Shop - Bolshie
Kirstin Innes goes off the beaten track and discovers a neighbourhood café cum ethical fashion store
Ethical fashion may be being shouted about all over the internet, but Bolshie, Glasgow’s only clothes shop dedicated to ethical, Fairtrade, organic and recycled clothing, is tucked away on a leafy residential street near Glasgow University. It looks a little like a tenement living room at first glance – corniced ceilings, soft, fading mosaic tiles on the floor, an assortment of comfy cane sofas and tables in one corner. The products on sale range from Panama hats and No Sweat trainers to recycled fabric tote bags and a range of non-chemical cosmetics. The men’s and women’s fashion lines are expertly chosen samples from some of the hippest ethical designers in Europe. There are huge, bright graffiti murals on the walls and cardboard murals draped from the ceiling, and there’s owner Carolyn Manson, bright-eyed and hanging over the (Fairtrade) coffee and snack bar to chat with her customers.
This is Manson’s genius: she’s combined a very specialist line of clothing with a neighbourhood café. There’s an occasional open mic poetry night, Bolshie Banter, there have been acoustic nights and fashion shows. And it’s certainly not as secluded a spot as the tree-lined street outside would suggest – Bolshie benefits from the vintage-store bustle around Otago Street just down the hill, and the recent escalation of nearby Gibson Street from grubby riverside thoroughfare to sequestered, ambient village. While I’m there, a bearded 20-something ambles up to the counter to buy a cloth cap and asks if he can perform. He ends up in a conversation that takes in Sufjan Stevens, Manson’s choice of background music, and Glasgow’s performance poetry scene.
‘It was important to me to create somewhere that would appeal to as wide an age range as possible,’ Manson says. ‘We say from 18–80, and really we do manage to pull in that sort of clientele. People assume that because I’m right up by the university that I must be overrun by students, and while you do get a few of them in here, they’re not the only demographic by any stretch.’
Bolshie stays open later than other shops, which means it can be all things to all people: both post-lecture, pre-pub hangout and morning coffee spot for local mothers and toddlers. A large notice board up by the café area offers information about all of the shop’s suppliers for those in want of reading material. ‘Well, there’s no point in making a big deal out of ethical clothing and then not sharing that knowledge with your customers,’ is Manson’s reasoning.
‘I think it must be awfully hard, being a member of the public these days,’ she says, thoughtfully. ‘You can get clothes for almost nothing. It’s having to make that decision that you don’t want to buy anything that’s been made in a sweat shop, you don’t want to buy something that’s been made with pesticides – because, of course it’s going to be more expensive.’
That said, a quick browse around the store reveals that most of the items are priced between £10 and £50. Many of the big name ethical brands, like Edun, run by Bono’s wife Ali Hewson, or high street stores like Urban Outfitters with recycled fashion concerns, retail items at at least twice that. Manson hops out of her seat to show me printed T-shirts, mini skirts and formal frocks made from vintage fabrics, and a line of customised jumpers by young design company Snood.
‘I’ve tried, deliberately, not to get too much of the hippy stuff,’ she says. ‘That’s not what we’re about. Did you see the range of bikinis over there? I had to have them for the store. I mean, where else in Glasgow are you going to find a Fair Trade bikini?’
Bolshie, 57 Bank Street, Glasgow, 0141 357 1777, www.bolshieclothing.com