Sunday, 31 May 2009

How does your garden grow

Yesterday a pepper tin, today an Illy container and a bike basket... While strolling in my neighbourhood I came across these upcycled and inspiring planters.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Precious metals

On Friday I went to lunch with my fellow North American Courtney. As co-chairman of the Fashion Business Club she has very good taste, which is how we came to eat at Wahaca. I love that place more and more every time I go. They give you what looks like a matchbook along with your change, but it's really a little book containing pepper seeds. Might seem like a gimmick, but I stuck those little hombres in some soil on the balcony and they sprouted. At Wahaca, they've planted theirs in some upcycled tins that once contained peppers.

Continuing in the theme of metal, upcycling, North America and good taste, Courtney was wearing a cool cuff bracelet made from a New Hampshire license plate by Revival Studio. ¡Muy caliente!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Handbags at dawn

When I was small, I never, ever played with dolls. I did however play with office supplies. I always particularly liked bulldog clips, imagining they resembled natty 1950s-style handbags. These days I have put away childish things. But I have not put away bulldog clips. This one holds up a card from my friend Pendle; I think if I asked it nicely it would also be happy to hold a placecard for a dinner party.

Pendle grew up in Notting Hill and she introduced me to the Exchange Shops when we were working around there. Every so often the hardback books we'd receive through our jobs would pile up on our desks. We would march them over the road to the Book Exchange. There we would be offered a random amount of cash for the books, or double that random ransom in Exchange Shops vouchers to be spent at a future date in the Record Exchange, the CD Exchange, the Vintage Exchange or the Designer Exchange.

In my time, I've traded in books and come away with: a Fred Perry shirt, a blue velvet cape, a pair of crazy trousers for a fancy dress party, a blue leather belt, a hunters' cap, a quilted coat, a skirt that blatantly did not fit, a pair of brand-new flip flops, two pairs of pastel snakeskin court shoes, a lampshade, two bracelets, a set of 1960s plates, a leather handbag that I use every day (pictured) and a vintage maxidress that I offloaded at the Global Cool Swish.

So what that means is that a bunch of books was turned into a dress which was then turned into a cardigan, all without a single penny changing hands. Give and take indeed.

(Lamely, the website for the Exchange Shops is down, but you can read more about the stores and get their addresses by doing a search for "exchange" on Yelp.)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I came I saw I swished

Here's a debrief on Vikki's most excellent swishing event last night.

A clothes carrier (created from a rubbish bag) filled with a few unfortunate fashion purchases past (top pic)

Delicious passionfruit beverages supplied by a nice chap called Leon from

A cardigan that I will love and cherish every single day of my upcoming camping trip (bottom pic)

Can someone else have another swish event, please...?

I dearly love getting rid of stuff; the path from my front door to the TRAID charity bin is a well-trodden one. But how much more exciting it is to get rid of stuff and get something in return. A cocktail, a cardigan and a bit of extra space in my closet: hooray to that I say.

War on worthlessness

Inspired by the recession and compelled to create something positive, "Worthless" is a live art installation that explores the value of material objects. For one week only, 22-29 May, members of the public will be invited to bring their own "worthless" items into the store to be transformed into pieces of art.

The cheeky shop setting pays homage to Woolworths, where a team of creatives will work continually throughout the week on transforming trash into treasure. At the end, the "customer" can collect their "new" item and will pay however much they feel it's worth. A pick’n’mix of worthless and/or priceless creations will be exhibited in the store 1-5 June, with several items being auctioned at Octave Jazz Bar on behalf of the MS Society.

So it's a busy week for upcyclers: swish tonight at Vikki Chowney's Global Cool Swish, barter tomorrow at The Marksman pub's Barter for Beer Night, then make worthless art into priceless art Friday at Pollock's Worthless installation.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Smoking kills, packaging saves

Upcycling is an art; it takes a creative brain and that's why artists make some of the world's best upcyclers. I was just strolling through Covent Garden and came across artist Mark Scott-Wood busily working away. Tomorrow I'll write about the cool project he's working on, which involves trash and treasure in equal measure, but for now here's a pic of his very clever business card case.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Old bike new life

I've already written about biking around with Eric, a guide in Borneo who showed me pontoons that locals make to harvest shellfish almost like a floating kitchen garden. When we were poking around the river, I looked down and saw a kids' bike on the bottom of the sandy riverbed.

