Talking Points: Can Fashion be Illegal?

I am Not a Terrorist…


… and if I was, I sure wouldn’t wear a t-shirt with the fact emblazoned across my chest.

That’s pretty obvious right? Well apparently not to the security team at Heathrow airport, who made Johannes take off and turn inside out his ‘I am NOT a Terrorist’ t-shirt. Why? Well apparently if the general public were to see the word ‘terrorist’ it would cause panic and distress, erm not that he was causing any panic or distress. Well perhaps not until people had to see a young man being dragged off by police. Since Britain’s official stance on fighting terrorism is not to give into demands, not to let it take control of our lives, these actions seem very strange. Words alone have no power, it is only us who can give that to them (think ‘Voldemort’ in Harry Potter). Therefore creating a fear of the word ‘terrorist’ no matter what context it is used in, is in itself a form of terrorism. Sigh. The entire debacle reads like a page from the George Orwell novel 1984, where all the citizens are made to be suspicious of each other, nobody can be trusted. Is that the kind of society the government are trying to breed. So untrusting in each other they must solely rely on those in power, like suckling babes.

Johannes says he always found the wording of the t-shirt a bit passive, I have always felt it should read ‘I am not a terrorist, please don’t shoot me’ especially in the wake of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. A case if ever, as an example of the panic caused by terrorism, so desperate to ‘catch a bad guy’ than an innocent man was brutally murdered by the very people who were meant to protect him.

 Can fashion be illegal?

I am reminded of the recent case of Barry Thew, a man who was jailed for wearing a t-shirt with an offensive slogan under the ‘Section 4a public order offense ÔÇô displaying writing or other visible representation with intention of causing harassment, alarm or distress‘. Wearing a hand written t-shirt seemingly reveling in the death of a police officer on the day PC’s Bone and Hughes were purposefully shot dead. Thew was arrested after reports were made of him causing upset in the town centre where he was seen wearing the t-shirt. Crass? yes;┬á an antisocial thing to do? probably, but a jail-able offense? I can’t help but feel that they could have just asked him to leave the town centre. I 100% do not agree with what he did or what he said, but I can’t help but feel he still had the right to say it. Whatever happened to freedom of speech. Groups of people burning poppies, those holding graphic posters outside abortion clinics, surely they are guilty of the same offense as Thew, yet are left to carry on their protests.

I’m not claiming to have all the answers, I think our police force do a very hard job, very well. But there are certain cases where I think we, as a community, need to question what we are being fed. The recent allegations surrounding the Stephen Lawrence case are yet another example. The rules we structure our society around should be in place for the well being of everyone, not there for those in power to twist and distort so they can be used to control the masses.

Taking History Outside the Museum – Opinions Please!

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Vivienne Westwood exhibit some of their vintage shoes in the Conduit Street store window for a Fashion Night Out event. Image courtesy Vivienne Westood Ltd.

What do you think about museums?

That might seem an odd question, I bet almost everyone reading this has been to a museum in their life time. Perhaps you frequent you local museum often, take a special trip for new exhibitions, appreciate their air-con when on holiday or remember seeing the dinosaurs on a school trip when you were young. But, what do you really think about them? Are they something you get excited about? Or a place which only enters your thoughts on a rainy day?

How about with regards to fashion? Do you imagine them full of dusty old clothes from the Victorian ere, irrelevant today? Recently there has been something of a shift in the way fashion and museums relate. There have been more current fashion exhibitions such as the Valentino exhibit on right now at Somerset House, the Ballgowns at the V&A and the Christian Louboutin exhibition at Design museum. The exhibition may seem a little more current but they are still being held in traditional museum contexts. In contrast to this there are some exhibitions which are bursting out of the box so to speak. The Chanel exhibition at Harrods, Vivienne Westwood shoes at Selfridges. Would you feel more inclined to visit an exhibition if it were in a more accessible location? Do you think it seems less formal holding an exhibition in a retail space? Would it seem more fun perusing displays as you would do on a clothes shopping trip rather than gazing at traditional museum cases?

I have included some photo’s here of some traditional and more edgy exhibition spaces. I would really like to know your thoughts.


The Sneaking into Fashion temporary exhibition hosted by, displayed the shoes in cases along the main walk way in convent garden making it easy for people to view as they shopped

christianlouboutin exhibit london

The Louboutin exhibition displayed the shoes in innovative ways, no glass cases here! Image via


The V&A recently acquired a set of Japanese Lolita fashion outfit to show the diverse trend in their ‘Kitty and the Bulldog’ exhibition, it is displayed amongst the traditional Japanese history collection.


A traditional museum display at Northampton Shoes museum however this display has bright and colourful information boards behind the shoes to give them context and tell a story


Northampton Shoe museum show a blown-up photo of Naomi Campbell taking her famous runway tumble in the Vivienne Westwood ‘Super elevated Gille’ shoes. Do you like to see the background to the shoe illustrated rather than just lots of text?

If you have any other thoughts or opinions on museums at all I’d like to hear them. Is there anything that puts you off visiting? Do you think museums should be there for education or entertainment?

Which of the displays above is your favourite and why?

Does My Face Look Fat in This?

(Wearing Primark ‘Hate’ earrings, rest all Vivienne Westwood – World’s End shirt, Red Label shorts, Gold Label ‘Animal Toe Courts’)

These are photo’s you wouldn’t usually see. I have tons and tons of photo’s which go straight into the trash folder. Why? Well to be honest I’m just like everyone else, I cringe when I see a bad photo of myself. Who hasn’t panic jabbed the ‘untag’ button on facebook when a ‘friend’ posted a photo where you looked fat/ bad hair/ tired/ smudged make-up … insert issue of your choice. As it no doubt happens your friend thinks you are acting like a lunatic and she thought you looked gorgeous in the photo, so has no idea why you are screeching ‘How could you do this to me’ down the phone! But when it comes to body image we are always our own worst critic.

