Located just off Sonnenallee & Weserstrasse, SHIO may seem like another Neukölln fashion shop from the outside… but investigate & venture inside and you’ll discover exactly why this space is so unique. Most of the incredible clothes hung here have actually been creatively upcycled from unwanted garments into stylish and modern designs – which you would likely never guess if you didn’t know! Run by very talented Australian seamstress Kate Pinkstone alongside three other designers (who showcase their excellent jewellery & objects, streetwear and Japanese stationary there too), this place is really rather special, and being big fans we wanted to discover a little more …
Your work consists of the SHIO label as well as your super-impressive upcycling work. What came about first and how did you manage to turn professional with it?
After studying fashion design in Sydney Australia I moved to Berlin to pursue an internship with a sustainable fashion label.
It was there I learned about organic and sustainable options available when creating clothing. I was also exploring different styles.
At the time everyone in Berlin was crazy about 70’s and 80’s Vintage fashion. Vintage was not really my thing but it was super cheap to get hold of. I hated the way everything fit and would modify everything until I didn’t feel ridiculous in it. It was always about simplifying the silhouette as much as possible and letting the fabric or print speak for itself. Sometimes I just used the fabric from an XL garment to make a basic t-shirt.
I then began selling upcycled pieces at markets on the weekends to earn some extra money. Because I had left all my design and sewing equipment in Australia, I was doing what I could with an old sewing machine I’d bought for 15 euro.
After being in Berlin for a year, I decided I wanted to stay here, which meant getting serious. I decided to apply for a self employment visa, write a business plan and open a shop selling handmade and upcycled clothing with an adjoining studio space for me to work in. As my working holiday visa was quickly running out, it forced me to get organised quickly.
You’re based in Neukölln, close to Weserstrasse. What made you choose to open up here?
I was looking in Neukölln and Kreuzberg as they were the areas I knew the best. I saw that in both areas small boutiques with in-store studios were surviving in the backstreets. It was a dream to be able to create all day and have a point of sale for my clothes at the same time.
I had just looked at an empty store at the end of Fuldastraße – which would have needed some intense renovations – when I coincidentally came across a bike store with a ‘Zu vermieten” sign in the window. I knocked on the door and a lovely guy called Jeroen answered the door and showed me through the place. He then helped me with getting in touch with the Hauswervaltung. Before I knew it, I was signing a Mietvertrag.
Feels like it was meant to be somehow- I was in the right place at the right time, and Jeroen became a good friend.
Tell us about the process of your upcycling work?
I go to the fleamarket on Sunday and pick up anything that catches my eye and as much as I can carry!
Now that it’s winter I’m looking for knitted sweaters, shirts, tailored pants and coats. Almost everything I find with a fabulous print or fabric is XXL so nobody has taken it before me.
Lately I’ve really been enjoying upcycling men’s business shirts. There are so many out there and it’s nice to offer menswear in the store. I take them in from the side seams and arms, sometimes re-fitting the sleeve at the shoulder, then I remove the return on the collar and leave the stand. I add a contrast top button from my ever growing button collection and then change the colour thread on the rest of the buttons to match.
I’m getting quite quick at it, on Monday I upcycled 18 shirts.
Men have been responding really well to them and also appreciate that I offer a free tailoring service if the shirt doesn’t fit quite right. This really helps as each piece is one of a kind.
Another great seller this Winter has been the high water pants for women I’ve been creating from mens tailored trousers. I take XL trousers, take them in at the waist and make them high waisted, then taper and shorten them. They look great with boots and sneakers.
It feels really good to take something old and unwanted, breath new life into it, and make it desirable again.
The Shio label was a way for me to offer both “new and old” clothing in the store.
Some customers would ask very confused if everything in the store was “gebraucht” (used, second hand) and seemed confused by the price tag – expecting a fleamarket price. I guess they didn’t always understand that each piece had extra work put into it even after I explained the concept of upcycling. Some people were not interested in second hand clothes in general so I wanted to put my patternmaking skills to use to create high quality basics that weren’t season bound.
