Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Voice of a Black Lolita

Lockdown has been an experience. The world around me has been scary and chaotic, and my habits have changed to cope. I started off with the best intentions, with dedicated walks and bike rides for exercise and a change of scenery. But this past month especially, it has been difficult to find the energy to go out for more than the most essential errands. 

It's been difficult to hear yet more news of police brutality killing yet more innocent black people in a system designed to eradicate us. It's been difficult to hear the statistics, of how black people are several times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people, and yet the government seem largely unbothered because to class my people as high risk would be to lose our labour that this country relies on to exist, as we are more likely to be key workers. What can I say? Life is pretty un-kawaii and I feel I would be doing not only a disservice to my community but also to myself by not even acknowledging this pain and trauma for the sake of maintaining a breezy, easily readable format on this blog. I would never have started a blog post like this in the past. But I'm a bit too long in the tooth to worry any more about making white people uncomfortable by talking about reality, and while I'm not expecting everyone around me to become a social justice activist, I do expect more than the deafening silence I've experienced from people who should absolutely know better. If you do not care about racial injustice then you do not care about me. End of. 

Sometimes I feel like giving up on having an online presence entirely. I don't get off on photo likes, follower numbers, and looking for some level of fame or notoriety. But equally, I cannot underestimate the importance of representation. I may be at a point in my life where I don't need anyone to tell me that I can be whoever I want to be, but I wasn't always like that, and there are still countless black people out there who aren't there yet.

When I started off in this fashion, I was one of maybe a handful of black people in the lolita community. My low quality YouTube videos from the channel I had circa 2011 caused me to receive a message I will never forget, from a black girl who genuinely didn't know that black people could wear this fashion, too. It was so unexpected for me; I didn't realise my channel with barely 100 subscribers could reach someone in this way and do something important. Years later, I was hanging out with some "friends" (all white) who began making fun of a black lolita YouTuber for saying that she wanted to be an inspiration to other black girls out there. They found it hilarious; how could this upstart believe that her YouTube videos be inspiring anybody when we all know that race doesn't matter, right?

Another incident found my white, lolita ex best friend complaining about the fact that it wasn't fair that a black girl had been chosen to model for Metamorphose at a London lolita event. She didn't see anything wrong with saying that "they only picked her to seem PC" in my presence. I would read her blog where she'd try to portray an image of being a kind person who was a great friend and socially aware when she was anything but, until I couldn't keep up the facade anymore. I deserved so much more than walking on eggshells while hurt ravaged my insides for the sake of sparing white people the truth that if they are not actively anti-racist, then they are perpetuating racism and benefiting from it by default.

I considered not posting pictures of myself to end this stream of consciousness, but I do still want to share the happy moments, because black shouldn't have to be synonymous with pain and suffering. I desperately want everyone to step up for black people so that we get to tell more happy stories, get the opportunities we deserve, hear about wonderful black achievements, and see more photos of black people beaming with pride because they are thriving at whatever it is they do. My voice is important. We've read those quotes about how existing as a member of a marginalised group can feel like this radical, political statement, because society doesn't want us to survive, and it most certainly doesn't want us to thrive. So here I am. Surviving this pandemic. Dressing in my favourite clothes to work at home in a job I love (and doing really well at if I do say so myself, even in spite of everything I'm up against in this world).

Outfit RundownHeaddress: Bodyline
Blouse: Vintage Primark I think
Jumperskirt: Pup in a Cup- Btssb
Socks: Bodyline
Cloud Telephone: Vintage Emerson. Gives me Prince "Raspberry Beret" vibes.

I need to take some time for rest and self care. That much is obvious; I am tired and I cannot be in battle mode all the time. But I am not going to let this society destroy me, silence me, and benefit from my efforts while chewing me up and spitting me back out. Not without a fight.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe out there, and please consider the black community at this time if you are not part of it yourself. Black lives matter, and I will say it until the world finally believes it. Will you?

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Lolita Fashion Online Shops in the Early 2000s: Metamorphose

I love e-commerce. The novelty of being able to browse the wares of clothing brands in far flung places never really wore off for me. Many times in my life when dealing with stressful things, I've found great comfort in doing the online equivalent of window shopping, viewing e-commerce sites as museums to explore. I've never been much of a spender or impulse buyer, so this has always been a safe hobby for me! This was a particularly fun pursuit for me late in secondary school, when I used to dream of wearing these whimsical, frilly pieces one day, and I would feverishly scour every inch of the websites of Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, to Angelic Pretty, to Moi-même-Moitié and beyond to western brands like Candy Violet and Hong Kong's Anna House. Bonus points if the sites had fun or quirky web design elements.

The internet is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the lolita community. The vast majority of us would never have discovered the fashion, or been able to acquire it were it not for the internet. From as far back as the 1990s, lolita fashion has had an online presence.

