Recycled-clothing company owner Jo Bratton.
Jo Bratton — Recycled-clothing company owner
My mother had been to this wonderful party and was all dressed up. She fell out of the car door. I was sitting beside her and she was gone. This bracelet (main
photo) took all the impact as she went rolling down the road. So it’s my lucky bracelet. It’s scraped, but I love it. I’ve worn it my whole life.
My mother was older. She was 36 when she had me. My sister and brother are 17 and 18 years older than me, so I was like an only child. My family moved here from the north of England when the shipyards closed. There was no work. I was really odd at school. I did theatre and everyone did netball.
I was always a bit eccentric, but I don’t think you stood out in the 80s. You had so many genres of clothing — punks, New Romantics, power dressing.
I used to catch the bus after school to Queen St and the markets to go shopping. I’d wash dishes at the back of a coffee shop to pay for it.
In 2008 — the last big economic crash — I was looking at going into partnership in a women’s fitness centre. I put in a month and knew the business was fail- ing. I felt really despondent and went home and had a cup of tea. I picked up a magazine and there was an article with Trelise Cooper. In it she talked about going right back to what she did when she was young. I’ve always loved clothes, sewn clothes, been eccentric in my dress. I was like, “That’s what I’m meant to do.” I’d done hairdressing. I’d done makeup. I’d done everything but work with clothes. It was a lightbulb moment.
I had $5000. I found the building and I put one step in front of another. It was an odd choice here, next door to a panel beater in New Lynn, but it was affordable. People say, “Why aren’t you a boutique?” But I’m not. I’m a community shop (Go Jo Recycled Clothing).
I only ever wear our clothes. I wore this today (main photo) because it’s quite representative of me. Modern trousers with an 80s blouse and 1940s silk jacket. I do my own thing.
The mistake people make when they dress? They dress their flaws. They come in and go, “I’ve got a fat tummy” or “I don’t like this”. I’ll go, “You’ve got amazing ankles.” “Look at your beautiful décolletage.” “You’ve got this gracious neck.” It’s confronting for so many women — being able to accept the changes as we’ve gotten older, as life’s dealt different things.
One customer first started coming in presented as a man and was obviously interested in women’s clothing. He’d ring first and I’d shut the shop for him. As time has gone on he’s become more confident. I had another gentleman come in the other day and he said, “I want to find something that I can wear but I don’t want anyone to know.” I said, “We’re going to dress ‘your friend’. Does your friend like lace? Does she like colour?” He bought a tunic dress that was womanly but not overtly feminine. Nice fabric.
I love sparkly things. Silk. Muted tones. I’m a mood dresser. It’s about the feel — you put it on and go, “Oh”.
It’s a story. “I feel funky today.” “I feel smart today.” That’s what I try to get the women engaging in. Feel something. People don’t feel anything today when they wear their puffer jackets and their leggings. It’s conformity.
One of the first things I ever got given when I started my shop was given to me by my elocution teacher. She was about 94 and she had lost her daughter really young, in the 70s, to breast cancer.
She’d kept the dress all those years. It’s Hullabaloo, which was an iconic shop on Queen St. It reminds me of a mother’s love.
This lurex dress (1) is called the “mother-in-law”. The lady who brought this in was in her 80s and this was her mother-in-law’s dress. Her motherin-law hated her. She was never good enough for her son. There is a photo of her mother-in-law wearing it and she’s a formidable woman. I don’t know why she would have kept it. Maybe she was afraid to get rid of it. Even in her 80s, she still knew the power of a mother-inlaw who never accepted her.
I love to collect New Zealand labels. This pink gown (2) is Berkahn. It’s just so nuts. Overt. Kevin Berkahn and Patrick Steel were the champions of fashion.
I have pieces people aren’t going to buy. They’re a vault, they’re a timeline. We were so confident in the 80s. There was money. Everybody worries about standing out now. Back then, you stood out. Big colour, big earrings, big shoulder pads. You wore big labels.
I think right up to this last decade you could map the social trends in our clothes, but with fast fashion it’s taken something away from dressing and left a lot of people in a vacuum where they just don’t know any more. There are no rituals when it comes to dressing. People used to dress to go to the airport.