As most of you know I suffer from a disease called Psoriatic Arthritis, which is an inflammatory condition affecting the joins and tendons. I have spent the last two years battling this, there is no cure, only medication which can attempt to get it under control. For the last few months they only way I have been able to get out of bed every day is to be pumped full of steroids, injected in the butt. Each jab spot has left a half golf ball sized dint which may or may not go away over time – one of many possible side-effects I risk every day. Every time I trial a different drug there is a list of possible nasties which I might have to deal with but when the other option is to end up crippled and bed ridden you welcome a dimply butt with open arms.

We are lucky really that there are drugs on offer we can try, many diseases don’t come with that option. So yes I am grateful I can get access to health care – even though the drugs in themselves can leave us dicing with death, the untreated disease would be much, much worse. When you use steroids over a long period of time however there are two side effects which are almost unavoidable, weight gain and ‘Moon-face’.

I’ve spoken a lot already about weight gain and how with a lot of effort I managed to get it pretty much under control but the one thing which crept up on me which I have absolutely not control over is ‘Moon-face’. Had you asked me about Moon-face before my illness I would have only thought of the character in Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway tree, but it is a common side-effect of long term steroid use also know as Cushings syndrome. It is characteristic by unusual distribution of fat around the face, causing a round moon shape often with chubby ‘hamster’ cheeks. In addition to a build up of fat at the back of the neck a ‘hump’ and around the tummy. In very serious cases it can cause skin thinning where huge, gash-like stretch marks occur.

As I usually hide behind my mane of hair you wouldn’t notice that much of a change in my face, but I have been increasingly paranoid about the round, double chin effect which has started to happen. Since I had my hair up in these photos, under really bright sunlight you can’t disguise the fact I have Moon-face. On the plus side I have now stopped the steroids in order to trial yet another drug, they were only a temporary stop gap, so the face should go back to normal in a few weeks. I was going to ditch the photos and not mention it but that was until I read this article:

Steroids save lives, but we have to face-up to their side-effects

The author Dorthy Byrne also takes steroids for an auto-immune condition, she talks about her own experience with their side-effect. But also how we are very rarely really talked to by our doctors about this kind of side-effect, they aren’t going to actually harm us such as risk of stroke for example, so are often just included somewhere in the small print of the information leaflet in the bottom of the box. Yes of course we all realise we need to take these drugs, fact, but should that mean we shouldn’t be made fully aware of the way it can effect our bodies? Having to learn to accept you have an incurable condition is hard enough, but the emotional turmoil you suffer as you body changes out of your control is never broached. It isn’t just about looking fat either, hell I’ve been overweight of my own accord and whilst it got me down it was my own fault for doing no exercise and drinking pints of larger – oh yes traditional student life style. But deep down I knew I could do something to loose the weight, it was in my control and of course eventually I did. This is very different, the fact you can wake up one morning and hardly recognise your own face is very upsetting. It isn’t any thing to do with vanity, it is the feeling of loosing control which is the scary thing.

The first comment on that article was what made me want to write this, a rant about how vain the author was and how silly she was being scaring people and putting them off life-saving drugs. But she misses the point, anyone in enough pain to be given steroids, like me will know a puffy face is the last of their problems, however this does not mean they shouldn’t be prepared for it. So I felt it was important to share this, because there are so many people out there in the same position as me. We aren’t vain worrying about this, we are just dealing with yet another issue brought on by having an incurable medical condition and some times it is nice to know you aren’t alone in this.

Talking Points: Taking the Special Away, Copycat Items

It was watching UK TV show This Morning, today which got me thinking about this post but before I go into why, I thought I would share a few thoughts. If you buy anything off the High Street you are pretty much guaranteed to see someone else wearing it, sold cheaply and produced in their thousands. With designer items you pay more but know they are made in smaller quantities and thus lowers the chance of you going through ‘same dress syndrome’. With vintage again your chances of seeing an identical item is even rarer and well if you make your own clothes you are guaranteed exclusivity. We all like to think we are individual, that we are unique but there is still the underlying desire to some how fit in, be accepted by your peers, be part of the gang, be admired maybe?

Check me out!!

My own memories of this run deep, from a very young age my mum tells me I would rip out hair┬á bows and smear mud down pretty dresses, in the end she gave up and let me wear snow boots and a fly net over my head (space bride??) if it made me happy. I never really cared too much about clothes in a fashion sense, I just liked dressing up I think. My attraction to ballet and tap were in the shoes more than the dancing and I wore an orange tutu under my school uniform for a whole year aged 8. It was only on reaching High School where fashion really became an issue, wearing the wrong shoes, bag, coat even hairband was a crime! We looked to the older girls to set our fashion standards, we admired them and tried our best to emulate their style. One non-uniform day saw half the school wearing the current trend of flared jeans and an oversized denim shirt – strictly front tucked in and not the back. There was a security in fitting in with the group.

As we grow up we soon realise that fitting in with the crowd isn’t really all that, in fact it is quite boring having someone else dictate what we wear, we experiment and find what we are comfortable with. We have our own look, our own identity, don’t we? Yet in some way we are always part of one fashion tribe or another, because it is sociable! Be it the rock chic who wears a band t-shirt showing allegiance not just to the band but to the whole subculture of that style of music, to the vintage fans who like to have a natter over their latest 1940’s hair roll. I have tons of style influences, a great interest in many different designers and fashion eras and I also have friends who fit in with different parts of this. My friend Florrie and I spend days trawling the vintage shops together, then playing around with our new finds and our looks. Yet if I tried to drag Rich around Oldham St he would have an absolute fit! Instead we spend hours analysing the Vivienne Westwood show images and lookbooks, trying to second guess which pieces will make it to retail and which we will end up buying. My look is very individual, when I throw on the Westwood I get stared at in the street, I stand out. Yet when I am with my fellow Westwood addicts Rich and Jen we look like three peas in a pod.┬á We have so many things the same we always joke we should live together and just have a communal wardrobe!