I've been going through Wayback Machine archives in an attempt to see what online shopping would have looked like for those early lolitas, but much of what's available consists of dead links and broken images. Despite this, I did manage to find some gems, namely from Metamorphose temps de fille!

Metamorphose temps de fille
Meta were the first of the main sweet Japanese lolita fashion brands to ship overseas, starting in August 2002*, and I appreciate them for that. I've always considered them to be ahead of the curve, and never afraid to do something wild or different, with little regard as to whether or not it's "trendy." I don't think the brand gets the credit it deserves for its role in forging the idea of self expression in what is otherwise a rather regimented fashion style, and its openness to creating pieces in a range of sizes, lengths, and comprising of many adjustable elements to suit any figure. Get it, Meta.

With this as my starting point, the earliest pages of their site I could find with working images date back to 2001, nearly a full two decades ago!

Welcome to the Metamorphose landing page in spring 2001!
I find the main photo unsettlingly voyeuristic and hilarious in equal measure! No polished photoshoots to be found back in those days. What we have here is a brand that was a lot more raw, straight to the point, and just getting started. Metamorphose was only founded in 1997, so it makes sense for it to still be finding its feet in terms of online marketing material in 2001. Plus, the internet itself was relatively new then. Everyone had dial-up connections, and web design was in its infancy. With all these factors taken into consideration, it doesn't look too bad!

Note the beginning date of the website: 7th July 1999! 

Some of the dress photos wouldn't load, so presumably were not archived, but we can still get a strong idea of the navigation of the site. The catalog was not as vast as we've come to expect from the main Japanese brands now, but there was still some good variety, and likely there were more pieces available in the physical store.

One of the recent releases for that year. It's quaint, covered in the raschel lace we went on to deride later on, and has a full back button detail that I'm surprised hasn't been done more often. It stirs so much nostalgia for me, as so much of the lolita (and attempts at lolita) I was exposed to in the late 2000s when I was first getting into the fashion was very much in this vein. You occasionally still see dedicated old-school lolitas wearing this now sought after gobelin piece.

Over the next few months the website background colour was changed to pink. The background colours of photos and product page layout were not particularly cohesive, and the product descriptions minimal, but clearly they got the job done, and I can only imagine how excited budding lolita enthusiasts at the time would have been to sit and sift through the store's catalog, which included the accessories we've come to know and love.

 The typical layout of the product pages. We have an image or two of the product up top, then a very basic product description below. The knee high, lace topped sock will always be an iconic look. 
It's hard to see much in the way of detail in these images! A lot of trust would be necessary to order these products without seeing them in person first. 
I remember when chunky, calf height boots were commonplace. It's funny when looking back at what was considered lolita footwear, and seeing such a huge absence of bows, and strappy flat shoes.
More chonky shoes, this time with wooden style soles and a scalloped lace design. This huge contrast of black and white wasn't viewed with the "ita" judgement we'd perhaps give it today!

Speaking of ita...
Not even my most rose-tinted glassed will have me singing the praises of this headdress. While some of the current old school lolita devotees have come to appreciate this style of lace, I simply cannot. The association I have between this and the net curtains everyone seemed to have in their house when I was a child is too much for me (no shade if you love the appearance of headdresses like this, though!)

If we skip forward just a few years to 2004 (which, incidentally, was the same year that the film adaptation of Kamikaze Girls was released!), things look much more how we've come to expect from a sweet lolita brand.

Pastel pink backgrounds, and a professional model photo. The web design is more complex, and the navigation comprehensive. One of the cool things about this landing page is that a different photo would appear each time you refreshed!

When I look at these pictures, I notice there must have been a much bigger emphasis on creating a doll-like look when posing, which you can see in the stiffness of the final two poses. While I've always shied away from any kind of link between wearers of this fashion and being a "doll", I can't help enjoying the attitude in these photos that seems to say "I may be cute, but come any closer and you will regret it!"

Let's take a look at more dresses...

Very much in the throes of old school lolita, but the pieces look more polished and cohesive. I love the simplicity of lolita pieces during this time. It's refreshing to see 100% cotton fabrics and straightforward designs that one could wear casually on a day to day basis. That's my favourite kind of lolita and Meta has done it so well over the years!

I couldn't very well include screenshots of every single page, but you get the idea! It was a simpler, more raschel-filled time that I can't help but look at in wonder. I've enjoyed having a look through the different older pages I could find from the brand, and implore you to do the same for your favourite sites. It is so interesting to see the gradual change and development of different brands over the years, from the pieces that were considered contemporary, to the very vision and how it can shift in reaction to the time period.

It may be too soon to tell, but I can only imagine that this very chaotic moment in history will inspire so many changes in fashion as we know it!

