NESTLED among record stores and vintage shops on the cobbles of Newcastle’s High Bridge is the independent fashion boutique, Skirt.
Launched five years ago by owner Claire Western, it has become the epitome of cool – a shop where you can pick up one-off, handmade pieces and unusual labels not stocked anywhere else in the city.
These include Scandinavian designers Dansk, L&W and Vagabond, and other more well-known labels such as Paul & Joe Sister.
Another jewel in its crown is that the shop only ever stocks three or four of any garment, making it highly unlikely you’ll bump into someone wearing your outfit – a rarity in these mass-market times.
Claire says: “I can’t quite believe it has been five years, it still feels quite new.
“My last day before maternity leave was Saturday, July 25, which was five years to the day I opened.
“There have been lots of high points. I think in my third year when things really took off, and everyday was pretty great, I really felt I had achieved what I had set out to and things were exciting.
“I love the travelling and buying, and it’s a great feeling when the clothes I have chosen are loved by my customers.”
Claire has seen many changes over the last few years.
She says: “I have witnessed the huge power of the high street and the depressing phenomenon that is throwaway fashion.
“I understand that people don’t have a huge disposable income, but I would far rather have one or two great pieces than hundreds of things that I wear for a month and throwaway.
“Nobody seems to be bothered about how the clothes are produced so cheaply. I don’t like the fact that all high streets are exactly the same and a lot of people are perfectly happy with this.”
The past year has also been a challenge as the country battles the recession – forcing many small businesses to close.
Claire says: “The recession has certainly had an impact. It has been tough.
“ I feel that many people have really been put off spending and are focusing on paying off loans etc and therefore one of the things to go is a shopping spree.
“A number of the designers I work with have had to close down their businesses, which is so sad as, like me, they meant everything to them.
“Luckily I am managing to get through. Being a small business, I have managed to keep things tight and have not had lots of staff to worry about.”
Claire, who is pregnant with her first child, has temporarily handed over the reigns to former fashion student Ruth Nixon.
Ruth, who grew up in Whitley Bay, has worked for Wrangler and Gap and set up her own online men’s fashion magazine, thegentlemansretreat.com.
She has been working as a fashion stylist for the city centre boutique since March.
Ruth says: “There really is nowhere like Skirt in Newcastle and I admire Claire for sticking to what she loves and believes in.
“The product choice is definitely not borne from playing it safe, which makes Skirt’s appeal special and gutsy, fitting Claire’s ethos.
“There is something organic about Skirt. It has just the right level of quirkiness without being try-to-hard or elitist.”
In a city dominated by high street chains, Skirt really is something to be celebrated.
Skirt, 19 High Bridge, Newcastle, (0191) 221-0234, www.skirtboutique.co.uk