Sunday, 5 July 2009

9.0 / Life of the party / Jo Braithwaite

What: Event planner and writer
Where: Berlin, Germany
Website: We Make Party!

The life of Jo…
I was born and raised in London. I started a degree in German and philosophy at Leeds University when I was 18 but dropped out a year later because I hated the course and missed London. I worked various retail jobs and rubbish office jobs until I was about 22 then got a job as an events assistant at the NHS Confederation. I worked there for nearly five years and was internally promoted. My boss was very supportive and inspiring and taught me how to coordinate a seamless event. He even taught me about the logistics of an event as well as general organisation like how to file things properly and keep track of several events simultaneously. When he left and someone else took his place I found it very difficult and took a long hard look at what I wanted to do with my life.

I’d always regretted dropping out of university. I hadn’t studied for a long time and started thinking about what I’d enjoyed at college and in 6th form. English always came quite naturally to me so decided to go back to university and study English. I was accepted at King's College and completed my degree in 2008.


Around the time of starting my degree, my boyfriend Lucas and I fell in love with Berlin. We started going to visit a friend who’d just moved over here at the time. We found the city terribly romantic – the great night scene, the arts scene, good beers. I remember going to some beautiful exhibitions, pop-up gorilla exhibitions and just walking through a door off a quiet street and there’d be a random music festival or something. Berlin is full of hidden gems. It’s romantic like that.


After our holidays here, I just remember going back to London and hating it. It’s an amazing city, one of the most incredible cities in the world but I grew up there and lived there for 28 years. I’ve lived in north London, east London and south London and I just wanted a change. We decided to move to Berlin as soon as I'd finished my degree. Since moving here last year I started my own events business We Make Party (WMP) and am about do a CELTA course, which will enable me to become an English teacher. I really enjoyed studying the English language at university and am really looking forward to teaching it.

How the party started…
I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve always been kind of floaty and wanted to do a lot of different things. I’d start something, do it well and then move on and want to do something else. I always wanted to keep moving. WMP started because I had a couple of job disappointments over here and started thinking about what I could do – what would make me happy and give me flexibility. I knew I wanted to write in some form, whether it be marketing or something else. So I started writing copy for a potential event idea. I really liked the rock ‘n roll jumble sales in London but always felt that I would have enjoyed them more if they had more to offer. It would have been really nice and I would have stayed longer if there was some good music and if the jumble sales were held in a really cool space, where I could sit and have a drink or dance.


I expanded on the idea of that market and tried to get in touch with the organisers to get some help or advice but they didn’t reply to my emails. So I got in touch with a some people who run an event here and asked them how they felt about running their business. I read lots about start-ups and talked to people I knew about what they liked and disliked about fleamarkets. Then I just decided to do it. I set myself a target date for the first event, which was meant to be a test. And then it all just happened (with a lot of hard work of course!).

I begged venue owners to let me host the event in their space but because Berlin’s not as fast paced as London, it took a while to get responses from people. Things don’t happen as quickly here as they do in London. I was a complete wreck and didn’t sleep for about a month before the first WMP Fashion Flohmarket, which is based loosely on a combination of the English jumble sale and German fleamarket. But after the first one, people kept asking ‘When’s the next one, when’s the next one?’ so it’s going really well. The Fashion Flohmarket is a day event where people have the opportunity to shop, dance, drink and eat (and even have a haircut at some events) – it's basically a free for all.

Early days…
There were lots of positive things I learned from the last event. It was a really lovely day and we were lucky with the weather. That was my main concern. The market’s doubled in size since the last one, profits have doubled and the number of people coming to it has doubled. There are between about 500-600 people attending the event now. I’m happy with that. But I realised that I can’t work with big corporate businesses any more. When you’re a small company, they can afford to lose you but you can’t afford to lose them. They can mess you around and spring changes on you that you haven't agreed on at the last minute.

Planting seeds…
When I was younger I thought I was much cooler than I was! I was quite angsty and can remember always having some sort of emotional turmoil. At school, I was always told that I had a lot of potential and if I had just applied myself I would have been a star pupil but I always remained sort of average. Looking back on it, I think I just didn't believe it so I didn't try.

I loved listening to music, cooking and I would write in my diary religiously until I was about 18. My mum had always encouraged me to write. She said it was a good way to vent. I was a diary queen. I was so secretive and always had some unrequited love issue. I was always such a romantic and was always writing love letters in my diary. I’d also write about not-so-nice stuff about my stepdad and my mum splitting up. I just had a new little brother and we were having a lot of problems at home. It was a good way for me as a child to get a lot of things out – the stuff that most young teens go through and the stuff that I didn’t know how to express to anyone else. The diary writing really kept me sane and I’m sure lots of kids do the same thing. It was very helpful.


