With ethics, quality and integrity at its core, Punks and Chancers epitomises what makes Birmingham glorious. As the brand approaches its second birthday, Shelley Carter caught up with founder Zoe Barry
From bags made entirely out of recycled material to the softest organic tees stitched in factories that guarantee a living wage, local brand Punks and Chancers seems to have captured the mood of the city where quality, ethics and independence are king. If you follow Punks and Chancers on Instagram you’ll know a lot already. If you don’t, well, where have you been? Sharing snapshots of family life, new launches, a bucketload of love for Brum and feel good collaborations, there’s much to celebrate.
Zoe describes Punks and Chancers as: “A fun bus travelling at speed strewing bold garments and accessories in its wake. It’s an imperfectly formed small team of one which I run with a DIY punk ethic that’s embedded into my daily life.”
Working life hasn’t always been so feel good mind you. There was a time pre-Punks and Chancers when Zoe worked as a fashion buyer for high street stores which she describes as ‘bloody awful’. She says: “If anyone’s reading this and thinks, ‘ooh that sounds exciting’ it’s not. It’s a corporate arse.”
Zoe then set up a small interiors company making hand-stitched lighting. She was commissioned by some top interior designers and worked on incredible projects, including one on a yacht moored in Monaco. She designed collaborative ranges for Toast and Anthropologie and taught lampshade-making at the weekend. Zoe recalls: “For several years, I really loved it, but after eight years I began to find the work less enticing and I wanted a change. I’m a big believer in changing stuff up when you get the itch.”
Zoe started Punks and Chancers small to minimise risks. She explains: “It freed me up to be able to think. Financial constraints are the enemy of creativity. I wanted to use my skills in product design, sewing, fabric knowledgeable and I knew I needed to build a brand that could be embedded in my life, so that my life could cross over into my work and vice-versa.”
Company ethics have always been top of the agenda. As well as being organic and stitched in Fairwear factories, the tees are screen printed with eco-inks in Birmingham and all packaging is recyclable – zero plastic is used. Zoe says: “We don’t bang on about our sustainability as much as we should really; we think it’s just the way things should be anyway.”
Instagram has been incredibly important in getting the brand out, but not all social media has been valuable. Zoe says: “I love Instagram which I find inclusive and positive. I can’t be arsed with Facebook due to finding it the exact opposite. I have a Twitter account which I’d like to use more but honestly, there are only so many hours in the day!”
Rewarding collaborations with local charities have been among the highlights of the first two years. The No Bab tee – a collaboration with The Wilderness – raised £2,000 for SIFA Fireside which provides crucial support for the city’s homeless. A collaborative tee with local independent shopkeepers, the Hedge raised more than £1,000 for Birmingham Children’s Hospital as well as ongoing projects raising funds for Action for Refugees and University Hospital Birmingham.
Having settled in Birmingham 13 years ago, Zoe loves how the city has developed its independent scene over the past few years and says: “As a relative newbie, I feel privileged to be a part of it and to have been embraced by it.” Zoe developed a soft spot for Brum spending most weekends here as a teen shopping vintage in the rag market and being turned away from clubs for wearing the wrong shoes and says: “To see other people realise what a beauty Birmingham is, is a thing to behold. I’m very proud of my city.”
There’s much in the pipeline to get excited about over the next few months. Zoe says: “New stuff comes all the time. When I feel it, it happens! There’s something on its way in an awesome colour for summer as well as a new yoga range due out in the next couple of months.” It’s also Punks and Chancers second birthday in the first week of July of which Zoe says: “Last year we celebrated spectacularly for a week so this year should be good. Keep your eyes on Instagram!”