Do you enjoy looking at e-commerce archives? I'd love to hear about your own web archive adventures. Thanks for reading, and see you next time 

* 'Leading the Way West: An Interview with Metamorphose's Own Kuniko Kato'. Gothic & Lolita Bible in English, Summer 2008, p. 108

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Dressing to Cope, and Feelings of Hope

It's been a while.

Let's just say that 2019 was so hectic that the thought of sitting down to write a thought out blog post was far too overwhelming. I kicked off the year having a go at working a fashion industry job... and I hated it! It made me realise that this love of fashion would only remain if it was on my terms; the fashion retail head office world was incredibly unpleasant, unethical, and everything I did felt largely pointless. I left that nonsense, re-evaluated my life, had a positive coming out experience with my family (honestly if I can get through that, I can get through anything!) sewed up a storm, got into resin crafts, and with conventions booked in from London to Glasgow, it made for what ended up being a really exciting time. There is no feeling like seeing people light up over work that you lovingly produced, and I think that's as far as my connection with "the industry" will ever go!
MCM London Comic Con October 2019!
Still...the year ended with me feeling inexplicably anxious. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I had this strange feeling that something big was going to happen, and I needed to be financially prepared for it. My shop is my baby, but far from anything resembling a full time wage. Time for to sort a career path out once and for all.

2020 started off a little shaky, but by March I was back in a regular 9-5 situated really close to my house, and with bosses completely supportive of me running my small business in my free time (in fact, my website was a huge part of me landing the role!). I do e-commerce merchandising-- that is, improving the functionality of the online shop of a huge company, and I absolutely love it. I don't suppose my 21-year-old self fresh out of uni 5 years ago would have thought this is where I'd end up, but all the bad roles, weird roles, and skills I've picked up along the way have found me doing something that finally feels right. Getting to be creative every single day is the most wonderful thing, and for the first time in my working life I don't dread Mondays.

Of course, March time coincided with the COVID-19 situation beginning to get out of control in the UK. After being in my new workplace for a couple weeks, we were sent to work from home. It took some getting used to, and I still find the huge Microsoft Teams meetings painfully awkward... but I've settled into a new routine, and give thanks every day that this is currently an option even available to me, and that both I and my loved ones are safe. There's likely to be more furloughing on the horizon. All I can do is continue to put my all into what I do, and hope things will work out in the end.

Super simple summer look to video chat with a dear friend for 5 hours!
I've found it really helpful during this time to act as though I'm physically heading out of the house to work. I do my makeup and hair like I normally would, and try to wear fun, yet comfortable outfits to keep my spirits up. I feel so much more like myself than if I wore PJs all the time, and I like the direction my style has been moving into as of late.
A typical work from home look~
I did the unthinkable and got a few pairs of trousers and I'm loving the ease of coordinating that comes with that! My favoured trouser cut has always been flares, but it's been several years since they've been so readily available. My teenage wannabe 70s glam rock self would be so happy for me, honestly, because I've been waiting since then for it to happen!
Loving 70s flares/bell bottoms, and vintage fashions in general! They feel so cosy.
Gosh, fashion makes me so happy. It can tell so many stories. It comes in endless styles and cuts and colours and vibes. I love that.

It's hard not to feel worried and distressed during a time like this. I'm constantly scared for family and friends, and it's incredibly hard not being able to see my girlfriend (though our constant video calls give me life). I often feel disconnected from people's lives and yet unsure how to check up on them, or if we're even "still friends". That's what this sort of isolation does to people, and I constantly have to give myself a stern talking to, lest the negative thoughts and insecurities begin to take control. We're all struggling, and withdrawing is absolutely a coping mechanism for a lot of people.

All I can do is focus on the good, take joy from the little things, and not be too hard on myself about "wasting" the additional free time I now have from no work commute, conventions being cancelled, and shop orders dwindled. To still be here and still be smiling and still be so happy to put on a fun new outfit is a huge achievement! I love to think of the things I'll do and the adventures I'll go on once all this is over. I want to take trains to beautiful locations, walk along the beach, and trek across lush terrain. I want to go on road trips and sit in my favourite local café once more for a huge slice of carrot cake. These simple things give me so much hope.

New wall art for my bedroom, to keep the space cheerful and fluffy! Stopping to look at it calms me down.
How are you all doing? I know it's not easy. Do share the happy things that are helping you to get by right now. I'd love to hear about it, particularly how to stay connected with people!

Thank you so much for reading, especially if you are still here after my long absence! I binned the old blog layout as I couldn't navigate it to save my life so things are back to basics, and I think it's actually much better! What do you think? See you next time 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

My First Time Vending at MCM London Comic Con!

A month after the fact seems like the perfect time for me to tell you all about my experience of having a stall at MCM London Comic Con! This is going to be a long post so make yourself comfortable!