I always enjoyed writing and enjoyed writing stories but I wasn’t aware of all my career options at school. The school’s careers advisors were completely unhelpful. They didn’t really tell us much except that we could work in banking or other industry focused jobs. The idea of doing something creative was just not available so I didn’t really think about it. It’s only in the last few years that I realised creative careers are options. If I’d known about art school or the possibility of doing something creative, I might have thought about doing something creative sooner.

When I was younger I wanted to study German and philosophy. I thought philosophy would be the thing I did for interest and ironically I studied German because it was something I could speak (my mum’s German). I thought I could be a translator because I was told by my school that it was a good job – you could earn a lot of money and you could travel with it. And that’s how we were taught to look at work – how much money you could make. Whether you enjoyed it or not was irrelevant. That’s how it all came across to me. Perhaps other people had different experiences.

Fork in the road…
The big turning point was meeting a lot of interesting people about six to seven years ago. I just realised then that I had friends like Paul Bower (an illustrator) who had no money, was working in a bar, was older than I was but doing something he really loved and, after a few years, his passion is paying off. Meeting a lot of talented people around that time opened my eyes to a different way of being.

You can choose your friends…
I like working alongside people, being around groups of people, hearing different opinions. I travelled quite a bit by the time I was in my early 20s but I think I had a fairly narrow world-view then. I really enjoy seeing different styles now and meeting new people. And I love debating. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good old debate, as long as it’s respectful. I like hanging out with people and talking absolute garbage too.

I’m selective though and only spend time with specific types of people. I have no interest in spending time with just anyone. Like a lot of my friends, I enjoy hanging out with people who have a positive impact on me and what I’m doing. I think the people you meet or who are attracted to you really vary depending on where you are emotionally. I've started meeting some amazing people in the last few years because perhaps I've grown up a bit and have been open to those kinds of characters.
Parties, music…
I'm out a lot so am meeting new people all the time. I really like going to parties with good music. We’re going to a lot of minimal techno parties and house music parties. My favourite place is the Panorama Bar in Berlin because it’s near perfect. I love dancing. My musical taste is pretty varied. I can totally get down to super cheesy 1990's RnB, old school house and garage. But I also love 60s and 70s rock.

Down time, knack and style…
I like to have a bit of alone time just to sort of potter and think. I read a lot, mostly novels but I'm just starting to get into non-fiction now. I seem to be able to mentally retain song lyrics very easily. That's kind of a talent, I think.


I tend to be drawn to classical things. I like the understated style that is prevalent in places like Germany and Sweden. I generally love Scandinavian style. We saw some of Stine Tranekjær's work at a friend’s house. She's from Copenhagen and her work is very beautiful, colourful, and makes me feel happy. I love the work of Jeff Coombes too and adore 1920-30s German furniture and 1950s Danish furniture and design.


I like going to daytime events like the type of thing I’m organising and like going to exhibitions. Last night we just sat on a bridge in Kreuzburg (the Admiral-Brücke), where everyone just seems to go. There are live musicians there and you buy your own beer and just sit on the bridge and chat to people. I’m sure it happens on quite a few bridges in Kreuzburg but this is the one a lot of people end up going to.
I learnt a lot of what I know through jobs and a lot through sheer trial and error. I’m dyslexic so I always take the long way round to do things and sometimes find it hard to compartmentalise things. WMP has really taught me to organise myself, organise my work and organise my time. And although I’m really organised in my work stuff, my personal life’s still not that organised.
Pros and cons…
I don't particularly enjoy the financial risk but I love the creative freedom.

Place of origin…
I think wherever you come from influences your life choices and work. You are socialised into certain world views, which inevitably influence your choices. For example, I grew up in a quite a poor neighbourhood where I saw a lot of hardship so I think that's why I desire luxury and financial and emotional stability. I guess that's also why I'm drawn to aesthetically pleasing things.
I really enjoy walking through the park near our house and going to visit my grandmother in Hovel, a beautiful place in west Berlin. I go and visit her once a month. I get there around 3 or 4pm and she tries to force feed me all manner of cakes and dinners (and I end up taking a lot of food home in containers). We usually go for a walk through the woods and she tells me what’s been going on with her and recounts things from the past. She was a Prussian refugee and her and my grandad were separated because of the war. It was so romantic. They’d had four children and were only reunited for two years of his life before my grandfather died of cancer. She always says that those two years were the happiest years of her entire life.

