Joh Rindom is the one-man-band behind Stokes Croft’s intrepid fashion hub, That Thing. From a stall in St Nicolas market, to today’s bright and airy premises in Bristol’s cultural hub, the journey hasn’t always been easy. We caught up with Joh to find out how she’s built the brand we see today, overcoming a testing law suit to develop a retail space for her own line of That Thing luxury streetwear, while also providing a platform for up to 65 designers.
So how did it all begin?
I came from Denmark to study fine arts at UWE in 1999, but I always had a vague idea of wanting to move into fashion. I went to a school where we didn’t have to wear uniform, so it was a great opportunity to make my own clothes. I started doing commissions for friends when I was about 14 and continued to do so throughout university, all just through word of mouth. I formed my original brand name after my two family cats Butchi and Gosmos and met my co-founder Louisa Jones through mutual friends. She had a small stall at St Nick’s market and I started selling my wares in there and gradually jumped on board. We put our heads together and realised we could do something much bigger and better together. That became Shop Dutty, our first store in Stokes Croft which opened in 2008.
How did it work in the early days?
We initially started out selling our own brands and a handful of others, as well as selected pieces of vintage clothing and jewellery. That eventually grew into what we wanted it to be, a platform for up and coming designers.
Have you seen a lot of coming and going around you?
Some things have come and gone, some are staying, but in any economic climate it’s a challenge; you have to lay your foundations really tight, have a watertight business plan, be prepared for changes like increases in rent. We’ve grown with Stokes Croft, everything we do in-store, but also the fact that we’ve been able to move to bigger brighter premises. We’ve only moved down the road, we used to be where Emmeline’s is now – they have the best grilled cheese sandwiches, proper doorstop sourdough bread.
Was it a tricky move?
It was, but it was a lifestyle choice. If you thrive and are looking after your own happiness you have more to give, it was important for us to have that. Before, we had an office in the basement, and now we have a bright upstairs office space. I basically run every aspect of the shop from here: design, PR, social media, HR, accounting. A few things I’ve learnt on the job, like accounting, but I’ve learnt that the skills I had at the start were enough and I’ve just built on those.
So what about the name change from Shop Dutty to That Thing?
During the shop move we were in the midst of a two-year law case, with claims to do with copyright and use of name. We had no choice but to take the case, otherwise we would have lost immediate use of name and we may as well have declared ourselves bankrupt. It was like living in a limbo land. Two months after moving into the new shop we lost the case and were given three months to change name. Yes, we could have thought up a new name during those two years, but we didn’t for one second think we were going to lose it, and we didn’t want to think about admitting defeat. It was tough, three months to change everything, branding, bank account name, insurance documents, on top of paying all our own legal fees. That Thing was a lightbulb moment. It felt like it was staring us in the face, fresh, upbeat, doesn’t take itself too seriously, a bit cheeky, has longevity and not ‘genderfied’. Louisa left the company shortly after the rebranding, that’s when ‘one-man-band’ sprung into action, and I’ve managed the business since.
How do you go about creating a collection?
To start with I get my brushes out and start drawing, I think about logos, what I want to reuse, if I need to pull anything new out. It’s not all about splashing logos, it’s about creating a solid collection. I want people to be able to dress top to toe without looking silly, without every piece looking like a statement piece. I’d say they’re luxury streetwear, wardrobe staples.
Who makes the clothes?
Sometimes I use a seamstress, a lot of the prototypes I make myself. Some things like t-shirts and hoodies are blanks, I find high quality ones that I like and want them to be part of the collection. I’m very lucky to have a brother who has a screen-printing company. He helps me no end to create a bespoke collection and have a bit of fun with logo placements and stuff like that.
How do you choose designers?
Since opening the shop back in 2008 we’ve always had an influx of people coming to us, in-store, out and about, even on a night out. We always get people who literally barge into the shop with a bag of stuff to show us. I do have certain things that I like to see from a person before taking their brand, the aesthetic for example. How well it’s made is the other top priority. You can have brilliant ideas, great textures and colours, but if it’s not high quality I can’t take it. What I can do is have a conversation with that person, look at how I can help them with ways to improve, and then they can come back and see me in six months. I’ll also ask them about the realities of being a designer, we are looking to nurture talent, I don’t mind being that link. I’m quite happy to tell people how they can improve, then they often come back. I often advise people to try and make it on an online selling platform first, to test the market.
You talk about being fashion conscious, something many businesses struggle with even when equipped with significant funds. How do you manage it? And what does it mean to you?
It’s open to interpretation to a certain extent, it’s thinking about where your clothes come from, and who you support. The business is very much curated by myself, and I am very conscious of who I pick as designers. I’m not for fast fashion. I want to nurture the creativity in Bristol and give back opportunities within the business to the community, offering work experience to local school kids and teaching what I know. We support up to 65 independent designers in Bristol, and we don’t sell fur, but we are not perfect. I am very open to conversations with people in the shop about aspects we still do want to improve on when we are more financially stable and can make more choices. Plastic carrier bags are next!
Stokes croft now has a hub of independent retailers, who supports this? Is being here a good place for an independent retailer because of the community around you, or is it thanks to action from the council?
In very few other big cities across the UK do you have such a vibrant but also struggling community right on the doorstep of the city centre. There is big scope for creativity here, but more could be done by the council and politicians to help what’s going on here. Sometimes I feel like Stokes Croft is a little fort. We protect ourselves, but it’s the vulnerable people here that the government need to help. We have organisations like the PRSC (Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft) and Chris Chalkley there does so much to clean up the area and revamp the artwork; keeping things fresh and keeping people thinking about politics and the social layers we’re surrounded by every day. I think there should be more funding and support for people who want to make Stokes Croft better. I’m not for gentrification, I don’t think the people who’ve built Stokes Croft up to what it is now should be pushed out by rent, but at the same time I am 100% for change. I think as a society we move quite slowly because it takes people a long time to adapt. Change is good if it’s positive and supportive.
So what’s next?
ASOS, we’re set to have our vintage section on their marketplace within the next six months.
45-47 Stokes Croft
0177 924 9990
Photos by Pippa Cole