Being the largest pop culture convention in the UK, I knew this was an event I needed to try my hand at eventually, but over the years I kept putting off fully immersing myself into becoming a convention trader. There was always some excuse: too much studying to do, not enough capital to invest in my business properly, working full time at other things and thus having no time or energy to devote to improving my brand... but this was the year I had a lot less obstacles standing in my way. It was time to make the most of it and in July, I secured my table.

I spent countless hours researching, sewing, crafting, sourcing materials, developing new products and gathering together everything I might need for a convention of this size. I got myself sorted out with a business bank account and new SumUp card reader; it was time to take things seriously, and stop writing off my brand as a mere casual hobby. 

Before I knew it, October had rolled around and the final days leading up to the event were going by so quickly. The day before I was due to head off to the Excel Centre to set up my stall, I was still frantically making products!

Day 0

On Thursday 25th October, with the beginnings of a cold coming on, I set off with a suitcase, large tote, and weekend bag in tow, and somehow made my way across London to the Custom House stop on the DLR with the help of my partner who met me on the way at Waterloo. I hadn't been to MCM since 2011 and I couldn't help feeling a little nostalgic as I stood under the canopy outside the venue once more.

Sign up was straightforward, and then it was straight to my designated table to get things ready in the very chilly North Hall. My table neighbour was there already, an artist named Abdul. He was from Australia and was amazing company and good fun for us over the weekend!

Set up, complete with regulation hi-vis jackets, took a couple of hours in the end; I had never had a 6ft by 4ft space before, nor had I ever had so much stock so it was mainly trial and error.

We decided to finish putting the clothing up in the morning, and headed off to our airbnb for what was an absolutely diabolical night's sleep in a dusty basement room on a mattress that felt like a brick. Our previous Airbnb host cancelled on us mere days before the event, so this was the next best thing. It sucked. We ordered a pizza and tried not to sulk too much.

Day 1

Despite being drained and sleepy, we were very excited for day one. Friday 26th October was a very chilly day, and after arming ourselves with a McDonald's breakfast, we set off via bus to the Excel Centre to finish set up and take a moment to admire the finished stall.

I couldn't help feeling so proud! This was the first time my stall has ever really looked the way I wanted it to, and had a stock level that felt "enough", unlike at previous events where my table looked quite bare. Yes!

I went for a simple outfit with my Btssb tartan jumperskirt, plus a beret and choker from my brand. 
My partner has a shiny new phone that likes to make gifs. I'm ok with it.

That first day, sales were regular though it wasn't super busy as it was only the Friday. Still, I had quite a few customers and a lot of enthusiasm towards my products, which was lovely to see. I even sold a black Cherry Print skirt which left me shaking with happiness afterwards. There really is nothing like having your work appreciated in person. 

The vibe of the event was very lively, though very different to my last experience as an attendee in 2011. The direction seems to be a lot more corporate and the layout is very different to how it used to be. I hope there will always be a strong indie trader presence, though, as I think we add a lot of value, heart, and quirkiness to the event that big corporate booths could never replicate!

With Day 1 over, I was in good spirits, having absolutely smashed my abysmal sales at Hyper Japan Festival 2016! Clearly, MCM was the right place for me.

After we packed up the clothing and covered over the stall for the night, my partner and I headed to the nearest Tesco to pick up something for dinner and some fixings for packed lunches for the following day as we'd been forced to buy  overpriced convention food this time round (the two hotdogs we had were pretty nice but not £13 nice, haha). The shop was crammed with convention goers, many still in their cosplays! After this, we caught a bus back to our Airbnb for another uncomfortable night's sleep where I was dosed up with Lemsip to control my cold symptoms.

Day 2

Saturday 27th October was absolutely insane. Oh my goodness. I have never been so busy at an event in my life and the rush was actually quite invigorating. Things kicked off with us missing the bus and arriving as the event was due to open. We needn't have panicked, though; lots of other vendors hadn't arrived either and the con-goes were pretty slow to make their way through the hall.

I was glad I made the decision to not wear anything intricate in the end (my Lazy Oaf dress and top were so comfy!) as we were constantly rushing around behind the stall to replenish sold stock or handle transactions for customers. A lot of people wanted to pay by card which made me so relieved to have bought my new card reader, but phone signal at the Excel was pretty bad during peak traffic. There was an agonising 5+ minute wait for one transaction to go through that honestly gave me the sweats, haha. Thankfully, customers were very understanding and patient. Well, most of them were pleasant.

Your fave kawaii shopkeeper.