She has that thing…
I don't really see it as a confidence, I see it as a necessity. If you don't like the way your life is, change it. It's as simple as that. It's scary but you can just do small things to make yourself happy. For example, I always wanted to bake really good cakes and have been practising (much to the delight of Lucas!). Now I'm pretty good (I make a mean carrot cake) and have crossed something off my list. It's about small steps!

A little help…
Lucas is always saying ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’. He’s one of my guiding forces. There’s nothing to be frightened of. I just need to sometimes be reminded that it’s not a life or death situation I’m in. The worst thing that could happen is I could lose a little bit of face or a little bit of money.
Family influence…
My parents split up when I was very young. I grew up with my mum and visited my grandma and my aunt most summers. They’re all strong, independent and intelligent women and have been my role models.
Hoops of fire…
Fear is the main obstacle. It's scary to think I might fail at something. But I suppose it's scarier to be doing stuff that doesn't make me happy. The idea of just settling for less frightens me. I was once stuck in a job that I hated and it scares me when I think that I could still be doing that. I don’t want to hate my job and be moaning about it. I know people who are doing that and are unhappy – that’s not who I want to be.

Best advice…
Stop talking and start doing.

Favourite places…
When I’m feeling uninspired, I stop working and do something fun or inspiring. That could be going to a gallery, reading or just going for a walk. I think new input is important.

The area called Graefekiez is where I want to live next. There are loads of old tree-lined, cobbled streets. It’s beautiful with lots of cafes and little shops. And a canal – it's very 19th century and really pretty. I walk around and see people with their kids and their families and it’s all very scenic, very multicultural and diverse. Coming from London, where everything is scrutinised, it feels so free and easy here. People are relaxed and not that worried about having to have a specific hairstyle or look. I’m totally in love with the city.
I love Lula magazine, they always do such beautiful shoots. I like YouTube and love cruising street style blogs like Face Hunter and seeing what people in different parts of the world are wearing.

Her style…
Before, I was very interested in street trends in London and mixed quite a lot of high street and vintage stuff but I’ve always seen myself as being quite a chic, older lady and want to just develop more of a classic style – buying more expensive clothes and not buying so much. I like a mix of very understated designer and vintage pieces. That’s what I’m going for at the moment. I just bought a really beautiful dress by Minimarket (Swedish designers) from a new boutique that’s opened up on Oderberger Strasse. Now I just need an ocassion to wear it! My style is not about statement dressing. It’s simple with simple quirks.



My mum, grandmother, Lucas and my friends all inspire me. My mum brought my brother and I up on her own with very little money. We were both very demanding children and we grew up in a horrible area, where lots of hideous things happened but she managed to keep us safe, with our heads about us. We both got an education, branched out and are quite ambitious in our personalities. That’s a really difficult thing to achieve when you’re a full-time working mum.

And my grandmother’s 87, still lives on her own, is very independent and refuses to be old. She has a real spark and is very encouraging.

Lucas is great. His way of doing things is to just set a goal and work towards it. That’s what he does in his life and encourages me to do too. You just have do something and get on with it. You don’t need to talk about it, just do it. Lucas is definitely a good example of that – very patient and always willing to help.

Be organised! Do research. Ask questions, get in touch with people who are doing what you want to do. Don't be scared if it doesn't work out immediately, just persevere.

One day, I’d like to have children who are happy and content, live by the sea, grow old with my man and be financially stable.

I’m really happy doing what I’m doing, happy with what I’ve got and happy with all the new life choices I’m making. They’re right for me right now. It’s strange moving to a new country and doing all this stuff without all my close girlfriends because I’d probably talk through everything I’m going through more. But perhaps being on my own’s also afforded me room and time to do what I’m doing now because I am on my own.

In the next few months, we’ll be doing a night to promote the market and work with a few DJs and perhaps do some talent promotion. I'm surrounded by loads of supportive and positive people here and I'm in talks with some people doing similar fleamarkets in Barcelona. We're thinking of somehow creating a network of flea markets around the world! There've also been talks about starting WMP in London too. We could be the GAP of the fleamarket world! We’ve also started a blog called United Jumble. It's not up and running yet but watch this space!


Rhonda said...

Although I know your story I loved it even more seeing it in print. You inspire me my brilliant and dear friend. Long may your star continue to shine bright you very talented woman! I'm oh so proud of you and all of your achievements.
Rock on! I love you.

urbanmosadi said...

great stuff. inspiring indeed.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Jo..., very honest and revealing..

Rock on in Berlin you two!


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