Friends in Westwood!

But even though we all love Westwood, we share clothes, buy identical things, we turn up in matching outfits purely by chance, there are differences personal to each of us. Those which are unique to us. Most of these things are jewellery, perhaps because it is such a personal thing. By this I don’t mean costume jewellery, but the pieces we wear often and which become part of our identity, not those we pick up every now and again just to match an outfit. Precious pieces of jewellery we may have treasured for years, be it family hand me downs or just something that is so ‘you’ it would feel strange to see it on someone else. We use jewellery to signify marriage, gifts for coming of age and all other important occasions so no wonder it has an extra special notion to it. But the same feelings can be attached to clothes and bags too, that leather jacket we have lived in for the past five years, the first date dress, the bag you saved up for a year for.

There is also that begrudging feeling you get when something you think of as ‘yours’ gets snapped up by one of your friends. Yes it might be a compliment that they liked yours so much but damn it, it takes some of the special away! Mostly I don’t care if I have the same things as my friends, we all wear it in different ways. But sometimes when it is something special it just takes a bit of the shine off it.

Exhibit 1 -Holly Willoughby’s double coin necklace

This brings me back around to what started this post Holly Willoughby’s double coin necklace. If you watch any show Holly is part of I am sure you will have noticed the unusual coin necklace she wears. I had often wondered if it was a precious gift from her husband or someone since she wore it so often, shunning the usual TV presenter uniform of ever changing accessories.

Eventually I read that it was a family heirloom her mother had custom made which she really cherishes. She also told Now magazine she wasn’t confident mixing and matching accessories so felt more comfortable sticking with her beloved necklace.

Holly wearing her original necklace, image Life

So it came as a surprise today to watch the show and see one of the other presenters Zoe wearing the same necklace. For all I know they may be best friends and she could have lent it her? Holly wasn’t on the show today so I wasn’t able to see if Holly had hers on at the same time. I thought it was weird so I Google’d it only to find pages and pages of forum debates from women demanding to know where they could get a ‘cheap copy’ of Holly’s necklace. A few discussed how jewelers could custom make them one by soldering together two gold half sovereigns but at an estimate of ┬ú300 most didn’t want this. As I read more I was directed to eBay and Etsy where people had for sale very similar ones often with different coins to keep the cost down. Then there was the looming presence of a fast fashion ‘celeb style’ website who were flogging exact copies of the necklace in your choice of real gold or plate and in silver too. The cheapest price was ┬ú35. ┬ú35 for owning a piece of Holly Willoughby. I admit it is a beautiful necklace, I would of course have loved it myself but the fact is it isn’t my necklace. I know how quick the fast fashion wheel turns but I have always thought of the more indirect nature of it such as catwalk influenced High Street clothes. But when this was something so personal to Holly and the women demanding they have a “cheap copy” it all just seemed very sad to me. I really wonder what Holly must think of it?

Zoe wearing the coin necklace, image This Morning

Perhaps she is happy to have fired off a trend, perhaps she wishes she had claimed royalties or perhaps she is a bit sad at the cheap rip offs of her treasured family necklace. I always remember Sienna Miller saying how sad she felt when her Boho look was being ripped off by every store on the High Street, she said it was hard to see skirts she had inherited from her mum and accessories from her travels on the backs of every passing girl.

Exhibit 2 – Kate Moss’s Moschino Bag

My vintage Moschino bag

I have had it happen to me personally. As soon as I saw Kate Moss wearing the larger version of my vintage Moschino heart bag my stomach sank. Not because I didn’t like Kate but because I knew what would follow. Soon enough you could by a knock off of this bag all over the High Street. I couldn’t bare seeing girls pass me with their Primark copy so I sold mine on eBay.

Perhaps Kate Moss though she was beating fast fashion at it’s own game when she created her collection with Topshop, all the designs were ‘adapted’ from Kate’s own vintage wardrobe so every girl could dress like Kate. She even included a similar style studded bag to the Moschino one. Perhaps they thought by copying vintage pieces they could get away with the blatant design theft but for those of us with a passion for vintage we knew the truth behind it.

The gorgeous Emma from Get Some Vintage Appeal writes about her experience with the Kate Moss collection ripping off her own vintage Bus Stop dress in ‘Kate Moss at Topshop…What a Joke‘.

Kate Moss with the Moschino bag at Glastonbury and her Topshop collection, images via Purseforum

 We all know the power of celebrity, celebrity sells, but at what cost?

Talking Points: What Do Your Shoes Say About You?

(Old photo from last summer wearing: Vivienne Westwood Gold Label ‘Mary Jane’ shoes and t-shirt, VW Worlds End badges, Red Label shorts and VW socks)

If I had to choose one pair, just one single pair of shoes to be my favourites, I think I would have to choose these. I bought them from Vivienne Westwood about five years ago maybe, and they have been my easy to wear, comfy shoes ever since. I remember when I got them, the trams hadn’t been running so we had had to get the bus – takes forever!! It was on the day of the summer sale and as always I’d saved up to get a few things. These weren’t on sale, Gold Label shoes never are, but I had planned to get them during my splurge. It seems such a long time ago, then the sales were crazy, people would queue up outside before hand as the store would be plundered in no time, I think reductions were like 30-40% then and everything would sell out quickly. There was never the chance to go back and wait for things to be reduced further, you snapped it up or missed out. My mum has always been my partner in crime for the sales but this year she was ill so my poor brother had been┬á forced to go with me. You always had to take a sales buddy, lesson learnt from one time when a huge 6″ something bloke had pushed everyone out of the way and bought ALL the Westwood handbags! No idea what he was doing with them but it was insane. The wait at the cash desk would also be perilous, as people waited for you to put something down, just for a second and snap it out from under your nose!