The designs are simple but still have a street edge – a nice contrast to the colourful upcycled range. The collection is always 8 – 10 pieces in a few colour variations (mostly black, navy, grey, and stripe) and available in multiple sizes.
I produce Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter Collection every year with “long lasting wardrobe staples” in mind and promoting the idea of slow fashion.
The SHIO store also consists of three other designers, who also work in the back studio. Tell us about them?
A year ago I renovated the three rooms behind the store (which used to be an apartment) and turned them into three studios.
I share a studio with another fashion designer Jeanette who runs the ethically responsible label Treches. Her clothing line brings another dimension to Shio. She works with graphic shapes, clean lines and playful details as well as exploring gender identities while creating unisex designs. She’s continually working on organic and sustainable approaches as well as bringing colour and fun to the store – which is much needed next to my very monochromatic collection. I think we complement each other really well.
The studio behind us is occupied by Kelly who runs her design project Pastperfekt. She creates lamps, furniture, accessories and often giving new life to objects that are no longer being used. She’s also amazing at designing and creating interiors for work spaces, cafe’s, kitchens, apartments, stage design – you name it, she can do it. She’s a very handy woman to know! A range of her jewellery, lamps, candle holders, and tote bags are available in the store.
The cute and cosiest space is Leah’s Pulp Papier studio. Leah’s deep respect for the craft of Japanese Paper Making found her importing intricately printed paper from small distributers in Japan to sell here in Germany and all over the world. She also operates a book binding studio and offers workshops for hand crafting books, boxes, and other objects. In the store we sell her Japanese paper, books, origami wallets and various other accessories made from hand treated paper.
It’s a really great feeling to be able to tell customers that everything in the store is made on site in our studios.
How do you feel running an independent fashion store in Berlin is different to a major city of your Australian homeland?
Having a store like Shio in Sydney would be a big struggle, due to rent prices and that destination-shopping doesn’t always work in Australia. It’s all about the trendy location which automatically means expensive rent. I love that everything in Berlin is so scattered and spread out. People really put an effort in to seeking out places hidden in backstreets and don’t expect all the best stores to by lined up one after the other along a main road.
Shio works because people set out to find us (especially because of projects like the Oooh, Berlin map!) and the regular local customers keep it alive. Getting people to spend the extra money (especially in Neukölln) can be a struggle – especially with H&M only a few blocks away. I never wanted to be a store that people with less money felt uncomfortable in. I try to keep the upcycled pieces as affordable as possible which gives everyone the opportunity to shop here.
People in Australia definitely spend more money on clothes as wages are higher but it doesn’t matter if you are in Germany or Australia, you are always going to come across people who care about where their clothes come from and people who don’t. People complaining about prices can get you down, but then you have a customer tell you Shio is their favourite shop and everything feels worthwhile again.
What were the main challenges in setting up the SHIO store?
The German bureaucracy was definitely a challenge and still is!
But I guess if it was all smiles and rainbows what would we all complain about?
I’m definitely getting used to it and in the end it’s just jumping through hoops and ticking boxes until you get that Prüfungsbericht or Gewerbe Anmeldung or whatever. We’re not meant to understand the system. Its a majestic unicorn that can’t be tamed.
I’m making it sound like I’m all Zen about it when really a week ago I was tearing up at the Ausländerbehörde convinced I was going to be deported. You just never know! I DID get my visa extension in the end… but the wait in anticipation was enough to make me want to projectile vomit.
What advice would you give to young designers looking to set up their own outlet?
Do it! Don’t let the bureaucracy get to you. Once you’re up and running things will fall into place.
Even though online shopping is on the rise, people (especially in Germany) still love to look, try, and feel the quality of things before they buy them. Tourists still very much enjoy shopping. I know I do when I’m abroad.
Which fashion shops do you admire in Berlin?
I definitely admire Wesen – a small boutique down the road from Shio. They too have an in-store studio and produce on site. They sell their organic clothing label “Format” as well accessories from other ethically conscious labels. I think they’re doing a great job!
Where do you like to eat, drink and relax in the city?
Complete the following sentence ‘ For me, Berlin is…”