THE HARD-TO-FIND LONDON OPSHOP TO KNOW ABOUT
Where next? This intriguing popup charity shop is worth tracking down if you find yourself in London town. But prepare to freak out when you see the extraordinary Afghan dresses...
That Pop Up 38 moves constantly is part of its charm for the intrepid vintage hunter. It’s a roaming gypsy of a shop, but not for the romance of being rootless. No. It shifts because it must go where the free rent takes it. The shop funds a school in Kabul, you see, and its founder Naomi Brons-Harper zips around town whenever a kindly landlord makes an empty storefront available to her between tenancies.
The shop was camping out on Broadwick Street in Soho when I spied this dress through its window...
I was late for a book date, but couldn’t stop myself ducking inside to enquire, "What is that extraordinary garment?"
Somehow I managed to appreciate its beauty, without adding it to my overstuffed suitcase. I am trying to buy less, as you know. To pack less, too. It’s a battle that never ends. The struggle is real, my friends.
I had grilled Naomi Brons-Harper, who runs the place, about its origins. She was a bit reluctant to be interviewed, she told me, because in the past some crazies had trolled her for daring to stand up for female education in Afghanistan. But in the end she did agree to tell me her story, and what a powerful, beautiful story it is.
"We started the shop five years ago," she explained, proudly showing me a picture of a class of beaming graduates of the Lapis Lazuli school for girls and boys in Kabul.
"This is our first group of students who have come all the way through the school. We started in 2008 holding classes in a rented house. We now have 650 children, and a proper school building that has been built by Pop Up 38.
"We move around London so we never spend any money on rent. All our stock is donated, and the stylists and everyone who helps us, they do that for free too. That means all the money from sales goes directly to the school."
Naomi has a fashion background herself, which explains why the shop is such a treasure box of good stuff, and why these traditional artisanal Afghani folk dresses, made from patch-worked antique fabrics, bed down with some excellent vintage designer pieces.
But how does a British fashion chick end up in Kabul?
Turns out she's not British; she's a New Zealander. Naomi grew up in Kabul, where her late father Dr Howard Harper was a legendary eye surgeon. He transformed lives int he city for more than 40 years, establishing the Noor Eye Hospital in 1966. While battling mistrust from various regimes that could not comprehend his refusal to take bribes, Dr. Harper wrote textbooks, trained local doctors and even set up a school for the blind. He was expelled from the country on more that one occasion, and once smuggled medial equipment in over the Russian boarder. He was an intrepid adventurous humanitarian, who in 2002 became an Afghani citizen at a time when surely the most obvious thing to do was to flee.
There's a fascinating interview with him here if you want to know more.
"He set up the first eye hospital there and he and my mum, Monika did lots of different work there with the blind," says Naomi, adding that in the mid-2000s they became increasingly worried about the effect political unrest was having on education, and in particular the displaced Hazara population that had settled in Kabul from the Bamiyan Valley.
"Dad operated on a warlord’s eyes, and this man pledged him some land in thanks. He told my father, 'If you can do something for my people, we will do everything we can from this end.' So they provide the workers, and what we do here is literally build the school brick by brick from fashion."
Check Pop Up 38's Instagram for details of where they're headed next.