I won't forget my encounter with an American guy who bought 7 hair bows, and proceeded to try to find out where I was staying for the weekend, and what I would be getting up to after the convention because he's "really into partying" and thought we should get together... I'm sure you know where this was going. Despite me making extremely obvious I was in no way interested, he remained very insistent about me giving him my instagram handle, and wouldn't leave as he'd decided we should exchange info first. In the meanwhile, my flipping partner of over 6 years was busy dealing with a customer behind the table (I was beside the table at this point) and I couldn't make eye contact. As soon as this creep was gone I immediately went onto instagram and blocked him. What made the situation more uncomfortable than it needed to be was the fact this was a customer, and this was my workplace. I found myself wondering during this painful encounter, if I'm any more blunt with this person, will they try to be spiteful and do a chargeback on the purchase they just used their card for? It put me in an unfair position where they had leverage. Moving forward I have a better idea of how I'll handle harassment like this if it happens to me again. It left me feeling really irritated and quite sour for a while afterwards until I realised I shouldn't be angry at myself for someone else's completely inappropriate behaviour.

Anyway. The rest of the day was really good! I sold a ton of earrings, and my new choker line did way better than I was expecting. Berets were flying off the stand, and I had never felt more confident in my product before. The most exciting thing was multiple people coming to my stall to say they followed my instagram. Considering my practically non-existent online following this was such a pleasant surprise! I ended up making friends with a fellow trader whose table was on the other side of the hall. The ease with which I was able to talk to everyone was great, and it felt like we were all part of a little community. 

The day came to an end at long last after pages of sales in my little notebook log. During my chats to fellow vendors, my partner covered over the stall for me, and then we headed off for Tesco again to grab something for dinner. Back at the Airbnb, our host talked at us for ages about going to a farm near Guildford that day to pick pumpkins and squashes. It was very awkward as she basically had us cornered in the kitchen when all we wanted to do was eat and turn in early. Still, she gave us a slice of carrot cake each for our troubles and all was well... until she began making loud cat noises to herself in the otherwise silent kitchen. I will never forget the two of us slowly turning to look at each other in complete incredulity while our host continued making a series of meowing noises while she prepared vegetables for her dinner. We made an excuse to leave and practically ran to our room and locked the door. Bedtime could not have come soon enough.

Day 3

So, Day 3. We were absolutely cream-crackered by this point after yet another terrible night's sleep in our naff little basement room. Sunday 28th October started off with me feeling incredibly nauseated. I genuinely did not know how I was going to get through the day. That is, until table neighbour Abdul gave me some mint chocolate biscuits. I now think of these as being made of magic because my nausea immediately subsided after eating just one, and I felt so much better. I was so lucky to have ended up next to someone so kind that weekend!

Sunday mimicked Friday in a lot of ways, though this day was definitely more of a family day. I saw so many parents with pushchairs, and there were a lot of small children to keep an eye on as they had a habit of wanting to grab everything on the stall, especially as most of what I sell is colourful and enticing, haha. I also had a few of the rude, middle-aged mums I had back at Hyper Japan-- the sort who made fun of the products and thought it necessary to dramatically ask why on earth they'd wear something like that. Right in front of me. I think I'm going to start asking people like this why they think it's OK to make fun of someone's work while they're standing right there. On this occasion, I mainly just stared at them until they noticed my expression (but pretended not to) and walked away. 

There were a few people who I'd seen having internal struggles over the weekend, not-so-subtly walking up and down past my stall multiple times before finally making the commitment to purchase on the final day. I also saw people over the weekend wearing items they'd bought from me, which made me smile every time. 

The Sunday look consisted of more Lazy Oaf, plus a Btssb cutsew. 

As the day wrapped up I could finally have a flip through my sales book and see not only how much money I'd made (enough to cover my costs I'm happy to say!) but also which items sold the best. In terms of quantity, people really went wild for the earrings! The price point seemed to work well for the convention environment, and I'd worked hard to choose charms that were a bit different to what other people were selling. Other favourites were hair bows and berets. I think the cold weather really helped me to sell the latter and I actually ran out of the black colourway, which I think may have caused me to lose out on a couple of sales. It was a huge learning experience, but for the first time, it seemed like I'd really found my feet in this whole small business thing. 

I really took the time to professionalise everything, from getting custom jewellery backing cards printed, to having a more dynamic layout with clear pricing. It absolutely paid off and I know for sure this is the direction I want to take my business in. I will most certainly be back at MCM London Comic Con for the spring show in May next year, and I'm already looking forward to it! I will be commuting from home this time, though, because when all's said and done, Airbnb didn't save me much commuting time, stopped me from getting any rest during a time when I needed it most, and meant I had to subsist on junk food for four days. Just one of those life lessons learned, I guess.

Just after they announced the convention was officially over!

On Sunday night I slept like a log; not even the uncomfortable bed could keep me awake after an evening where I was hit with a terrible fever that left me a crying mess. My partner ordered us McDonald's via UberEats as it was way too cold (and frankly quite a scary neighbourhood where we met two druggies over the weekend) to venture back outside. I was well enough to travel home on the Monday but since then, I've not been 100%. I spent a few weeks with a rubbish virus, and am now left with a residual cough that won't leave. The usual November thing, I guess.

