Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Whose guna be an electric gypsy?

Sitting in the hairdresser's seat with my hair wrapped up in a towel like a 1950's housewife, my hairdresser asks the usual how have you been type questions and above the drone of the hairdryer we get to moaning about the lack of independent clothes shops in Taunton (in a town where wellies and flat caps are the code of fashion this isn't a shocking revelation). To cut a long gossip short, the result of the conversation was that she recommended this boutique in Exeter called 'The Electric Gypsy'. As curious as a cat with a mighty fine new hairdo I decided to visit this retro vintage shop and give it a good raiding and report back.

Trotting down Exeter's fore street in the rain with mother in tow, I spot the shop and we both bundle in, blinking like new born lambs in the warmth and light. As we shake off our wet clothes, the bloke behind the till gives us a smile and to the sound of the new Goldfrapp album being played, we furtively begin to look at the racks of clothes.

I quickly become engrossed, elbow deep in one of their many baskets of sale items when mum calls me from the back of the shop. She is wearing a floor length coat with a fake fur collar and cuffs and begins expertly stuffing me into a 70's beige mac whilst telling me she had the exact same style herself in her wild child hippy days when your dad wore flares and a leather jacket.

While coughing up the mere thirty pounds for my new-but-not-new mac, I get chatting to Nick, one of the guys who runs the shop. In a matter of ten minutes we discuss second hand clothes, sustainable fashion, independent shops and doing it all like they did when the hairstyles were longer and the skirts were shorter. After promising to call up for a proper chat, mum and I leave with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, a bit like after having a few glasses of vino, which you just don't seem to get when leaving a chain store where the checkout girl tells you in a monotone voice to have a nice day.

A week later, I'm sat down calling The Electric Gypsy, eating my third chocolate digestive and slurping my tea when Nick picks up the phone. Being the professional that I am I call him Duncan, then when hearing his confusion remember he's called Nick and quickly jolt his memory of our chat the previous week. Sounding genuinely pleased to hear from me we get talking about how the founders of The Electric Gypsy all met...

Nick: Well, Mike and I were doing film studies at art college (what used to be Farnham and is now Surrey Institute of Art and Design) and she (Emma, the driving force as Nick refers to her as) was doing fine art. That would have been...gosh...working back at least twelve years ago, so 93 or 94. So anyway, Mike was doing this zombie film (there's a pause while we both laugh over this film genre) and was involved in art direction, special effects, costume and set building and we just stayed friends. After college they (Emma and Mike) were down in Dorset and it was around April 2004 that we started the shop but it was the autumn before that, that Emma had been chatting about it and asked me to join in so I moved from London to be part of it.

Me: Last time we met, you said Emma designs and sews a lot of her own clothes for the shop, how did she get into that?
Nick: She had kind of always made and customised her own clothes at college, but it wasn't until after college when she was working for a water company that it drove her to think about it as a business. So she made her first clothes the year before and sold them at Glastonbury in our own tipi-
Me: Do you guys make everything yourselves?!
Nick: haha! Yeah well the guy behind the tipi now travels festivals and it's called the Bimble Inn. But anyway we all came together down here and me and Em spent two weeks running the shop.

Me: Who came up with the concept/idea of the shop?
Nick: Em and Mike came up with the name, it's from a 1976 Steve Hillage song called electric gypsies. I suspect Emma had been dreaming about the idea of having a clothes boutique for ages (how long you'd have to ask her!), and when she and Mike first moved to Exeter, the time she spent temping was time she spent imagining turning that dream into reality. So she isn't just the driving force, It's actually her vision that made it happen, and her designs and sewing which are behind all of our "own label" and customised clothes. We all pitch in bits here and there, but it's Emma we always defer to!!

Me: I really like your website (
http://www.theelectricgypsy.com/) it's all psychedelic!
Nick: Yeah it's cool! Em was adamant; it had to be pink purple and orange! It has been her baby from the start. When I first got down here she had the whole design laid out and in the end we changed one wall, it was pink and looked bad in the morning! But when I'm not in the shop, I'm doing Boothill Records (Nick runs a music label and has a radio show on Phonic Fm with Mike on a Monday night) and Mike is now really doing his graphic design (the Electric Gypsy E-shop is designed by Mike and his design company is called Reactor) and Em has her own workshop, sewing and designing, oh and she sorts out the website.

Me: So is sustainable fashion something that you aim to promote or is it just part and parcel of your shop?
Nick: No definitely it is something we are all keen about. our first philosophy is the idea, the old art school idea of charity shopping and reclaiming old fashion to make something new. Sustainable fashion is really what we encourage, though no vintage fur. Em's against fur, there is still a stigma and she hates it-
Me: My Oma (the Dutch word for gran, she was Dutch Indonesian) had some original mink coats she used to wear and when they got wet they would smell of old dog! Other than obviously being cruel, it's just a bit creepy!
Nick: Ha-ha! Referring back to your question on sustainable fashion I think our ethics are quite multi-layered and we just wanted to harp back to a period of time that was freer creatively. The 60's/70's was a wonderful time when anything went and we want to encourage people to be like that more. I mean independent shops are important for the community, whereas clone shops make it impossible to see the impact they have on the local and further reaching than that. The people that run them do not care about the area as they don't live there, it has weird knock on effects.

Me: With The Electric Gypsy are you trying to give a different shopping experience?
Nick: Absolutely. Come in and chat if that is what you want to do, come and be comfortable in here. I truly hate anything that sells itself too hard, it just doesn't appreciate how we operate as human beings. It is just psychological bullying, forcing your thoughts a certain way, which is the opposite of what we (The Electric Gypsy) want people to do. If this place could be inspirational, firstly get people to think-though not too many people in Fore street!- I could do that then secondly to change their views on fashion shopping, that would be amazing.

In the true spirit of the hippy 60's electric guitar rocker Steve Hillage, this little shop is actively 'looking for adventurers to come and share the vision' of handmade clothes, vintage items, arty communities and comfy seats. Though no fur coats, especially if wet and smelling of old dog, allowed.


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