Me: "Oh no, some poor kid lost his bike!"

Eric: "Don't worry, it's meant to be there."

Me: "Say what?"

Eric: "People throw scrap metal into the river to act like a fake reef. Little critters build their houses on the metal, and then the bigger critters have something to feed on."

Me: "So the bike is being used as a plankton habitat to attract the shellfish which people rely on for food?"

Eric: "Exactly. I've heard of people in America throwing whole buses into the water!"

My own pic of the underwater bike isn't so hot, but have a look at this intriguing Flickr pool dedicated to bicycles of a submarine nature, which includes the shot above which was taken by Koinis.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The lasting picturehouse

A few years ago Bermondsey Square was not so much a square as a carpark. Once a week it was home to the Bermondsey antiques market, but for the other six days it largely resembled the empty lot it had become during the Blitz. Long, long before that the area was actually an island in the Thames named for a man called Bermond. Later a pretty grand abbey was built on the spot, but Henry VIII put paid to that and shared the land with his courtiers who built their country mansions here.

Today you’ll not find anyone going by the name of Bermond in Bermondsey Square; there are no abbots, no courtiers and certainly no country houses. You will, however, find a proper square, flanked by Georgian townhouses, a cinema, offices, shops, a hotel and – once a week – the Bermondsey antiques market, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer.

Last week I interviewed Rob Wray who last month launched Shortwave cinema, a gorgeous 50-seat venue that shows good movies to a discerning public four days a week. The Bermondsey Square project was a decade in the making, and building works were delayed for years as archaeologists excavated the Roman and medieval remains beneath the site. Rob's healthy appreciation for history helped him maintain his patience through the lengthy process, and also guided his choice in cinema seating. These comfy upholstered numbers came from the Electric Cinema in Portobello, sat in storage for ages and finally made their way to Bermondsey. Even though the venue is new, Rob says he wanted it to have a traditional movie theatre feel.

(The seats are lovely and so is Rob. Go see for yourself.)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Stand and deliver

Temporary shows are all well and good, but often "temporary" has been interpreted to mean "disposable". What happens to the stands, stalls and displays after an event ends? The Telegraph reported yesterday that Chelsea Flower Show has been taking steps to minimise waste:

"The move to ensure gardens go on to new lives is all part of a wider policy at Chelsea to reduce the show's carbon footprint, which is being measured for the first time... Some 85 per cent of all waste material generated by exhibitors and visitors, including packaging and food waste, is recycled and 90 per cent of gardens go on to new lives. Most show gardens take back plants to garden centres, donate them to charity or sell them on."

One garden is being sold on Ebay, hooray. In a similar vein PSFK reported two days ago on an inspired trade show booth that embodies cradle-to-cradle design:

"Harlem-based Kikkerland Design has been producing unique objects since 1992. At this year’s ICFF, it wasn’t so much what they had displayed that was getting all the attention, but the display itself. Kikkerland purchased 3000 cans of Campbell’s soup from local NYC supermarkets and built their booth out of them. At the conclusion of the show on Tuesday afternoon, all the cans were stacked on pallets and donated to City Harvest, a nonprofit food rescue organization that picks up excess food from restaurants, caterers, cafeterias, and other suppliers, then delivers it to emergency food programs."

Friday, 22 May 2009

Portobello Friday stroll

There's a reason so many creative people live around Portobello - it's crammed with ideas and inspirations. I just interviewed fashion designer Jasper Garvida, the winner of Project Catwalk and a resident of Ladbroke Grove, and he revealed he pokes through all the stalls every week. I took a turn through today to see if there were any upcycling ideas to steal. Someone on Ladbroke Grove dismantled an old over-door shoe hanger and emerged with a new modern take on the white picket fence, while a stall in the market is selling drawers from a printing concern in Fleet Street upcycled into curio shelving. Free of charge you get the makers' mark, pencil scribblings on the wood and a drawer pull for easy installation. This one costs £29... and may even earn you pennies in heaven.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Swish swap shop

I wrote about a swishing event earlier this year and now the man with his eye on all things sartorial, The Real Gent, has brought another one to my attention. Read about Vikki Chowney's upcoming swishing event online, sign yourself up and then trade your old togs for new ones on 27 May. Why have I signed up? One, because it's fun and two, because it's good. Vikki explains:
"To give this bit of context, Global Cool spoke to 3,500 British women, and found that an average of £470 per person was spent on items in 2008 that were never worn – an estimated total of £11.1 billion in the UK alone. One in ten of the women surveyed confessed to binning these unwanted clothes, effectively contributing to the estimated 900,000 tonnes of UK clothing that is sent to landfill every year."

