In a city that’s awash with high street chain stores, a new shop in the city’s Sunniside is proving an oasis of unique clobber, kitsch accessories and vintage gems. Katy Wheeler reports
NIPPLE tassels, lobster-shaped hair clips and 1950s pin-up playsuits – yes, this is no ordinary Sunderland shop.
Whereas boutique shopping is commonplace in some other cities, it’s not a retail experience that seems to have taken off on Wearside.
But businessman Sean Coates, from Plains Farm, is hoping to change all that.
The part-time male burlesque performer is drawing upon his love of unique fashion and contacts in the burlesque world to create one of the city’s quirkiest shops – Hustler.
The building on Norfolk Street is now almost unrecognisable from its former guise as a property developer’s office and is brimming with items that will make customers stand out from the crowd.
For the men, there’s a “Pimp My Tweed” section of old jackets given a new twist with a fur collar here and a tartan trim there.
And for the girls, they can expect Rockabilly-inspired dresses that celebrate female curves and one-off pieces of lingerie made from retro fabric.
The bulk of the stock is by North East designers who Sean feels passionate about promoting. One of the most popular brands is Tiki Tearaway, Hawaiian-inspired hair flowers, cherry slides and other fun accessories crafted by Fulwell fashionistas Emily Sanderson and Katy Crebbin.
Sean, 30 – who is part of the Coquette Collective, a troupe of burlesque acts who perform on Wearside – also prints his own T-shirts downstairs, which are proving popular with Hustler’s burgeoning clientele.
“I studied graphic design and had already been selling T-shirts on eBay. I worked for the company that’s above this shop and the opportunity came up to take it on,” he said.
“I have so many creative friends through doing burlesque and being in that scene, and I thought this would be a great way of bringing them together.
“We have things like gorgeous 50s-inspired dresses from Sunderland designer Jen Johnson and kitsch knickers made from bits of material that are total one-offs from another Sunderland designer Pamela Wadsworth, whose label is called She Felt Geeky.”
Though word is still getting around about the shop, Sean hopes its unique selling point will be its leftfield fashion.
Sean, who’s been helped on the road to shop success by Sunderland Business and Innovation Centre, said: “I hate it when you buy something and then go out in town that night and 12 people have it on. That won’t happen here. It’s a shop for people who don’t like to be sheep.
“When I wear T-shirts from the shop I often get people asking where they can get them from.”
“We’ve had people come in from Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Some days it can be dead busy, but other days it can be really slow.
“We are trying to stay positive and hope that once word of mouth gets out it will draw people in. Once people come in, they usually end up buying something.”
Though it’s a tough financial climate in which to open a new business, Sean says Sunderland should embrace its independent retailers.
“Use it or lose it,” he said. “It’s like Mary Portas says, if we don’t shop in our small boutiques we’ll lose them and every other outfit will be the same.”
l Hustler is open from Tuesday to Saturday. For more information visit www.hustlerfashion.co.uk