But I loose myself in nostalgia, these shoes I like so very much because they are from my favourite designer, they are quirky and unusual, they are red, they have a low heel which is really comfy to walk in and they go with almost everything. But what I have never considered is what they say about me? In fact I can’t say I’ve ever considered the possibility that peoples shoes say anything about their character. Ok, well maybe I have scoffed at people wearing Crocs and raised my eyebrows at people with scuffed up and dirty shoes. But have I ever cast a stereotype onto someone just from their shoes?

Well psychologists at the University of Kansas did, they found that style, value, condition and colour can tell us a lot about personality traits. In the trail 90% of the presumptions made about a person on just a photo of their footwear proved true. Some of the conclusions seemed a bit obvious such as expensive shoes belonged to high earners and flashy pairs belonged to extroverts. However less unusual trends saw practical and functional shoes belonging to agreeable people, ankles boots wear worn by aggressive people and uncomfortable looking shoes belonging to calm personalities.

So what do my shoes say about me according to this study? The bright red suggests I am an extrovert, they are expensive so I would be a high earner and since they are well kept, new looking I have ‘attachment anxiety’ and worry about relationships, possibly because I worry about my appearance and what others think about me. Right? Wrong on every level! I have no idea who funds this kind of baloney but geez I could have wrote those presumptions up in half an hour. Asking myself again what I think my shoes say about me, I would answer that I choose the bright red because they were cheerful and looking down at them on a rainy day makes me smile. Yes they are expensive but I saved up for them as a treat. I am respectful of my things and look after everything the same no matter how much it cost, I am appreciative not anal. I never worry about what anyone thinks of me, I like to wear bright colours but I certainly am no extrovert.

Maybe you can’t put everyone in a box (or shoe box), what do you think, would any of the shoe traits fit with your favourite pair of shoes?

  • High earners wear expensive shoes.
  • Extroverts tend to own flashy and colourful footwear.
  • Conscientious people own shoes that might not be new but were spotless.
  • Liberal thinkers tend to wear shabbier and less expensive shoes.
  • Agreeable people wear practical and functional shoes.
  • Aggressive personalities prefer ankle boots.
  • Calm personalities appear to prefer shoes that look uncomfortable.

“Shoes as a source of first impressions”┬á Journal of Research in Personality, August 2012 (Source)

Drip Diets & Detox’s: Why the Disgusting Trend for Hospital Treatments Makes Me Sick

I admit I was horrified to read a feature in Grazia the other week on the new ‘Drip Diet’ craze, but I’m not one to judge and if these silly girls want to risk their health to loose weight then whatever. As you know I’ve been sick lately but had to drag myself out today to run some errands, I picked up a Grazia to read on the way to cheer me up, but ended up in a rage.

I’m ill, I feel like utter shit. It’s a gorgeous sunny day but I’m covered up, every inch except my hands and the bottom half of my face. I have to cover my arms up because they are full of bruises from needles and one arm is a swollen mess due to a bad reaction to a vaccine. One of the drugs I have to take has made me super sensitive from the suns so I’m hidden under huge sunglasses and a hat. Ironically I also have a vitamin D deficiency so I really need some time in the sun, I will go and roll my sleeves up in the garden when I get home in where nobody can see me.

Two week old needle bruises, I don’t heal at a normal rate anymore

So when I open my magazine to see a feature on ‘Party girl drips’ I totally loose the plot. I remember seeing the photo Rihanna tweeted of her on a drip, I felt sorry for her being sick, I know what that’s like, having to be poked and prodded with needles in hospital is the bane of my life. But to now find out celebrities and ‘party girls’ are paying to have vitamin infusion drips to cure hangovers really upset me. I am not one to judge, each to their own, but to make such hospital treatments that other people have to save their lives into some frivolous fancy for these rich and stupid bitches is too much. I was also severely disappointed to see at the end of the feature one of Grazia’s editors trying out the treatment. I could have respected a critical review of the worrying situation, but to try it out like a new lipstick only shows encouragement.

An allergic reaction to the Pneumonia vaccine I had to have prior to starting a new medication – this was two days after the shot you don’t want to see how bad it got after that, I suffered 5 days before I could even get treatment for it (excuse the mess and the fact I’m in my bra I never intended to post this photo, I only took it to show my friend who is a nurse).

So here is some reality, a reality I hope none of these silly celebrities ever have to face. For those of you who don’t know I suffer from a disease called Psoriatic Arthritis (previously thought to be Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia). It is a difficult thing to correctly diagnose hence the number of different diagnoses I have had so far. Even this one disease has many different variations. Either way they are all auto-immune conditions, this means my immune system doesn’t work correctly, rather than defend my body it actually attacks it. In the two years I have been suffering with this I haven’t had one day where I wasn’t in pain. Some days I cannot get out of bed, every single part of me hurts – there is now way I can ever describe this, my joints swell up, I can’t walk without feeling my hip joint grate in its socket, my fingers are now permanently two ring sizes bigger, my feet will only fit extra wide shoes now, I throw up most days because of the meds, I constantly have stomach ache from the meds… the list goes on and on.

