The right kind of Arms trade

Nadine runs Rococo Couture, which specialises in rococo-style evening wear
Nadine runs Rococo Couture, which specialises in rococo-style evening wear

Mike Grimshaw meets the independent fashion traders who have found a new home for their businesses at Bakers Arms

The clothing industry used to refer to itself, self-deprecatingly, as ‘the rag trade’ – but it happens to be a pretty accurate description of what goes on at Arbeit Studios in Bakers Arms.

Arbeit provides small working spaces for start-ups including fashion designers, artists, musicians and therapists. It was established in 2010 and now has ten sites across London – including two others in Waltham Forest, Blackhorse Road and Lea Bridge Road. The new location at Bakers Arms is easy to ignore when walking past, so I decided to visit to find out more.

The focus is mostly on fashion and the studios here herald the beginning of a new ‘fashion district’ in partnership with London College of Fashion, landlords L&Q and leaseholders Waltham Forest Council. It ensures a previously empty premises is kept occupied and gives small businesses a space to get started. Plus, it gives shoppers greater variety and choice!

The first trader I meet is Humeera Dar, a young Pakistani-born woman. She specialises in denim and has one collection bearing the words ‘Free Kashmir’. After graduating from East London University, Humeera was headhunted by a top fashion company but instead decided to look after my elderly mum. She works sustainably, often using off-cuts – and has even been featured in Vogue. Humeera adds that she wants to “give something back to the community” and, to that end, is a trustee of charity Forgotten Women.

Nadine, of Rococo Couture, is a tailor who specialises in “rococo-style bespoke evening wear”. Each item is made individually to the customer’s requirements and usually takes three weeks to produce. Nadine has done three fashion shows since October – and even makes costumes for Notting Hill Carnival.

Next I visit a design team called JOA; named after Julie, Olivia and Anna. They take old materials and turn them into bomber jackets; they’re all incredibly inventive. On Wednesday evenings they also run workshops – despite having other jobs.

Another Arbeit Studios occupant is Zarha, who produces Asian ladies fashion, notably three-piece salwar kameez outfits. She has seen tragedy in her life, losing her husband and one of her children. Zarha’s young son stays with her at work during the day, which wouldn’t be possible with a regular job, but Zarha admits “life is hard” and although she sells her clothing through local mosques, she struggles to make a profit.

Finally I meet Ginette – one of two entrepreneurs not in the rag trade – who works as a reflexologist. She helps people suffering from emotional issues, especially stress, which she says is “very common nowadays”. Ginette had previously been a hotel inspector, but after her brother suffered an epileptic fit, she took up her present profession, opening here last August so she could support him. Ginette says her business, Waltham Forest Reflexology, is “going well”.

So if you think Bakers Arms isn’t a great place to buy clothes or visit in general, why not discover one of the twelve businesses based at Arbeit Studios? You’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!

For more information about Arbeit Studios, bases at 778 Leyton High Road:
Visit arbeit.org.uk