cycling first hand.

“The project supports and empowers about 60 women and their children from four different slums in Goa who create up-cycled jewelry, bags and accessories from discarded magazines, plastic bottles, plastic bags, old garments and more. They are doing fantastic work by bringing new life to the old and sustainably using available resources all the while empowering women from underprivileged communities in society.”

In January, Saskia returned again to Goa to explore more ways of possibly partnering with the foundation and connecting with other groups that are similarly supporting local producers in this way.

“The old doesn’t just have to be vintage items from athe UK. There is an opening to think bigger and create a difference through recycled and up-cycled possessions, but also by simply doing business with the heart and head together. This is the next step for Swallow and Pips; slowly incorporating more fair-trade products from India and maybe one day, from around the UK too.”

When Saskia is not intrigued by the old and out-of-date, she is making music and art. You can learn more about her at Pacwoman Productions

If you are on Brick Lane, make some time to visit Swallow and Pips. Admire the beauty of the old on display, get lost in thoughts of owners before and maybe spark a conversation with Saskia.

You will find the store in Brick Lane’s Tea Rooms located across from the Upmarket and Vibe Bar. Open Saturday from 11am – 6pm and Sunday from 10am – 6pm.

What's your thoughts on what's described here as the 'perfectly imperfect', or in other words, the old and previously owned? 

Do you own something that was once upon a time was someone else's? Does this add or take away from its value and meaning? 

There's something pretty special about passing on a treasured item to a new owner. It's an opportunity for the item to have a second, third or even fourth life. If only these items could talk to tell us their tales! Pop in the comment box below and share away!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this blog. Since you're selling second hand things, can I ask if you have an used shoes? If you have, can you share the designs here? I'm sure to be back.

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