Treatments are available to help manage the condition and try to prevent further onset, however there is no cure. I’ve tried so many different drugs I lost count, many of them having severe side-effects, one put me in hospital when I had a migrane for five days, I thought I was going to die. Right now I am left in the situation where all the ‘safer’ drugs have failed and I am now facing a drug called Methotrexate. Methotreate or MTX for short is a cytotoxic drug, it is a chemotherapy used in higher doses to treat cancer. That is how serious it is, this I am told is my last resort because I am not sick enough to merit the Biologic drugs which have better sucess rates, yet are 100 times the price. Mr Cameron does not think I am worth ┬ú10,000 per year. I must wait until I am near crippled, even though medical research proves it is vital to stop the disease early before it gets to irreversible damage levels. Having said that MTX does have a 30% sucess rate, it is something of a wonder drug for those people allowing them to live an active life. For the other 70% the side effects are very scary, ‘minor’ side effects are nausea, dizziness, stomach pain and hair loss, ‘major’ includes liver damage, seizures, breathing difficulites, oh and death. I don’t have a particularily good track record with side-effects so I admit I am absolutely terrified to start this drug. I have two weeks before I start it so am planning days out and a party with my friends before hand, just in case I’m too sick to see them for a while.

My friend having blood taken for tests

I probably know a lot more about this drug than the NHS booklet would like, this is because I am an administrator in an Auto-immune support group. This is a private group where we can share stories and offer a shoulder to cry on. In our group one member had been on MTX for 15 years it is really helping her, others however I have seen suffer from it immensely. Constant nausea, stomach pains, mouth sores and hair loss. Because let’s face it, as much as I would shave my head right now if I thought I would be cured, the fact is it’s a prospect nobody wants to face. Whilst the dosage I will be on is not as high as that of a cancer sufferer, where the hair is pretty much guaranteed to fall out, it can still be effected. I have read stories from people just experiencing slight thinning to one woman loosing 70% of her hair a few weeks prior to her wedding. It really is stupid to be worrying about something so insignificant, but when you are used to having a disability you can hide, something so visual as your hair makes it very much public. Just like the bruised arms, suddenly you look sick.

Having the Methotrexate injection, my friend has them in hospital as she is very sick and needs to be closely monitored. Usually the injections are self administered.

These last two photo’s are of my very dear friend, I won’t use her name but she knows who she is. She set up our support group and is one of the bravest women I know, as well as one of the most generous and kind hearted. She is always trying to help raise awareness of our conditions and took these photo’s as a means of doing so. Her condition is far worse than mine, she has multiple strains of auto-immune diseases. She gave us all a bit of a worry the other day when she was rushed off to hospital and we hadn’t heard from her. Thank god she is ok but she is currently having to have a drip infusions to keep her alive.

So forgive me if I don’t want to have such medical procedures trivialised in a glossy magazine. Grazia I unsubscribe.

Talking Points: Why Charity Shops Aren’t Cheap

Oxfam also sell a range of fair-trade snacks

This must be one of the most interesting and also one of┬á the most difficult posts I have faced the challenge to write. In fact I have been sitting on it and tinkering with it for almost two months. Why? Because put simply, it is so important. I am sure you have all either heard, read or taken part in one of the many debates over charity shops and how they work, doing the rounds at the moment. The main argument seems to be that charity shops are too expensive. I hold my hands up and admit I too am guilty of saying this, at times I have been floundered by the price of something I have seen. I became somewhat jaded with charity shops, seeing things for sale more expensive than their original retail price or knowing I could get it cheaper on eBay. I had also heard stories of the fat wages the charity shop executives and managers were on, that our money wasn’t even going to the charities. I admit I didn’t really know what to think any more, the final straw was a sign in one local charity shops saying ‘No Primark’. I simply didn’t understand why they were being greedy wanting only things they could sell for a high profit. Why not have a 50p rail for the Primark then? Surely it would still raise money for the charity and people would appreciate the bargain price. With that I abandoned charity shops, I stopped shopping in them and stopped donating.

That was until I met Jacky from North West is Best. Jacky works as manager at the Oxfam on Oxford Road, Manchester and is passionate about what she does. We had exchanged a few conversations and she had started to show me the other side of the argument. One day Jacky invited me to go see how it all worked for myself. So off I went to volunteer at Oxfam for a day and truly find out what it was all about.

Books and gift packages

I wasn’t undercover as a reporter or anything, but I left the note pad at home and went into it like any other volunteer would. I was shown around the shop and taken to the back room to meet the other volunteers working that day. What first struck me was the wide variety of backgrounds everyone had, most students from overseas. Everyone was friendly and said they really enjoyed working there, it was a great way to meet new friends and get work experience for the CV too boot. I can see why it appealed and I guess it is something I had never considered before, having studied myself close to home.

The first thing which really surprised me was the donations pile, literally a small mountain of bags and boxes, all different sizes and shapes. For someone with a naturally nosy instinct I found this pretty exciting. Everyone eyed me with a knowing look. I soon came to see why they were all a bit more reserved, not all the bags contained treasure. In fact some of them were only fit for the bin. Before setting to work on the sorting, Jacky explained the Oxfam protocol. All donations brought to the store and sorted through, the good stuff such as clean, clothes in new or very good condition are priced up then put straight out onto the shop floor. Anything which isn’t in a sale-able┬á condition such as very worn clothes is sent off to be recycled. The charity gets money for the recycled material, not so much as profit from a sale but every little helps. Ok that sounded straight forward enough, but oh boy it really wasn’t. I know a lot about clothes, fact. I also know a lot about brands and designers, fact. I sell and trade clothes too, all round I would say I am a bit of an expert. But given a random bag of clothes, in varying conditions, from varying brands, some I had never even heard of and told to grade them into excellent, good and not good is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I stood staring at the clothes on the table before me, armed with the grading and pricing guide. The condition and the type of item determined the price, anything not in good condition was to be sent for recycling. It sounds so simple, even as I am writing this now it is difficult to explain. Quite frankly it is bewildering. Who am I to decide what is ‘good’. I take lead from the two other volunteers as we chatter away, they show me examples of how they have graded things. Basically you have to get out of the ‘charity’ mindset and into the ‘retail’ mindset. For most people when you clear out your wardrobe at home, anything you don’t wear any more gets thrown into a bag. Unless it is falling to pieces then it goes into the bin. You don’t consider it’s worth to someone else. You also have some sentimental attachment to it. I make the rookie mistake of holding up a dress and saying ‘But someone will like it’, everyone laughs. That is the sorters cardinal sin! Yes someone might like it, but you aren’t there to take pity on old, unloved clothes. You are there to make money for the charity, so you have to think, if this is for sale out there in the shop will many people want to buy it.

