Chinchen Street, An Article, By Ryan Williams / by Kian West

The staff at Suspension must be so sick of me coming in to do interviews. I just sit there and wait for the people to come down to meet me, anxiously looking at the door every few moments. I sit in a really good seat and I don’t even buy anything. I met Chinchen Street’s resident fashion guru, Bonnie Lee Tipper, at Suspension to talk about clothing and stuff. She didn’t get a coffee either, so I guess I didn’t look so bad.

 Have you been doing the clothing thing for a while?

Bonnie: I started sewing my own clothes when I was 14. I'm 24 this year, so I guess that makes it a decade.

What about Chinchen Street?

Chinchen Street has been about two years. Before that I studied Fashion Design for three years. When I was just out of school I had a different label called Electric Sugar, but I scrapped it when I started studying. 

That was a similar thing? Handmade clothing?

I feel like Chinchen Street is further along than that last label. It's a whole lot more wearable now; Electric Sugar was very weird and wonderful. I used to make clothes out of kids’ curtains, a Humphrey Bear dress and stuff like that. Now I'm a bit more subtle [laughs].

But it's all one of a kind?

More or less. The biggest runs I do are of swimwear, made with new fabric. All the skirts, dresses and tops are in small runs, maybe five of the same thing maximum. Everything is unique though.

All is done by hand?

Half of the Chinchen Street stuff is handmade, all designed, cut and sewn by me. All made in the same house in Islington. Really small scale. The other half is handpicked vintage gear, mostly from the mid-north coast where I grew up. I have a few friends who are a bit older who will sell me stuff from their wardrobes. 

Do you alter the vintage stuff?

Generally, no. Only if the piece is in really bad condition. 

If it's not broken, don't fix it.

Exactly. I like my stuff to be different and try not to worry about trends or anything like that. I normally work to my personal taste or a theme I might have. 

What are the normal themes you go for?

Some people say it's boho or festival-y, that kind of thing. I normally think about what's going to be the most comfortable and what won't fall apart. Something that will fit a lot of different body shapes and use fabric in an efficient way. I do a whole lot of stuff that's square-shaped because it meets that criteria. I worry once you start to tailor stuff it gets very wasteful.

Is that an environmental thing?

Absolutely. When I was studying, an assessment was to construct a dress that was zero waste. From a square piece of fabric you used the whole thing. It really stuck with me.

You must live on Chinchen Street?

Yeah.

It's like Beach Street [the band], but they don't live there anymore.

I know. I'm not saying they copied me or anything, but I definitely had Chinchen Street first. I remember doing that event – I made a little street sign for each of us. I use it all the time at markets and stuff.

Is it a nice street to live on?

I like it. It's got a really strange mixture of houses. I take a whole lot of the photos for the label on that street.

You did all that Owls merch too?

I did. I'd only tie-dyed one of their shirts for fun and they really liked it. I patched a few vintage jackets for them and they sold really well. 

Do you do many collaborations?

I've only done a few – I was working on one for another band, Family Dog, last year. So far I've only done the tie-dye with patches; if I got approached again, I'd look at doing something totally different. 

You do a whole lot of other stuff to do with live music too.

I just did an event in collaboration with Newcastle Music Collective at the Lass – markets in combination with live music. Red Boy, The Two Fridas, Amani's Market, plus a big flea market of secondhand stuff. Last year I had a stall at This That festival too. 

And other markets too? 

Yeah, I do the Impossible Markets at The Edwards as well as Olive Tree. They're both always really good! 

What’s planned for the rest of 2017?

A new range of menswear is on my list, some more tie-dye stuff. I'm thinking of doing a more natural-looking colour scheme. Something more mellow than my previous menswear range last year. Moving in the opposite direction. Trying something new.

 

Get to Chinchen Street through Facebook or Google Maps. chinchenst.com