Standing out in an often-throwaway society, Brisbane Arcade has a host of talented crafts people who offer repairs on cherished or meaningful even heirloom items such as hats, watches, jewellery and pens. These expert repair services are rarely – if ever – offered in other retail settings and are certainly unique to Brisbane’s city.
Koji Ogawa can remember the thrill of holding his very own S.T. Dupont Olympio model fountain pen, smooth and weighty in his hand. It was a special 21st gift from his parents and a reward for doing well in his first semester of his Bachelor of English and writing studies.
As he made the purchase from specialty pen retailer
The Pen Shoppe
, Koji gave the writing implement the reverence it deserved, impressing staff enough that he was offered a job. Koji is now 38 and a master technician for the store, on the ground level of Brisbane Arcade, and is an expert in repairing pens alongside The
The Pen Shoppe
co-owner and his mentor Bruce Nichol.
Koji, who still owns his ST Dupont Olympio, can sometimes be found in
The Pen Shoppe
front-of-store with co-owner and handwriting expert Barbara Nichol but he is most at home in the shop’s Brisbane Arcade repair workshop overlooking the city’s Queen Street Mall. Here, he prides himself in cracking each repair puzzle, working to restore a pen that often holds a precious family history or memory. “There’s something a little bit different to figure out each time. They are individual puzzles,’’ Koji says.
“Some repairs can be purely user error and can take just 10 to 15 minutes, while some can stretch across two to three days with curing of epoxy or allowing things to soak before we try to pull them open. Some items have been away in a drawer for 40 years and we give the pens their true care and diligence. They are very fragile things. Also knowing you have restored something that means a great deal to people’s families is a point of pride.’’
Hat and millinery repairs…
On the ground level of Brisbane Arcade, specialty hat shop
offers a full alteration and repair service for headwear ranging from Akubras to caps. The store is one of the only specialty hat shops in Australia and one of the few that offer a full in- store repair service. Manager, buyer and hatter, Tess Ebinger, 33, a former science and engineering student, estimates she has repaired thousands of hats over her career that began in Melbourne. She opened Brisbane Hatters in 2018 where all repairs happen in one small corner of the store.
“One thing that is really beautiful about this work is the sentimental pay off. It might be a hat someone has had for a long time or it was their dad’s or grandmother’s and it becomes something they can keep and pass on,’’ she says.
“I’ve had people cry when they pick their hat up…hats can become a part of a person’s identity and they remind us of them. It’s beautiful to be able to give that back to people. There is a lot of satisfaction there. “If you can get more life out of something, especially something that’s been loved and has already had a life, it shouldn’t just be chucked in the bin.’’
Upstairs on gallery level, couture milliner Wendy Diggles, of
, specialises in using vintage materials from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and will also restore and remodel hats and headwear.
With more than 40 years’ experience in fashion and accessory design, including the past 12 years as a qualified milliner, Wendy, 60, says she enjoys working with pieces that hold sentimental value.
“It might be a bride who needs a piece to work with a contemporary outfit or someone has a beautiful old vintage hat they’ve picked up at markets in France and it’s a bit beat up. We’ll restore that, put a new silk veiling on or reattach feathers. “Sometimes it’s a family piece or hats someone has inherited. I understand the sentimentality. They might not even want to wear it, but they have inherited something or found something and it’s often quite close to the brink of not being recoverable. I like that sort of work.’’
Not all hats are made to be salvaged or repaired. Disposable, mass-produced fashion items, Wendy says, are very difficult to work with. However, handmade millinery, while expensive, is always worth saving. “When you’ve got a beautiful piece of millinery or a handmade vintage piece of millinery, we want to see those things last forever,’’ she says. “We don’t want to see those things wasted.’’
Vintage Watch Co.
stocks collectible vintage and new watches but also has a repair service. Watch repairs manager at Vintage Watch Co. Robert Fulton, 38, says the need for a watch, over the years, has changed. Thanks to smartphones in every pocket, watches are no longer a utility needed to tell the time. Mechanical watches are now worn more as an accessory or piece of jewellery.
“We want to accessorise and people have found this in mechanical watches again,’’ Robert says.
“There’s been an increase in demand. The problem in the watch industry is they’ve been breaking records with how many watches sold, but there’s only so many people who can fix them.’’
Customers can present with very old watches with sentimental value, perhaps one that hasn’t worked for 100 years or sometimes from the 1800s. “Depending how far the damage is and what needs to be done, if people have the time, there’s usually something that we can use to get it going,’’ Robert says. “Seeing customers’ reactions when we do fix them… it might be something from WWI and it hasn’t been working since the 1920s.Their reaction and excitement is priceless.’’
Back up on the Gallery Level, Zoltan Horvath brings his 35 years of international experience in watch repairs to the Arcade with his
Watch Repair Studio
. Zoltan, 54, repairs all Swiss and Japanese brand watches, digital and mechanical. Schooled in the watchmaking trade in Budapest, Hungary, where he was born, Zoltan has also worked in New Zealand. He has been a tenant of Brisbane Arcade for more than three years. He laments the smartwatch trend sweeping the globe because these products cannot be repaired. “Smart watches…once it is broken, it’s in the bin,’’ he says. “I can’t fix them but I can fix a real watch. It is sad to see the way it is going but what can you do? I can fix as many watches as I can.’’ He fixes watches that have simply “just stopped’’ or are losing time or perhaps the glass face is broken. He likes to do his part to make each watch tick again and send a happy customer on their way with something that is valuable to them. “I can repair pretty much any watch, though if it is too old, you can’t get parts for them anymore. And I don’t repair clocks. That is a different trade. It’s like a car mechanic and truck mechanic. They have completely different tools and everything. I sell new clocks in my shop but I don’t repair them.’’
Re-purposing glasses frames…
Repurposing and giving new lift to a product also extends to Brisbane Arcade optometrist, Kevin Dick in his store, 2020 Optical.
With a home in the Arcade since 2017 and more than 30 years of experience, he offers an on-site, state-of-the-art optical workshop that is able to repurpose existing glasses frames, a service that is rare in most optometry practices.
An optical frame is designed to carry prescription lenses so providing a service and capability to reuse frames for new prescription lenses avoids the need to always dispose of a frame that may have been a significant investment or have sentimental meaning.
“If somebody comes in with a frame and the lenses are scratched or it is a keepsake of one of their parents or they might want to turn them into reading glasses or sunglasses, we have the expertise to change the lenses on site. Most places will outsource all of that,’’ Kevin says.
“The expectation with bigger stores is just to throw it away – out with the old, in with the new.’’ The onsite laboratory also means customers can receive new single vision lenses on the same day.
The store also carries an extensive range of non-prescription sunglass lenses from German lens makers Zeiss.
“We love being in the Arcade,’’ Kevin says.
“It’s like-minded businesses, it’s all about having special things… unique products and services that no one else has. And, being the best of the best.”
“So whether you are buying new frames that are uniquely “you” or would like to re-purpose old ones, we are here to help with the very best optical solution for your needs.”