A huge variety of clothes and accessories

Jacky explained, shop space is scarce so only the very best items can go onto the shop floor. The aim is to sell things quickly and keep a fast turnaround, so there is always something new for the customers to buy. Every item is marked with the date it was put out and the sorter who priced it – take a look if you find any ‘Pearl’ items! The date is so that things which don’t sell aren’t left gathering dust. They are reassessed and either sent off to be tried for sale in an alternate Oxfam store – all the stores have different target markets; or for recycling. I didn’t know this before and it really makes you keen to revisit your local charity shops often to check out the new stuff!

I quizzed Jacky on the types of┬á ‘Oxfam customers’. Interestingly the location of the Oxfam stores really makes an impact on who shops there. For example this shop is in between The University of Manchester and Manchester Royal Infirmary hospital. The student attraction I already guessed, myself often visiting the shop as I studied and work at the Uni. It was common knowledge around the uni that this shop is especially good for books, it helped build up my swelling collection. One thing I would never have considered is that the shop was also a real asset to the hospital, be it relatives or patients wanting a quick change of fresh clothes or visitors looking for a book to keep them occupied or a ‘get well soon’ card. Having far too much personal experience with hospitals I think they should all have a nearby charity shop, there are many times I would have appreciated a new book or just a wonder around to keep my mind of the eternal waiting.

Knowing the types of customer the shop attracts also helps determine what will be ideal to sell there. Manchester is very lucky having a fair few branches of Oxfam, famously the two specialist shops Oxfam Originals for vintage and Oxfam Emporium for books in the city centre. The sorters can send things off to the specialist shops, but as a donator it is also good to know where best to take your items to donate.

Donations waiting to be sorted

Back to the sorting, I have to say I was ashamed for the people who had brought some of the things. Dirty, paint splashed, unwashed, ripped clothes. It seems that many people use charity shops as a dumping ground. Fair enough Oxfam can make money from recycling the clothes not fit for sale, but please send them in a clearly marked ‘recycle’ bag to save the sorters time and also their health!┬á Because volunteers are scarce, their time is even more precious. Half of our day was wasted having to separate unsaleable goods. Fortunately I was spared any really horrors, but the others told me sometimes bags they opened could contain, lets say ‘unhygienic things’. If you have something to donate to charity that is brilliant, but please either mark it in a bag for recycling or make sure it is clean and pressed and ready for sale. I know most people wash second hand clothes themselves prior to use but still it makes it a much pleasanter shopping experience knowing that you don’t actually have too.

Now for the prices, I was reassured that there were no wrong decisions, I just choose which price I felt appropriate, every item type was given a set price I simply had to decide on the condition and tag it up. Whilst Oxfam do not refuse any specific brands they do have a list of the very cheap retailers such as Primark or Grocery store labels so that the sorters will have an idea of quality. Again this is something I expect to find really easy, I pretty much thought I would know all the brands I should encounter. Turns out I was wrong again, there were some I had never heard of. Ok so you think you don’t need the brand name to be able to determine quality? Somethings yes it is obviously well made or not but for others, it is really, really hard to tell. It also showed me that we rely so much on brand dames to indicate quality, the brand names are so ingrained into our subconscious I am sure we don’t stop to consider it as much as we should. Having a pile of dresses from all over the High Street gave me an eye opener to the quality of some brands and just how similar they are. I am English and have grown up with theses brands but got flummoxed quite easily when met with one I had never heard of. One of the volunteers with me was from Kenya, I asked him how he found it. He said yes it was the same for him, some brands he had heard of back home, others he was getting used to living here in the UK. Interestingly he found learning about all the brands help him get an idea of the UK culture. Just think about when you go on holiday abroad, seeing all the brands you have no preconceived conceptions about them. It is fairly liberating in a way, but also a bit unnerving having to take the trouble to examine the quality rather than have the brand reputation dictate it for you.

This also answered on of my original questions, why had I seen Primark top’s on sale for more than their RRP? Well if all charity shops operate a similar system to Oxfam, which I am sure they do, it is easy to understand. Many of the volunteers many not know the difference between Primark and Monsoon. In the price guide a vest top in new condition goes for the same price no matter what the brand. Ok if it happens across an experience sorter a distinction may be made to downgrade the cheaper brand item, however if the sorter does not recognise the brand it would just be classes as a new top, simple as that. I asked Jacky about my theory of having lower quality brands on sale cheaper but she explained that due to the small size of the shop priority had to be given to items which would make the most money, also Oxfam do use all donations either to sell or recycle. So nothing is unappreciated or not used.

