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INTERVIEW: In a Disorderly fashion

INTERVIEW: In a Disorderly fashion

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Disorder. Meaning 'a deviation from the normal system or order' or to 'disrupt the systematic functioning or neat arrangement. . .' . Woah.

Mark and Thiri, owners at Birmingham's Disorder boutique live up to their brand name in every way. Not just with the innovative clothing they produce, but in their unconforming yet philosophical approach to the business of fashion retail. . .

Hand-painted 'Arcadian girl' silk scarf

Hand-painted 'Arcadian girl' silk scarf

Selling from a good old-fashioned 'bricks and mortar' shop in the city centre since 1998, they have worked hard to establish what they consider as an antithesis of the high street; designing and manufacturing in-house with no mass-produced, widely distributed collections, but limited numbers of uniquely cut pieces exclusive to their brand. They are not dictated to by the usual industry 'calendar' of trend forecasts, seasonal collections and whirlwind trends, but driven more by a need to create and manufacture organically - using locally-sourced materials and their loyal customer base as inspiration (many of whom fit a demographic that is barely catered for on the high street these days; quirky, stylish, affordably priced quality clothing for proper 'grown folk'!)

Owner Mark Howard outside the glorious Disorder boutique!

Owner Mark Howard outside the glorious Disorder boutique!

Selling from a good old-fashioned 'bricks and mortar' shop in the city centre since 1998, they have worked hard to establish what they consider as an antithesis of the high street; designing and manufacturing in-house with no mass-produced, widely distributed collections, but limited numbers of uniquely cut pieces exclusive to their brand. They are not dictated to by the usual industry 'calendar' of trend forecasts, seasonal collections and whirlwind trends, but driven more by a need to create and manufacture organically - using locally-sourced materials and their loyal customer base as inspiration (many of whom fit a demographic that is barely catered for on the high street these days; quirky, stylish, affordably priced quality clothing for proper 'grown folk'!)

This alternative approach has won Disorder a plethora of awards, including one from brand consultant herself, Mary Portas! She was so impressed by the brands overall aesthetic that, 'legend' has it, they inspired her to make a TV series around the importance of British manufacturing. Do you remember the one about the the knickers factory in Manchester. . .?

Disorder is all about slower fashion, the importance of craftsmanship, creativity and keeping it homegrown. Thiri designs and cuts, whilst Mark provides pattern and colour to their beautifully tailored men's and womenswear, through creative use of his own illustrations and paintings.

And it's the latter that is especially close to illustratedeverythings heart. . . !

Mark's exhibition at Bar Opus, Birmingham

Mark's exhibition at Bar Opus, Birmingham

I recently caught up with mark at the shop, having visited an exhibition of his portrait paintings at Birmingham's Bar Opus. Marks' artwork has always been an important element of the Disorder brand, but in my experience, was usually applied mainly to the menswear and accessories as discreet embellishments and illustrative placement prints. . . .

. . until now! That day I'd come to see his fabulous new womenswear; kimono-style dresses, reversible jackets and massive multi-purpose scarves boasting wow-factor large-scale, all-over prints of his portrait paintings! My illustration shows my funky, punky chick wearing the 'Arcadian girl' reversible kimono dress. LOVE.

We had a good natter about everything - from Shanidar cave paintings to Burmese tigers. . .because  it's about sooo much more than just making clothes. . .

So tell me about the inspiration behind your paintings and printed pieces. . .?

My work and the Disorder brand in general embodies many things; eclecticism, escapism, psychedelia. . . . and Burma is always a point of reference too as my wife's parents are from there. Our cuts are a mix of Oriental and British tailoring and there is a real 'global' feel to what we do.

Hand-painted 'robot girl' silk scarf

Hand-painted 'robot girl' silk scarf

You have been based in Birmingham city centre since the late 90s - how have you maintained a bricks and mortar shop in such a changing retail landscape like Birmingham? 

Business rates have tripled since we started! I think the reason we are still here is due to what we stand for and the bespoke approach to what we do. We are filling a gap on the high street and so many of our customers breathe a sigh of relief when they find us for the first time! We also carry a select number of independent labels too, as well as the opportunity to buy from our website.

It's so refreshing that Disorder provides a retail platform for other independent designers - and I was one of them a few years back! Why do you think Birmingham is so saturated with high street chains, with very few independently-owned businesses in the city centre?

BURBO K'ture and Hooligan soup at Disorder

BURBO K'ture and Hooligan soup at Disorder

The fashion giants can afford the extortionate rates charged, which has gradually pushed out the independents.  Too many people buy into 'fast' fashion, with the media dictating how they should look and what they should wear - and the consumer demanding that instant gratification, particularly the younger generation. What happened to craftsmanship? Quality? Family businesses? It's sad as it not only affects our high streets here, but the poorer countries who receive our recycled cast-offs and dead stock - resulting in a reduced demand for locally-manufactured clothing there too. 

So what about the new fashion graduates entering the industry? 

The problem is, there is still a disconnection between education and business/industry. Many students leave with a wonderful collection but have little or no idea how to monetise it! Business skills and entrepreneurship should be an integral part of their education, along with an understanding of the importance of the less 'glamorous' side of the industry. There are too many 'inflated skills' here in the UK - with the importance of the role of the skilled workers on factory floor diminishing.

I had to leave to go and pick up my daughter from school at that point, but could have talked for a lot longer about issues that are clearly close to Mark's heart, including his tiger paintings that he donates to a Burmese tiger charity! It's great to know that when you buy a funky dress from Disorder your're really supporting your local cultural environment and ultimately, investing into a more sustainable future of fashion. 

Disorder boutique is situated in Needless Alley, Birmingham city centre. See you there!

If you liked this post, you may want to check out 'To Die For: is fashion wearing out the world? ' by Lucy Siegle. 

 

 

SUPREME NYC and that Obama hoodie

SUPREME NYC and that Obama hoodie

SILKEN FAVOURS: Illustrated silken flava

SILKEN FAVOURS: Illustrated silken flava