Love Southsea

#GirlBoss: Nina Burras, the signmaker behind Missing Chopper

#GirlBossJeeves WilliamsComment

I’ve got a concession in South Coast Emporium on the corner of Elm Grove, where there’s an eclectic group of different traders all selling beautiful gifts. One of these traders is Missing Chopper — their stand is incredible.

Missing Chopper make large circus-esque lights, ranging from words through to symbols like anchors and hearts. I needed to know more about the brand, so I got in touch with founder Nina Burras, a #GirlBoss beaut living on Hayling Island. Grab a coffee and read her remarkable story here.

Firstly, why the name ‘Missing Chopper’?

After finishing college, Nina worked in Ibiza during the summer, quickly landing a job selling sunset boat trips while renting a spare room from her boss, a Kiwi named Dave. She loved her time there!

Her boss was a hoarder, with floor-to-ceiling junk in every room. But one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! Under a pile of baskets and fold-away chairs on the balcony, Nina found the frame of a chopper bike. An original 1970s model, with a grab rail and three gears, with the gearstick in the centre of the frame. Dave told her she would be doing him a favour to take it, and both were delighted. She thought her Christmas had come early!

The next morning, Nina went straight to the bike shop and ordered wheels, mud guards, and gears for her new find, gave it a lick of paint, a new seat cover (made from massive bikini bottoms), and, of course, a honker horn. As you can imagine, Nina spent all the money she had fixing it up!

When the end of the season approached, Nina left the bike with friends who she knew were staying in Ibiza over the winter. Nina returned home for the colder months, arriving back in Ibiza in May. Her bike wasn’t there. It was a wild goose chase ’til the trail went cold, and she was heartbroken. But she came up with a brilliant idea to get it back — make ‘missing’ posters. Like when you lose a dear family pet!

She put the posters up in every bar, shop, restaurant, and on every streetlight on the west of the island.

A few weeks passed. Still nothing. But then, one day, she got a call from a number she didn’t recognize.

“Hello — did you make the missing chopper posters?”
“Have you found my bike?”
“No. This is Nando‘s. We are looking for a sign painter.”
“So, you don’t have my bike?!”
“No — are you a sign painter?”
“Um... sure!”

And that’s how it began. Nina started painting the Nando’s restaurant in San Antonio, and by word of mouth, she was painting dozens of boards and signs for bars and restaurants around the island. She ended up working as a scenic painter for Manumission, a theatrical party night held in one of the biggest venues of its kind in the world: Privilege.

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Working as a sign painter never felt like work to her, and she would often work through her lunch, going for 14 hours straight without really realising. That’s when, speaking to Nina, I knew it was a passion for her. She worked for Manumission for the next two years until, at the end of 2008, they announced their closing show.

It was time for Nina to move on. This time, she traveled to Australia, to Sydney, on a student visa to study fashion at the Elizabeth Bence School of Fashion. Elizabeth was 94 years young! It’s here that Nina learnt all the technical skills she needed to look at garments and know how to make garments from scratch. Nina notes how she still uses this training in her signmaking practice, using her French curve when drafting up a new design.

When Nina obtained her diploma in fashion, she landed an internship at a fashion company in London. This is when she realised her passion for metalwork, and so, she began searching for jobs in the field if signmaking.

Nina found a job working for a British signmaking company based in London, but as a girl in a male-dominated industry, she didn’t get tasked with the jobs she loved to do. With home nearby back on Hayling Island, and the call of the sea crashing into her heart, Nina took the plunge and set up a business for herself in her parents’ outhouse, in the grounds of her family home.

Missing Chopper was born. Since May 2015, Nina hasn’t looked back, winning commissions and jobs all over the UK, from making bespoke lights for Pistonhead lager to lighting up the halls between the rooms of Escape London. She’s made countless bespoke works of art, including the beautiful Sailor Jerry-inspired swallow in our office, taken from our much-loved Love Southsea logo.

You can find out more about Missing Chopper on Nina’s website » and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see when she’s next going to be at one of our Love Southsea Markets!

Nina Burras Missing Chopper