Arts contributor and sewing lover Abigail Wilkinson discovers more about a Brixton insitution.
Sewing may be experiencing a recent boost in popularity, but Brixton landmark Simply Fabrics is no newcomer. Owner Robert Chinman started selling fabric on Brixton Market 25 years ago and has been building a reputation for quality ever since.
“My brother-in-law at the time was a fabric wholesaler,” says Mr Chinman. “I had no connection to sewing, textiles, fashion – he just gave me a load of fabric and said ‘Go and sell it in the markets’, and I started like that.”
Over the years, Mr Chinman has developed an eye for quality that has earned him loyal customers all over Britain. “I’ve learnt through selling – I don’t sew, but I like quality fabric, I like the business and I like the customers.” He doesn’t hesitate when asked about the cause of the shop’s success: “I’ve got an amazing selection of fabrics at reasonable prices.”
Simply Fabrics expanded three years ago, with the original 48 Atlantic Road location now selling haberdashery while the new shop at 57 Atlantic Road houses the fabric. Rolls of brightly coloured fabric are piled against the windows, but a closer look at the jumble reveal gorgeous silks, pure wool suiting and end-of-line Liberty prints. Mr Chinman now travels as far as China to stock up on a range of luxury fabrics that will have any fabric fanatic in raptures.
“My business has improved over the past few years – I put it down to a combination of things: the business getting more established and the fact that sewing is now quite trendy.” In fact, sewing blogger and former Great British Sewing Bee contestant Tilly Walnes is a valued customer and recommends the shop on her blog.
Simply Fabrics’ customers are not all part of the new wave of crafters, however – Brixton’s African community brings Mr Chinman some of his best customers, he says, buying fabric to have clothes custom made by tailors. The shop also caters to designers, events companies and costume makers: “Photographers buy fabric for backdrops, some customers buy for stages, for displays, church halls, weddings – I don’t really advertise, I’ve built up a good name over the years.”
So what does he think of the way Brixton’s changed since he began trading? “When I first came it was still connected to the riots and trouble. Now it’s a lot more gentrified. It’s still a bit edgy, which is nice – it hasn’t lost its originality, but it’s definitely changed.”
Mr Chinman is pragmatic when asked about his plans for the future. “These two shops keep me very busy,” he explains. “Once I opened the second shop I could bring in new lines – haberdashery, trimmings and accessories – which has helped. People now know they can come here to the two shops and get everything that they need.”
Simply Fabrics is open at its two locations Monday–Saturday 10:00–18:00.