Celebration over Costumes: How Portobello Vintage Market Navigates the Festival Season

Celebration over Costumes: How Portobello Vintage Market Navigates the Festival Season

By Elspeth Walker

In the middle of festival season many are exploring their wardrobes for something new and stylish to express themselves, and flaunt in one of summer's main fashion moments. It might not be a runway, but festivals have historically been a site of celebration through clothes. This is often tied into cultural events and communities wanting to show off their fashions. But, as we enter a more global stage and an era of festivals meaning music and a good time, the line between celebrating cultures and reducing them to an appropriative costume is thin, and something that Holly and Rushab are acutely aware of at Portobello Vintage Market.

The focus of this brand has always been ethics – environmentally and culturally. Being born from Fusion, Rushab’s father’s and uncles’ business where traditional Indian clothes intertwined with the Western styles, Portobello Vintage Market has a history of understanding what it means for cultures to combine in fashion and become accessible to many others. They also know the value of heritage and history. It just takes a casual browse across their website to see that it is important to them that you know where the clothes came from, what style they are, their country of origin, historic purpose, if they have been adapted or not, and what they are appropriate for now, to see that PVM are conscious of not just becoming a thoughtless re-selling structure for clothes. This is vintage with heart and ethics. 

So, when faced with one of their busiest seasons, the festival season, both Holly and Rushab found it a good time to sit and reflect on how their clothes are used, and how people see them. Rushab, being raised in the world of selling clothes on markets to all walks of life in London, and with an appreciation for both traditional Indian and Asian styles merging with Western fashions, knows the realities of how clothes from cultures can come together and be celebrated, and when they are made into a costume label with the othering term ‘ethnic’. You only need to have a chat with Rushab to know how open he is about the topic, how he sees the styles and ethos of Fusion as the reflection of migrants joining the culture of their new home, whilst still maintaining their own heritage. Looking closer at Fusion, you can see a lot of the custom items still in the warehouse were made in response to a growing diversity in London, and the festivals of the 80’s and 90’s. This is then combined with Holly’s eye for fashion and understanding of bohemia as a site of celebration, something that is sadly often co-opted by large corporations, and distorts the term vintage into becoming a dangerous title to hide behind as they appropriate and disrespect traditional clothes. 

Together this duo work hard to not only see that old clothes don’t end up in landfills, but also to pave a way forward for a merging of styles that both respects and celebrates the joining of cultures. This is shown in their openness. From stating online where the clothes came from and inviting new designers to collaborate, to talking to anyone about how wearing them today might make them feel, they are here to start a conversation of what it means to both wear clothes sustainably and be able to celebrate the many cultures within our personal lives. 

As festival season comes, and they pick out top choices, this is not a way to feed into the appropriation of certain styles, but to set a new pathway of appreciation. They are here to share, both their expertise and knowledge on the clothes, alongside their passion and their drive – it’s all about karma. The cyclical principles of karma is what their business is built on, which is seen in the environmental focus and the continual regeneration of new styles, whilst maintaining each items heritage. 

What you put out you get back, and that’s the same ethos that helps us learn more about other cultures and understand history, whilst allowing many who are from multiple backgrounds to express themselves in new merging fashions. 

This festival season, they both invite you, as they invited me, into an open dialogue about what it means to wear the clothes you do. To ask why you want to wear them, and how you will appropriately celebrate their heritage, whilst expanding your idea on what fashion can look like today. 


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