Birmingham’s young and talented to showcase creativity!












Please welcome the first post from our esteemed fashion correspondent, Natalie Hartland.

I was recently reading a blog on the Midlands Young Fashion Designer Awards returning for its second year, what a great opportunity for talent hailing from the midlands to showcase what amazing talent they have.

Birmingham has the basis to becoming the most stylish city, with fashion students coming from London to Birmingham to study fashion, but what is there to keep them here?

With a string of big name chains taking over the majority of Birmingham’s shopping centre and high streets, what is the future for Birmingham’s young fashion designer? I fear the answer is a train ticket to the big smoke to join the battle of young fashion house wannabes, competing for a job in one of the big names that consume every square inch of Birmingham’s retail district.

Thankfully this problem hasn’t gone unnoticed with the Big City Plan commenting on the city’s ‘bland’ collection of shops, with most being big name stores which are consistent with every other town and city across the country – hopefully this means something will be done about it!!

Does anyone remember Covet? A cool independent store supplying Topshop Bullring with its vintage collection, the little gem that was hidden deep within the Custard Factory sadly passed away, as did the Topshop vintage collection! More stores like this would allow our young designers a promising chance to not only show case or sell their collections but to start their career without leaving their hometown.

What Birmingham is in desperate need of is unique independent stores such as Cow – the big yellow vintage store on Digbeth high street, more stores like this will give the city individuality and style it needs.

Im glad to see that this problem is being taken into consideration within the Big City Plan, with even Clive Dutton backing it in the hope Birmingham’s shops will help Brum in the race to become one of the top 20 livable cities in the world!!


Filed under Big Cat Social, Big Questions, Digbeth, Eastside

10 responses to “Birmingham’s young and talented to showcase creativity!

  1. anthonytattum

    Hi Natalie, welcome to the Big Cat blog.

    I have spent a fair amount of time banging the indie retail drum while working with Oasis, the indepdendent/indie department store in the city centre. Birmingham is in serious danger of losing one of the city’s cultural and social gems and only remaining indie retailers in the city. The store has been threatened with closure since the mid nineties because of the redevelopment of that area of the city.

    The frustrating thing is that the building that houses the Oasis is being demolished to make way for more mixed-use, multiple, generic retail. The owners of Oasis have spoken with pretty much every developer and property owner in the city, including the city council and retail birmingham to find them an alternative location but none have the foresight or motivation to try and retain one of the city’s most treasured assets.

    I am hopeful that the opening of Devonshire House, the next phase of the Custard Factory will provide critical mass for independent retail in the city. innvoative, edgy retail scene provides a city/borough with its personality and drives tourism and relocation – look at Brighton and Shoreditch!

    Come on – give Oasis and other indie retailer/designers a life line!

  2. The worst thing is the Oasis itself is a shadow of its former self – back in the 80s when it had the yellow neon signage, all dark, dingey, – & frankly quite scary at times – & every stall in there had completely different styles of goods. When it was refurbished in 1989/90 & reopened in its current guise, all the interest had gone, to be replaced by stalls & stalls of bland denim & mass-produced teen-goth wear; it’s never really recovered.

  3. I currently work for Urban Village (the shop that used to be on the front of the Custard Factory then moved to Hurst St). We now do all our stuff online simply because it was too expensive to run an outlet. Until the Council/Govt gives financial breaks to small independent traders the future looks pretty bleak with the High St ending up a monotonous facade of Sandwich bars, Coffee houses and Tesco express’s.
    Midge (Franks eBay gimp)

  4. joe

    Hi, in a tangentally related way, I thought you might be interested to read about the Remade Fashion Fair event we are organising at the Custard Factory on 21 Feb, more info here:

  5. I completely agree the city needs to do more for individual retailers. Cow, with it’s fantastic vintage offerings is great, but we don’t need a whole host of copycat stores as vintage only appeals to a certain amount of people. I think Birmingham needs some sort of platform specifically to house new designers and small, independent designers. For example, an Oasis style outlet where a number of small businesses can thrive under one roof.

    What about a ‘Little Bohemia’? Digbeth and the Custard Factory are certainly the perfect setting for that.

    However @ Midge D’s comment, you can certainly understand from a cost point of view why we haven’t already got a hold on this yet; if a young designer, maybe fresh from completing their fashion or textiles university course for example, wants to set up their business, the biggest issue they are probably faced with is finance.

  6. anthonytattum

    in reference to Simon’s comment one of the main reasons Oasis never recovered to its former glory days was because since the mid nineties it has always had an axe over its neck from the council and developers, so has been unable to finance a refurb or conduct a long term marketing campaign to raise its profile.

  7. natalie hartland

    Thanks everyone for your comments! Seems we are all united in the quest for more variety out of Birmingham’s retail… commented on by Midge and Sarah money is an obstacle that is in the way of most independents.

    Unfortunately it sounds as thought they haven’t been able to help the good old Oasis Market but Birmingham City Council has recognised that this is a problem, they have been meeting Mary Portas ‘retail and brand communication guru’ to discuss how to make brum a more diverse shopping city. Grants of £10,000 for small retailers setting up in the city centre were among the ideas that came out of the meeting. This would be a good start to helping independents to get on the retail ladder! £10,000 is a nice gesture but is it enough to compete against the big name retail outlets?

    @Sarah Morris – spot on about a ‘little bohemia’ at Custard Factory, it would be a perfect location as already a hub for what little independent retail Birmingham has to offer! Would be nice for Oasis to join in on this!

  8. @sarah & @natalie – what you both say i do substantially agree with, with one proviso: i agree that it’s good to increase the profile of the digbeth / custard factory area & the idea of it being a creative / hippy / indie haven is a good one – but on the other hand, doesn’t the rest of the city (centre) deserve interesting shops too ?

    digbeth is great for people who live in moseley etc, but for people who live on the west side of the city, it’s not much easier to get to digbeth than it is to get to wolverhampton !

    (of course, the proper answer is to improve transport links west-east (& north-south for that matter), but i think the point still stands)

  9. @anthony – my point was it was the refurb itself which effectively lost the oasis its original atmosphere ! in the same way that the new bull ring is, of course, all clean & shiny, but i do think so much of that area’s vibrancy has been lost too.

  10. It is relieving to hear that there are people making some noise about this issue as it is an issue! I love Birmingham but can’t help but have a nagging sense of frustration when I think of this city, it has so much potential yet no-one is exploiting it. Billions were spent on a shopping centre which was allowed to be dominated by shops that people expect to find everywhere and therefore don’t get excited about. What do we have to offer that any other major city in Britain doesn’t? Not much. It feels as if our aim is to be as good as rather than better than them. We have Digbeth and the Custard Factory who are doing their best to support the city’s creativity but unfortunately overshadowed by the stonking Bull Ring down the road. Who is in charge of marketing?! Birmingham is heaving with creative talent but it does nothing to show it off or retain it, most people have to move down to London just to be able to have a fighting chance to do what they are passionate about… which is why me and most of my friends will be moving down there in June. We have the resources here, lets start using them and give people a reason or two to hang around their home town.

    End of rant.


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