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123 Bethnal Green Road: An interview with Ross Barry and Michelle Goggi

In the first of a series of tasters from Amelia's Compendium of Fashion Illustration meet the brains behind eco fashion store 123 Bethnal Green Road. Soon to be the official book launch party venue!

Written by Amelia Gregory

Gareth A Hopkins 123 SS2011
Tallest man on earth by Avril Kelly

Illustration by Avril Kelly

So it started on January 3rd, visit web I was in a bad mood. Well, it’s that whole palaver of taking the (now miserable) tree down, thinking about the enormity of work that needs to be done and the poor, defenseless body. It needs some very tender loving care. This day of January, after bathing in Pukka ‘Cleanse’ tea, going for a brisk walk on the Downs by my house and bemoaning the lack of vitamin D for my eyeballs, I cracked on the Mac. I had recently purchased The Tallest Man On Earth album, Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans). I was in need of something new to form some (wahoo 2011) fresh associations with. Whilst I mused about the flat, now was the time I decided, to dedicate to the giant man. Hopefully this would culminate in reaching up and putting my arms around his shoulders, prancing around the room, rather than immersing myself in 2010 nostalgia. Oh the perils of memory boxes, scrap books and photo archives.


Picture Source

Click and Bob Dylan growls came out. This was all very lovely, I had linked that before though and was waiting to get actually into The Tallest Man on Earth, rather than just wonder about the Dylan. Then Love Is All came on. Oh hello. This is BEAUTIFUL. The Tallest Man On Earth’s heart appeared to be unashamedly open to my grump self. I turned it up and continued to listen. Sometimes painfully honest in his thoughts, loves and admissions, he gently strums next to his musings. Akk, this was so bitingly raw, the crackling voice and simple notes, it was almost uncomfortably perfect.

Despite his Texan American country sounds, Kristian Matsson is from Dalarna, Sweden. And although he is called: The Tallest Man On Earth, Matsson in fact stands below the Swedish male average (nearly five foot eleven), at five foot five. The tallest person in medical history was Robert Pershing Wadlow, from Illonois, USA, who was eight foot and eleven inches tall.


Robert Pershing Wadlow; d.1940 Picture Source

The (slightly smaller than) Tallest Man On Earth plays the guitar, banjo and piano and has released two albums, Shallow Grave (Dead Oceans) and The Wild Hunt. He has also released two EPs, Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird and self titled. The latter holds the song; Walk The Line, a foot -tapping, spindly, defiant number “you bring me down…I aint gonna walk the line”. It’s a mixture of nature’s thunderous activities, humans, animals and emotion; “all tomorrows parties will dance before my eyes”.

Matsson is utterly immersed in nature, similes transform him into an eagle, lizard, sparrow and gardener. Whilst his lovers are bluebirds and rivers. Seemingly unlike Britain in a snowfall, he is aware and respects mother nature’s ultimate power over us. He will sit upon the river, dance in the ocean and watch the birds. Honey Won’t You Let Me In; “As I knock your door, from inside once more, how I wish a sudden breeze would let me in, shake my tambourine at your glowing dreams, I said honey won’t you let me in.” The city in contrast, has no distinct sounds for him, and equally his heart leaves him lost, weather beaten and alone at times. Two harsh climes for our protagonist. Tangle In This Trample Wheat; “I get frightened I could never gather birds enough to carry round your heart”. But his soul seems distinctly free, he won’t be found.

tallest MAN on earth 2 by Avril Kelly

Illustration by Avril Kelly

Integrated into nature’s attributes is Matsson’s love of dreaming, and love itself. A Lion’s Heart; “he’s coming down the hills for you”. Accompanied by constant gentle guitar and banjo notes, the listener can not help but be thrust into a pure and new perspective. Importantly, he also makes many references to nature never stopping. And perhaps we need to appreciate this a little bit more ourselves. Indeed the traffic, economy and work never really halts, and 2011’s start may be all New Resolutions (blah), but nature never, EVER takes a break or crash diets suddenly because some poppers went off. Remember, outside, the hills, oceans and mountains are far prettier than flouro lighting (even if that flouro lights up the best dress you’ve ever seen). It also changes in considerably more interesting ways than the prices of your average baked beans can. Step outside. The Dreamer; “I’m just a dreamer, but I’m hanging on, though I am nothing big to offer, I watched the birds how they in then gone, it’s like nothing in this world’s ever still.”

So starting with melancholy, I was risen by eloquent exuberance and now I continue to travel along the mighty (and fast) river of 2011 and life. It’s Janurary 7 and I have barely listened to anything other than The Tallest Man On Earth. Both The Wild Hunt and Shallow Grave on the label Dead Oceans are available now.
Gareth A Hopkins 123 SS2011
123 illustrated by Gareth A Hopkins.

123 Bethnal Green Road recently opened shop after a lengthy renovation of its Victorian corner store in a prime position right at the top of Brick Lane in east London. Hosting three floors of own label designs as well as those of cult designer Noki, more about what exactly is this new fashion brand all about?

“Some people might think it foolhardy to open an eco-fashion concept store in the midst of the dreaded credit crunch, but so far the reception has been great,” says Ross Barry, co-owner with sister Michelle Goggi. Having abandoned their previous careers, in the city and in design and photography respectively, Ross and Michelle are now set to shake up the world of ethical fashion with their ‘sustainable canvas’ concept. “Ethical, sustainable, green and eco are all terms with very specific connotations. We wanted to do something new and exciting.”

With their 123 collection they have created a fresh look, starting with a sustainable (rather than blank) canvas. “Our aim is to make well-made, desirable, British clothing,” says Michelle. “We want to extinguish the belief that reusing and recycling materials is at the bottom of the fashion food chain.” This is a luxury store selling well designed products that just happen to be ethical as well; upcycled from waste garments and produced locally. Using vertical production methods, whereby an item of clothing can be taken from the cutting table to the store within a week, they are able to provide exactly what the customer is keen on; reacting and responding to new trends within a couple of weeks. Vertical production gives them incredible control over every element of the process and ensures a minute carbon footprint. 

LMB Textile Recycling was set up by Ross and Michelle’s father Lawrence, who also designed the ubiquitous green textile recycling banks that populate the streets of major cities. As youngsters Ross and Michelle were soon involved in the family business. “Other children got taken to the park at the weekend. We got taken to the sorting factory where we amused ourselves by jumping around in mountains of second hand clothing.” Their father’s motto was “where possible don’t pay someone else to do something you could do yourself” and this belief has clearly been taken to its natural conclusion with the creation of 123 Bethnal Green Road….

Read the rest of this interview in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, alongside interviews with 44 other ethical fashion designers and 30 fabulous fashion illustrators. You can buy the book here.

123 Bethnal Green Road host one of their legendary pick ‘n’ mix sales this weekend: full listing info here.


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