Listening and watching Jacky doing her job opened my eyes to another question I had, why are some people paid for their jobs in charity shops? Of course I still have no idea the exact wage the chief executives are on but the regular shop managers are certainly not bathing in champagne and eating caviar every night. Managing a charity shop is similar to managing another other retail outlet, however it comes with it’s own added problems. With the majority of the staff voluntary some do not take it with the same commitment and priority as a paid job. They turn up late or not at all without warning. Obviously most staff are hard working and committed, please do not misunderstand me, but here I wish to focus on the problems which can arise. All the volunteers are from different backgrounds and have different skills. There is no job application process to find the perfect candidate for each roll. Volunteers need training, all which takes time and experience. The shop itself still has overheads it must cover things such as rent and amenities, a pressure to simply keep the shop open let alone finding extra funds to refurbish the shop or extend it. It is a very rewarding job yes, but also a stressful one and I am sure it would be one hundred times harder to not only find someone with the time but also the dedication to do such a job full time solely as a volunteer. Managers need to be paid because they are vital to the shop working. For most people in order to be in the position to dedicate themselves full time, they need to be paid. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all millionaires with no need for wages!

The sorting table where items are examined and priced

So no charity shops are not there for you to pick up cheap clothes, they are their to raise money for the various charities they represent. You getting cheap clothes is simply a bonus of this. Yes I still feel there are many people out there who would really benefit from receiving clothing for free or very little money, but I sure don’t have the solution to this. If you do then how about you put it into action rather than sit and preach about it. I challenge anyone who want to criticise charity shops to go and volunteer yourself first before casting aspersions. It really opened my eyes and saw me donate to various places in the last few weeks. Charity shops do much more than raise money though they are a hub of the community, offering experience and friendship. I am proud to say I support that.

Tips on donatng to chairty shops:

1. Only donate something for sale that you yourself would be eger to buy. Make sure it is clean and pressed, ready to go right on sale.

2. If you have un-saleable clothes to donate bundlge them in a bag and mark it for recycling

3. Check with each individual shop what type of donations they need, some may not have the recycling facilities. Some may not be part of a chain like Oxfam, many are stand alone shops. Some don’t even have store rooms so do ask first rather than dumping bags on their door step. For example one of my local shops only had room for my books not clothes so I gave them what they needed and too the rest to another shop.

4. Just because it’s designer doesn’t make it valuable. A pair of designer jeans may have cost ┬ú200 originally but if they are covered in paint and ripped they are un-saleable and worth nothing, merely fit for recycling.

Life After Picnik? Trust Me There Are More Photo Editing Options

It is the 19th of April and to those of us who don’t use Photoshop, it can only mean one thing. The day photo editing site Picnik closes.

Ok so we are positively told that we won’t loose our precious Picnik all together, oh no much worse it will be merging with Google+. Oh yes another way to try and force us into using it. For us non-Blogger bloggers Google just took away our Google Friend Connect and moved the Blogger search feature to the main search option whilst hiding the ‘other’ blog operator search’s way in the back of beyond. Creating a bias and enlarging the divide between blog operators. Rather than just improve the Blogger service, you know so it actually rivals WordPress would have been too hard work, instead they are preferring bully-boy tactics.┬á Don’t get me wrong I used Blogger for two years and think it is a really easy system to use, however it doesn’t allow you the same customisation you can get with WordPress. I felt I had no choice but to switch. I use Google mail (no I don’t like all the new features they keep adding, like the pointless ‘important’ tags) and Google search engine, I don’t hate Google, but I do hate feeling like I am being held to ransom and having my choices taken away. Already having had the Google+ forced onto me, I have tried it out and well I can’t see anything there I really need, but I really LOVE Picnik so thought I would give it a try via Google+.

How to use Picnik in Google+

1. Log into / Create Google+ account

2. Once on your Profile, go to the Camera icon to open / upload photo’s

3. Hover the cursor over the photo you want to work on, a series of icons will appear, click ‘pencil’

4. This opens up the Picnik suite you will be familiar with

Now this is all pretty easy but you will be disappointed. It doesn’t have many of the features you will be used to, it is stripped back and basic. Perhaps more features will be made available in the future, who knows?

I do have a better solution for you, in fact it is about the closest thing to the original Picnik as you can get.

I thoroughly recommend, in fact I can’t really see all that many differences. For the time being they don’t have the college and store images features but it will be coming soon. Also all features are free with no need to sign up, yet there are indications this will be necessary to access premium features in the future. I have been bouncing all over the room having found this, it really does make up for Picnik going.

Give it a try, I’d love to know what you think!

Sponsored Video: Merino No Finer Feeling

I thought this video was rather interesting, the campaign is sexy, yes? Not usually something you would associate with, erm, wool! You, read that right it’s all about wool. The wool you envisage being knitted by old ladies into unattractive festive jumpers. Knitting itself has however become trendy over the last few years, it has literally appeared in Vogue. Hence the humble ball of wool is following suit. Another preconception with wool is that it is the stuff of which thick jumpers are made from, yet it can also be spun into thin, delicate fabrics which can be soft enough to wear against the skin, no itching honest. In fact Merino is the softest wool available, even better it is a natural, biodegradable and renewable fibre. The Australian farmers who produce the wool have demonstrated for generations how the rural landscape can be managed effectively whilst protecting the environment. They are highly skilled in breeding quality sheep and in shearing, all having high standards of animal welfare.

What does this mean for fashion? Well two things I mainly want to discuss, firstly note the image above. This dress is made from Merino wool. I think it is important to take away the stigma that wool is only used to make cardigans and jumpers. It means that designers can utilise Merino wool in striking creations. One designer to note is Alexander Wang, who is well known for his sport-luxe collections and lesser known for the fact he uses Merino wool to create them! From the delicate, ethereal blush pink capes from AW11 to the tougher, androgynous looks of AW12 shown this week in New York you can see just how versatile a fabric it is. Every piece is luxurious but also very wearable as is true to Wang’s philosophy.

