Tam Eastley profiles vegan-vintage concept store and cafe, Sing Blackbird…
It’s no secret that finding a job in Berlin isn’t easy. With the highest unemployment rate in all Germany (12.7% compared to a 6.5% national average), Germans and ex-pats alike need to be increasingly creative when it comes to finding a job, or find themselves forced to leave and look elsewhere. While this can be a struggle and a stress, it also accounts for the abundance of small, creative businesses here in the city.
Two years ago, Diana Durdic (a former engineer for BMW) and Tasha Arana (an accessories designer from New York) discovered themselves in such a conundrum. They moved to the city and decided that if they couldn’t find anything in six months, they’d start their own business, perhaps one that merged their two shared passions, fashion and, erm, baked goods.
They didn’t find a job and thus Sing Blackbird was born: a vintage clothing store/vegan café on Sanderstrasse in trendy Kreuzkölln. Two years on, the venture has not only exceeded their own expectations, it’s even caught the eye of the international world from Italian Vogue to Dutch Elle.
The modern-day concept store, nestled between a huddle of Imbiss, Spätkauf and the Maybachufer Turkish Market, fits perfectly with this increasingly trendy Berlin kiez. But settling in Kreuzkölln was purely accidental, says Durdic. “We just wanted something with two doors on the street in order to highlight the store, and also the cafe.”
When they first came upon the location, they were not at all impressed. “I thought [the space] was really trashy,” Durdic says. “But when we started pulling away the drop down ceilings we found these amazing crown mouldings.” Uh huh – they had stumbled upon yet another diamond in the rough in Berlin.
Some well-chosen wallpaper, a splash of silver paint on the ceiling and a few antique birdcages later, Sing Blackbird was opened in September 2010 – and has been booming ever since. The store merges the best of two very different worlds – fashion and food – in a healthy, cost-efficient way. The clothing, mostly from the 70s, 80s and 90s is hand picked by Durdic and Arana and priced reasonably.
“A lot of vintage stores are overpriced,” Durdic tells me, “and a lot of the second hand stores have questionable values.” The two entrepreneurs wanted to fill a niche that they didn’t see represented in Berlin, that of mid-range, well priced, good quality vintage clothes.
Their commitment to quality is obvious: the pieces are hung on the racks delicately and colour co-ordinated. There’s no overcrowding or need to squeeze through a claustrophobic space, overflowing with dusty, smelly, torn fabric corpses. Instead, the selection is well thought-out, well treated, and well-informed.
In the winter they carry sweaters, coats and boots, and in the summer, Berlin favourites like floral dresses. They know their market, and they love it. “Berlin style isn’t as crazy as it used to be when people would just wear anything,” says Durdic. “Now it’s more about a casual street style and basic colours.”
When you’re done browsing, cross over to the other side of the store and pull up a seat – maybe by the window, where you can sip a cappuccino and watch the Kreuzkölln foot traffic. The large array of tasty vegan treats on offer include a justly famed breakfast burrito, vegan pancakes, a tempeh lunch bowl and homemade vegan cake.
Durdic and Arana also tend to involve their friends and the wider community to contribute, interact, and (natürlich) party. The various magazines displayed around the store are mostly creative projects by friends, as are the beautiful and delicate vintage necklaces – and customers are encouraged to bring in their unwanted clothes to swap.
On cold, rainy, and miserable winter Thursdays, Sing Blackbird also hosts movie nights [check the Facebook page for listings]. Previous films have included quirky vintage classics like The Warriors, Badlands, Repo Man and Blue Velvet. In the summer, the team sets up a classic Berlin Flohmarkt on the sidewalk outside and, because no hip, beer selling, vegan cafe is complete without a little bit of music, they’ve also starting bringing in bands, mostly of the soft acoustic variety so as not to annoy the neighbours.
When you consider the quirkiness and success of a venture like Sing Blackbird, you have to concede that perhaps Berlin’s high unemployment crisis isn’t so bad, since it seems, at some level, to nourish Berlin with alternative treasures like this one.
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