This month we chat to footwear designer, turned shopkeeper Zoie Walker, about her lifestyle store 32 The Guild...
How would you describe the essence of 32 The Guild?
Laid back, pared back, simple.
Can you tell us some more about how 32 The Guild came about?
Before opening the shop, I was a footwear designer working in London. 32 The Guild came about when I moved to Northampton from London, as I was struggling to find a store which sold the kind of brands which interested me... So, I decided to do it myself!
How did you go about designing the shop? Did you have a particular aesthetic in mind when pulling it all together?
We take pride in uncovering beautifully made products and felt the shop should be reflective of this, so honest and minimal materials feature throughout the space. Natural woods, a reclaimed parquet counter and antique solid brass clothes rails showcase not only our own personal taste, but create an inviting, friendly atmosphere.
It was important to me that the store felt contemporary and relaxed. I was bringing something to Northampton which had not been done before so it was crucial to make my clients feel welcome. I love a store which feels exciting, showcasing a brand and product mix which I may not expect... I try to do exactly this at 32, and aim to bring together a blend of stunning products.
You’ve been open since 2013 – what have been the highlights of the last 3 years?
A definite highlight was being featured in The Times as their boutique of the week just recently. It’s such an amazing achievement for us, being a tiny store in a relatively 'unknown' town like Northampton. I’m also proud of seeing our reputation spread, and that 32 is talked about as a store to watch.
You stock a wide range of products – from womenswear to home accessories, how do you balance the offering? Or do you find yourself naturally more drawn to stock particular ranges?
It is very instinctive: if I love the product, we stock it. This has really helped create a strong, distinctive brand identity for us. It doesn’t make sense to try and be everything to everyone. I believe that when you do this, your identity becomes watered down and you lose what it is that makes what you have special. I only buy an item for the shop if it fits comfortably within my aesthetic.
Can you talk us through your buying process and decisions?
Again, the process is simple and instinct-led. I make a plan as to what I would like to see from a store, and then go from there. I know that I enjoy a smaller, more curated offering and endeavour to create just that for 32. The golden rule is that I will only stock something in the shop if I would buy it myself. As a result I’m a walking advertisement for my store - I am head to toe 32 and live and breathe it!
What are your current best sellers, and do you have any personal favourites?
My personal favourites are the new season blue suede Grenson loafers - I just cannot get enough of their footwear. My all time favourite product has to be Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules. There really is no other fragrance like it - it is my must-have. Among our current best sellers are our Denham jeans - we’ve just had a new drop and our clients know the fit is amazing!
To what extent are you influenced by trends?
Though I am of course aware of what is current, I try however to avoid being a slave to the trends. I think if you immerse yourself in media, film, culture and travel you cannot help being influenced, and this is reflected in your style decisions. I’m not keen on buying pieces just because they follow the latest trend. This doesn’t sit well with me and often results in wastefulness. I much prefer to buy both for myself and the store with an eye to longevity and quality.
What are the challenges, and best part of running an independent store?
The absolute best part is the relationship I have with my customers. It is honestly a pleasure to come to work. I also love the creative freedom I have and being able to share it. The challenge is trying to juggle this with two small children and a husband who travels extensively with work!
How do you balance running an online store and bricks and mortar shop? Do you have a preference?
I have someone who looks after the online store for me so that I can focus on the bricks and mortar store, which is where my passion lies. I love each step of the process, finding, selecting, curating and then finally, selling the product. Thankfully Anna, who runs our site, understands our vision and has done a great job of translating the mood of 32 onto our online presence.
What’s your approach to marketing? How easy is it to get the 32 The Guild name out there?
I am still learning, but Instagram is an amazing tool for connecting and finding what our customers love. We all love its visual and community-led mood. We also send our customers a weekly email newsletter which has received a fantastic response. We try to include the pieces that we love, and every month we share our lifestyle edit of films, podcasts and music we’re jamming to in the shop too.
What are the key elements to running a successful independent store?
Staff are everything! Everyone who works with me is an extension of myself and a great representation of what I believe in.
What’s next on the horizon for 32 The Guild?
I have a tiny store which I love but I could definitely do with more room to grow. We’re always dreaming of what the shop could be, perhaps combining a larger shop floor with a creative space and a 32 yoga studio somewhere too. Creating a communal feeling is what we are all about, so it would be great to explore what else we can bring into the mix.
Finally, any advice for aspiring indie shop owners?
Don’t give up; believe in your product and your customers will too!
Photography: Anna Considine - This Last Moment
32 The Guild, 32 Guildhall Road, Northampton NN1 1EW