Despite all this, the experience was so worth it and I've been such a fidget ever since because I'm so hyped to do another convention. Stepping out of my comfort zone was more rewarding than I could have imagined. So many more people now know about my brand, and having people completely new to what I do buy items with no hesitation was an indescribable feeling. 

If you managed to get through this incredibly long and rambly post then thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed my account of this very hectic weekend!

See you next time! 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Joining the Quarter-of-a-Century Club: My Birthday 2018! 🎂

As a teenager, being 25 sounded sophisticated and distant. I think past me would be surprised by how little really changes at a first glance, but maybe a little impressed by the deeper alterations within. I feel more sure of myself than I used to, and now have the confidence to stand up for myself. September always feels like a new beginning; it's nice to have a birthday that coincides with new academic years, and the start of autumn, my favourite season. This transitional period of the year always feels so exciting to me, and so much of what I want to achieve over the following year tends to be decided during this time. I'm no longer at that point where I get a year older and frantically compare myself to others, wondering why I've not achieved more by this point. Life rarely works out to the timelines we set ourselves, and sometimes, the things we thought we wanted end up being null and void once we work towards them. This time last year I thought I'd be sticking to a career in buying, trying to make the transition into fashion head offices. Yeah... life kinda squashed that one. 

This year I wanted to be festive and silly, to mark my birthday the way one would mark any other "milestone" birthday. I think 25 is underrepresented in that regard. In my opinion, surviving for a quarter of a century is a huge achievement, so I did my best to give it the respect it deserves. Here I am: alive, healthy, brimming with ideas, still full of aspirations and dreams I'm working hard to achieve, and on a path I never would have expected could be possible. Sometimes it's messy, disheartening, and soul destroying. But sometimes it's beautiful and leaves me feeling blessed and inspired. It is what it is. Some people have achieved more by this age, and some people less. It's irrelevant. We're all on our own paths and life isn't a race. We have to do our best to make our dreams come true, no matter how long it takes. That's all you need.

*      *      *

On the day of my birthday, a warm Thursday, I set off to Victoria where I had a pleasant lunch with my partner in Dominique Ansel Bakery, which neither of us had been to before. The shopfront was decorated in flowers (seems to be a big "thing" in London right now) and the interior was simple and clean. I was surprised by how large the interior was, as so many places I've tried have been awkwardly cramped. There was a counter with a wonderful selection of sweet treats. Along with a savoury muffin for lunch, I decided on a strawberry pavlova for dessert.

It was cute but also delicious, though I wish there had been a little more cream filling to help wash down the remaining pavlova piece I ended up not eating. Over lunch my partner gifted me a lovely top from Lazy Oaf, which you will see later in this post!

I went for a birthday cake themed outfit with Bodyline macaron skirt, and a cupcake necklace!
After the meal, and I'd got a photo in front of the lovely flower display, we headed off to Covent Garden. I like to make obligaatory stops in places like Artbox, with its cute imported kawaii items, Rockit Vintage (though this is definitely not as good as it used to be) and the Astrology Shop (though on this day the place was a mess and you couldn't move for the stacks of boxes in front of all the bookshelves). Skinny Dip didn't have anything that caught my eye on this occasion, and we found ourselves sat on a bench planning our next stop. 

On a whim, we headed up to Goodge Street and walked over to Treadwell's, my favourite bookshop. They sell all manner of magickal tools, but the real draw is their huge selection of books on anything from tarot reading to spells, herbalism to divination, history to modern literature. Once inside, it feels as though you're in Diagon Alley, and all manner of people congregate there. I could spend hours in there, particularly on their super comfortable browsing sofa, but I managed to restrain myself on this occasion as I didn't want to get stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home! I ended up choosing a book on spellcraft before we decided to make our way home.

On arriving, I found myself greeted by a large, flat pink box. What could this be?

I opened it up to find that my friend Sammi had had flowers sent to me specially for my birthday! 

They were beautiful, and lasted a whole week! Every time I saw them over that period of time made me feel so loved.

I ended the day feeling positive and pleased I'd gone out and done something to celebrate.

A couple of days later I met up with my friends Wing, Reina, and Memz to essentially carry on the festivities! We headed to a pastel café where I had a lovely cream tea with my favourite scone texture-- crumbly and melt-in-the mouth. Perfect! It was great to catch up with everyone over tea and sweet treats.

I always feel so relaxed in pretty places! There's something about traditional English cream tea and crockery that fills my heart with joy.

Wing surprised me with a cute little kawaii food themed sticker and eraser set from Artbox! I things like that-- so adorable, especially when the stickers have the bonus of being squidgy.

Afterwards, we went shopping, heaving into Soho for the usual haunts like Monki. I barely buy anything anymore as my current situation requires me to be frugal (not that I've ever been good at spending money anyway!) but it was a lot of fun to window shop and look at pieces with the perspective of my friends to help. It's always interesting to see how other people would coordinate items and make them look good, particularly those unassuming or seemingly garish pieces that really just require the eye of someone with a different style to you!