Skip on over

Skip Sisters is a collective of south London women who recycle, revitalise, and re-invent. Their work – bags, brooches, birds, homeware and artwork – is all hand-made from rescued materials. Their latest collection was on view during the Dulwich Festival Artists Open House for the past two weekends, but if you missed it like I did, visit their website to get inspired by their clever ideas. My faves are the resin cufflinks made from old stamps and a birdfeeder made from a vintage cup and saucer.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Mr Jalopy is my homeboy

Last week in China (where Blogger was mysteriously blocked) I saw a clip on TV about Mr Jalopy. Do you know this man? You should. He's at the centre of the Makers Movement - "people who believe that making things yourself or fixing things the things you already have is lots better than mindlessly buying new mass manufactured stuff". He's in the habit of acquiring old stuff at garage sales and then revamping it for modern use - like a big 1940s cabinet radio that he rewired to serve as an iPod dock. Inspired!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Share and share alike

Owning the means of production: so overrated. And it's not just because I'm writing this from my position under the jaunty red flag of China that I say that. I'm not so sure that owning a ladder, a sewing machine and a drill really makes sense given that our household will make use of these things pretty infrequently. Owning stuff like that takes up money, takes up room in the flat and ultimately takes up room in the landfill. uShare proposes to save money and space for everyone through a concept you may have learned about on the playground: sharing. You list things you need, you list things you have, you borrow, you lend, you climb, you sew, you drill.

Along the topic of means of production, here's a picture of Factory 798 in the Dashanzi factory complex, which started life as part of the Socialist Unification Plan of military-industrial cooperation between the Soviet Union and China. The East Germans designed Factory 798 and ground was broken in 1954. Today the whole Dashanzi area is full of old Bauhaus factories converted into studios and galleries.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Lofty ambitions

Last week my friend Dee took me on a preview tour of Loft, the shop on Westbourne Grove that opened on Saturday. Loft has been around in France for the past 20 years, and the brains behind the operations is Patrick Freche. Patrick was there putting the finishing touches on his first London outpost along with his right-hand woman, the designer Delphine. Their clothes for men, women and children are made from all-natural fibres; Delphine and I agree that synthetics are "poison". The shop itself (which is incidentally gorgeous) has an authentic flavour too - Patrick's brought in touches like the antique cash register from the first shop he opened in 1989, cardboard drawers made by disabled craftspeople and lots of found objects that serve both utilitarian and aesthetic ends. See for yourself at 186 Westbourne Grove.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Over a barrel

Every year Kentucky Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo more or less collide. So the question is: mint julep or margarita? From an upcycling point of view, I have to say I'll be drinking a tequila based drink rather than a bourbon one. And here's the reason: bourbon is aged in white American oak barrels, but the barrels have to be discarded after one use. So far, so wasteful. But south of the border those cast-off casks are reborn again. Distilleries in the region around the town of Tequila in Jalisco (pictured above) use the former bourbon barrels in the ageing process of their blue agave based drink. It's not a requirement (the Casadores distillery uses new barrels), but many distillers use specific barrels to achieve specific tastes. The Partida distillers for example use the barrels that have come from a certain Mr Daniels who makes his home in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

If your whistle has been whet, then here's a recipe you might try. Unlike other MexicLinkan favourites like the margarita or the sangrita, the paloma is a perfect beginners' cocktail - you don't need any fancy bartending equipment and can just use what's already in your kitchen. This version comes from Steffin Oghene, manager of the Shoreditch tequila bar Green & Red. !Feliz Cinco De Mayo!‎

50ml tequila
Half a freshly squeezed lime
A can of Ting grapefruit soda, a can of Lilt, or your own combination of pink grapefruit juice topped with soda to taste
Add cubed ice to a highball glass. Next pour in the tequila, then add the juices and finally a pinch of sea salt. Stir well with a knife or long spoon, garnish with a wedge of lime or pink grapefruit and enjoy.