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The Show Must Go On

BACK IN BUSINESS: Jan Asante and Giselle Asante with Nicole who helped defend their shop from looters

IT IS hard to believe it has been a year since Gisella Couture, an eye-catching fashion business on Peckham High Road, south east London, was looted and vandalised in last year’s summer riots.

Mother and daughter design team Giselle and Jan Asante burst into tears when they discovered their beloved boutique had become a target of the violence.

Giselle, 57, who has owned her tailor-made clothing business for 20 years, was warned that looters were out in full force and her shop would be targeted.

When the police arrived it was too late. Their shop had been ransacked and custom-made clothes were stolen, including wedding dresses due to be collected by brides-to-be that week. 

Apology

The award-winning designers are still picking up the pieces. But they were recently sent letters of apology from the alleged culprits.

They spoke to The Voice about how they’re starting again.

How well have you recovered from the riots?

Gisella: We’re still coming to terms with what happened. We’d been working for twenty years to get to where we were and every single item that was looted on the night of the riots was hand-made, so we feel the loss of our creations deeply.

Many of the outfits and fabrics were irreplaceable, so it will take a long time for us to fully get back on track. We are grateful though to be open again and hope people will come back in, so we can continue to create and do what we love. 

Who do you blame for your shop being looted?

Jan: My mum and I have reflected on this question a lot. It’s complicated, but ultimately ‘blame’ isn’t a productive state of mind for us.

Reconciliation and atonement are healthier issues for us to engage with, so we’ve been active in engaging with the community dialogues that have taken place since the riots. We’re re-focusing our creative energies now on questions of what we can do to heal in the face of our personal trauma.

Both of you have been described as phoenixes rising from the ashes - where does your strength and determination come from?

Gisella: It probably comes from a higher power that gives us the humility to keep a sense of grace and perspective, even in the face of tragedy. We survived the riots, so there’s still hope. Others lost their lives, so we’re appreciative to still be here, in spite of everything.

What has the riots taught you about mankind/society?

Jan: To us, the riots essentially signified a social crisis - a breaking point; a momentary erosion in the process of order, civility and safety that we perhaps take for granted on a day-to-day basis as Londoners. 

On the opposing end of civil disorder though, is the shining moment of human endeavour. It’s an opportunity to see people rise to the occasion and embrace their best selves. Take for instance, all those ‘clean-up armies’ who came out to clean up the community in the wake of the looting.

They were virtual strangers who got together via social media to do something to improve a terrible situation. We’re so grateful for the existence of people like them, who reassure us of the best in humanity.

Gisella:  We also met a wonderful young lady named Nicole as a result of the riots. She was among a brave group of local women who tried to fend off looters outside our shop on the night of the riot.

She came to us in the aftermath and brought back some of the scraps of fabrics she’d manage to retrieve from the streets. We’re grateful for young people like Nicole and were able to offer her a fashion mentorship at our boutique this year.

Do you have any advice to other business people in a similar situation to you?

Gisella: Take a deep breath, keep calm and just do the best you can.

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