Of course, we had to take a trip to Lazy Oaf!
We made no outfits plans beforehand but we all somehow ended up choosing to wear pink! Accidental coordinating is the best!

What would a day with Reina be without us accidentally wearing similar outfits!? We did it again. I don't quite understand how this always happens but I love it every single time! The pink top I'm wearing is the present I mentioned earlier, and it's so versatile. I'm looking forward to getting a lot of wear out of it as the weather gets cooler.

Before we knew it, it was late afternoon and we all needed to head off home. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone but isn't that the feeling you should be grateful for? That's when you know you've had a really good day!

I'm so pleased I got to spend such a wonderful time with loved ones to celebrate my birthday not just once, but twice! The kind gestures, fun conversations, and positive energy made for the best birthday celebration I've had in a long time, and I cannot help feeling immense gratitude. 

How do you like to spend your birthday? Do you prefer to treat it like any other day, or do you like to have a fuss made of you? Do you compare yourself to others, or do you feel positive about your achievements thus far? I'd love to hear about it!

As always, thank you so much for reading. See you next time 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Omitted Birthday at sketch ☕️

A glaring omission from my blog is my birthday in 2017 and it's honestly been bothering me a lot! Easy enough to rectify, though.

On Saturday 9th September 2017, I went for a meal at the Glade in sketch, London. The service was underwhelming and at times incredibly rude, though the surroundings were rather lovely. I'm trying to remember why I didn't bother blogging about it but I'm not sure. Maybe because it was a bit rubbish. I don't like leaving things unfinished, however, so for the sake of completion and an opportunity for contrast to the much nicer birthday I just had, here's a brief blitz-through of that experience.

sketch is situated in London's Mayfair, and is usually found on the many "instragrammable locations" lists. Particularly the Gallery (aka, the pink room) finds itself the subject of many a pretty Instagram post and YouTube vlog. It's cute in there, I guess, but I'm not at a point where I feel comfortable paying quite so much money for afternoon tea!

The Glade, on the other hand, is a brunch location within the building, decorated to look like a fairy tale land with prettily papered walls, whimsical lighting and a carpet so full and thick one might easily trip on it due to its moss like textures. The furniture in this room is more ornate, with lots of delicately carved wood which harks back to Victorian decor, and strange glass side tables held up by what appeared to be metal blades of grass.

Pouring my rosebud tea with some randomer next to me.
The wallpaper and lighting were very dreamy.
Very chunky carpet.

I've only had cream tea there twice, and it's... not the best. For my birthday tea, it was OK. I opted for rosebud tea (which caused me some terrible bloating as it brewed for so long and had too many rose buds in the pot) which tasted delicate when combined with the sweetness of the scones and jam. My seat ended up being rather communal: I was sat on one side of an ornate couch, and a stranger on the other, and we each had a different table with our respective partners sat opposite us. It was easy to ignore eventually, but certainly didn't make for the most private experience and was very jarring to begin with. My couch buddy appeared to be on a first date, and I found myself covertly watching the fumbling yet incredibly genuine interaction play out. It was very sweet.

I initially believed there to be a pianist present, but it was actually a programmed piano playing music all the while, sounding out covers of popular songs. It created a pleasant atmosphere, and made me smile whenever I eventually recognised the tunes. 

Still, the fact your reservation is literally timed for a 1 hour slot makes for a meal you can't be leisurely or relaxed about, and I think the subconscious reminder of a time limit affected the experience quite drastically. I consider a cream tea to be a way to unwind and chatter to your heart's content. This could not be done here.

The toilets, as you'll have probably seen a thousand times already, consist of pod like cubicles. Even here I was disappointed. For all the space age decor, the cubicles were not well maintained, smelt terrible, and the sinks outside of them were filthy, despite a cleaner in an overly contrived maid costume wandering around the entire time we were there. What she was actually supposed to be achieving, I will never know. 

I wonder if perhaps the service is so significantly different in the Gallery (which would make sense, given what a full afternoon tea costs there) that those who've dined there have been able to come away with much more positive things to say. I can only speak for the Glade, and frankly, aside from the beautiful decor, I could not recommend it. The food is mediocre (the second time I went there it was actually inedible) and there's one French waitress in particular who is so lacking in people skills that if you're unlucky enough to have her serve you, you'll basically have your entire experience soured by her unpleasant disposition.