Alexander Wang AW11, AW12

This brings us to my second point, quality. Of course if we are talking about high priced designer clothes we naturally expect high quality, but what about those of us on more of a High Street budget? Well here’s the thing, I know I bang on about this time and time again, but buying wool is an investment. You can still buy a Merino wool sweater on a High Street budget, fact. You might be looking at around ┬ú30-40. Yes, this is slightly more expensive than one for ┬ú10 at your lower end High Street shop but the fact is that I know which one will last you for years rather than months. I am saying this from experience, I have an absolutely ancient wool jumper it is probably almost as old as I am. It was a hand-me-down from my dad! But it still looks brand new, it hasn’t bobbled, lost shape nor has the colour faded. Unlike the cheap polyester and I-have-no-idea-what-else mix jumper I bought just a few months ago which after just the first wash was out of shape, bobbling around the sides and that’s not to mention how static it makes my hair every time I pull it on. We are throwing our money away buying these cheap things and there is nothing fashionable about that.

Post sponsored by Merino

Crying Dry Tears: Another Very Hard Post To Have To Write

This time last year I wrote a post about how I had been recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the time I was feeling lost as having to accept this strange life I had suddenly thrust upon me. I don’t think I was thinking about how I would be in one years time. But I am sure I though I would be on a treatment plan and in some form of remission. What I certainly wouldn’t have expected was to be now battling two primary auto-immune diseases and two secondary conditions. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

I still have a form of inflammatory arthritis, possibly Rheumatoid but now suspected Psoriatic Arthritis. The two conditions are similar enough not to go into explaining them, swollen joints and no end of pain. I was coping with this knowledge when I got slapped in the face with a second diagnosis of Fibromyalgia to explain the extreme fatigue side (many Auto Immune disease overlap with symptoms so diagnosis can be difficult, the fatigue could be part of the inflammatory arthritis but it may be a condition entirely on its own. Hell I could write an entire blog on that subject never mind one post). I describe it as a slap in the face because I was furious at the rheumatologist for giving it me. He didn’t give me the disease of course, so it was a case of shooting the messenger. I’m not so sure why I was so angry about it, mainly because I had enough problems but also because Fibro has so much stigma attached to it. It wasn’t until fairly recently that Fibro was medically proven, it is for the record a neuro-muscular condition. Put simply some chemicals in your brain don’t work quite right causing you to feel constant pain and extreme fatigue. The severity can alter day to day and from person to person. But the thing that is tricky about it is that it is hard to diagnose. Today a test is done which involves scoring pain when a set of points on the body are pressed. Brain scans can also show neurological problems but these tests aren’t done as standard. So you would think with all this medical evidence that would be that. Yet because Fibro was not proven for so long it developed a stigma that it was an ‘imaginary’ condition, that people claiming it were just lazy. Then you get idiot journalists writing this load of old tosh in the Sun:

ÔÇ£My New YearÔÇÖs resolution for 2012 was to become disabled.┬áNothing too serious, maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades ÔÇô fibromyalgia, or M.E.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£And being disabled is incredibly fashionable. The number of people who claim to be disabled has doubled in the past ten years.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£I think we should all pretend to be disabled for a month or so, claim benefits and hope this persuades the authorities to sort out the mess.ÔÇØ

Ron Liddle

If I was ‘a bit peaky’ it would be a relief. I would love to be a bit peaky. Instead I have days where I sleep right through them. I have days where I can only curl up in a ball because I feel like every single bone in my body is being crushed. Because of this illness I was pushed out of a career I had been to university for the last eight years, leaving me with an insane amount of debt that I was told I could easily pay off once I got this job I had worked so hard for. It isn’t fun having to stay at home all day. I actually do not claim benefits but if I did I would bloody well be entitled too, being a tax payer and all. I might like to be fashionable but this for sure is not one I would recommend following! It goes without saying that Liddle is ignorant and a lazy journalist who cannot be bothered to actually research the illnesses he mentions. He is like many other ‘journalists’ looking to stoke a fire and get┬á a bit of attention. Much easier than researching and writing a brilliant piece of journalism. But the point is he, as a journalist for The Sun, wields a lot of power. The power to reenforce stigma about a genuine illness. Many people will take what he says as the truth, they will not bother to go out and research what these diseases really are. It will stay in their minds, that these are ‘made up’ and people who claim to have them are not really ill at all and hey if they are also claiming benefits then they are spongers too. These diseases are not new, but the advances in medical research are, allowing them to be identified and further defined.

Things haven’t really changed all that much for me, I have extremely bad days, yes, but mostly I have OK days which is fine by me. I haven’t responded well to any of the treatments yet. There are more to try and it is a long process but I have no choice to stay hopeful for the next one. Taking so many medications have their own pros and cons. One weird one is that one of the meds I am on seems to be amplifying the condition Sjogrens. The first thing I noticed was how dry my skin was, then my nose and my eyes. All easily eased with lotions and drops. Then my mouth got really dry, it is too hard to explain how that feels. All your teeth hurt, so I have artificial saliva. This is totally gross, it feels like having someone else’s spit sprayed into your mouth, why on earth they didn’t think to make it mint flavour I don’t know! Then I was having a bad day and burst into tears, but no tears came out. Not one drop. I can’t cry any more. Which is strange and a bit funny, but also so very sad.

One good thing I can say has come out of all this is that is has given me more time to pursue working in fashion. It felt right in a way walking away from my old job, it was a weight lifted. I don’t know what the future will bring, we shall see. I’ve always been a big believer in fate.

As a result of the Liddle debacle, sports commentator Mark Robson spoke out, he give a very accurate description of what living with M.E is like (M.E and Fibro are very similar diseases).

Sports Commentator Mark Robson talks about living with ME (mp3)