My day was rounded off with some wandering around the shops, with Lazy Oaf being one of them, naturally.
Blouse: Anna House
Bolero: offbrand
Jumperskirt: Alice's Ribbon Kingom- Baby, the Stars Shine Bright
Shoes: Bodyline
Bag: Angelic Pretty

Crappy cream tea experience aside, I really like my outfit on this day. Alice's Ribbon Kingdom became something of a signature print for me for a while, due to the fact it combines my favourite colours to wear (monochrome and pink), and is generally an easy to coordinate dress. This was also my first time wearing my natural hair as is, with no extensions, and having grown out and cut off all the chemically relaxed parts. It's grown so much since then that I'm finding my pigtails comically short in this photo.

To summarise... well, let's say that turning 25 was much nicer! We'll get to that in my next post.

Ever had a meal somewhere that promised so much but delivered so very little? I'd love to hear about it and know I'm not alone! Thanks for reading and I'll see you next time!

Bonus photo because I look like some kind of celeb caught by the papparazzi here, haha.

Friday, 24 August 2018

A Lolita Picnic in Regent's Park 🍒

Hey everyone!

On Saturday 11th August I decided to attend a meet in Regent's Park, London. It was organised by the Otome Sewing Bee, our local lolita fashion sewing group. There were crafting activities to try, as well as a bring and buy area where people were free to spread out picnic blankets covered in all the lolita clothing accessories they wanted to get rid of. I knew a couple of my friends would be there so after a train and tube ride later, I found myself rounding the corner across from Madam Tussauds (which was, naturally, absolutely heaving with visitors) and heading off down the road to the large, lake-filled park.

The weather was OK to begin with-- gentle sunshine and a pleasant temperature. Pretty soon, however, it became very cloudy and a little chilly, blowing my hair all over the place and making me wish I'd thought to bring a jacket. I didn't let this dampen my spirits, however, and as I waited for more of my friends to arrive, I found myself engaged in pleasant chat with Manda, a lovely goth from the South West comm who I hadn't seen since last year's Minori tea party, and Lucy, who was a fellow business owner. It was fun to chat with her about the items she sells and events she attends. I also met someone called Duckie, who flashed me her bloomers to show they were bought from my shop (!), and Kerry, who came prepared with her own lunchbox of leftover takeaway pizza!

There wasn't really that much in the way of food, and what was there was largely sweet things like cakes and cookies. I suppose it was to be expected, and I couldn't help thinking I should have stuck to a plan I'd been weighing up earlier in which I simply turned up to the picnic with a McDonald's Happy Meal! Manda brought some yummy Indian food, though, which pretty much saved the day. The Doritos and salsa dip I'd brought with me also went down a treat with everyone clamouring for something that wasn't sugary!

Jessica, the organiser of the picnic and the sewing group at large, kindly brought along a ton of crafting supplies so that people could make either fluffy pom pom earrings, or a fluffy strawberry. I mainly just sat and watched so that I could learn the technique, as there wasn't quite enough in the way of templates to go round for the number of people joining in the activity. I had a nice catch up with Reina, who made me laugh so much as she struggled to make her fluffy strawberry!

I barely took any pictures at the meet and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a few taken by others! A few colour edits later and here we are:

A group of us in the crafting area! Despite what a pain it was, I really liked my hair that day, which is the result of 3 years of natural growth and no chemical relaxers anymore. Just oodles of curls. Photo by Suzanna.

No idea what's going on with my face here but this photo tickles me-- from the out-of-control hair and smudged glasses from swatting said hair out of the way, to the fact I'm basically just holding a piece of Reina's crafting for something to do! Photo by Jessica.
The obligatory "funny" picture! I was really surprised by what a great turnout there was. Photo by Suzanna.

As with previous craft meets, we matched very well, even wearing the same necklace!
I opted for a very cherry retro themed coord based around my skirt (available here!)
The day got progressively chillier to the extent I found my arms covered in goosebumps, and I was beginning to shiver. It was clearly time to pack up!

Wing turned up at the tail end of the picnic, and it was great to catch up with her after so long, even though I was freezing by this point and could barely see as the wind continued to whip my hair around! We chatted about art and small business stuff, lamenting the woes of getting back into the creative swing of things after both of us had taken breaks due to our full time "serious" jobs. 

The evening was approaching, so I bid my friends farewell outside Baker Street Station and started my journey home. At Paddington, I look at the train timetable and saw my train was leaving in 7 minutes. I took one last wistful look at the McDonald's I definitely did not have time to get food from, and made my way to the correct platform so I could get a seat on the train before it departed.

Overall, I had a lovely day-- much better than I was expecting! As well as enjoying catching up with the people I knew already, it was nice to talk to some new faces and get into some interesting conversations. There is something special about meets like this: I love knowing you can turn up with zero expectation and always find someone to talk to who you never would have had the chance to meet otherwise, and the craft and bring and buy aspects added to the community feeling. While I know I will never go back to the constant meets I indulged in in the past, it's nice knowing I always have a community to come back to, whenever I feel ready.

Thank you so much for reading! Have you been to any nice meetups recently? What did you enjoy about them? I'd love to hear all about it!

See you next time