How To Build A Creative Community

Whether you’re a designer, crafter, maker or painter – freelancing or running your own brand can often be a lonely business. To combat the isolation which solo-makers can feel, it is essential to build your own network of supportive, likeminded creatives.

Creative communities come in all shapes and sizes and offer all sorts of benefits; from practical advice and skill-sharing to emotional support. Even the most independent of makers can’t turn their aspirations into reality on their own - creatives need creatives.

But just how do you go about building your own network? 91 contributor Greg McIndoe caught up with a few small business owners to hear about their experiences growing and sustaining a creative community… 

building a creative community
an art project to help build a creative community

Libby Walker

Illustrator and maker Libby Walker graduated with a degree in Illustration from Edinburgh College of Art in 2009. Having spent years working her way up through different markets and  studio spaces, last summer Libby opened the doors to her very own shop in the south side of Glasgow. If you pop in to Libby’s bright yellow store you’ll find a whole host of totes, prints, mugs and cushions on sale as well as the artist herself, beavering away on her next colourful creation.

The shop is currently displaying an exhibition of new works by Libby inspired by her retail neighbours. The series depicts many businesses local to her - including beer shops, salons and queer book shops - along with the people who run them. Libby created the series to highlight the fact that many small businesses are run by just one person. Knowing herself how much work and risk is involved in launching your own business, the project commends her fellow shop owners for their brave business moves and thanks them for shaping the local community.

The beautiful illustrations are going to be edited into a single print which will be sold by Libby both online and in her physical store. The original paintings however will be gifted to the people who inspired them. In return, Libby has been promised beer, haircuts, plants, vintage treats and – most importantly - a tribe of new friends. This project is a perfect example of how creativity can be used to connect with people and immerse yourself within a community.

libbywalker.co.uk

Frome Independent Market
Frome Independent Market

The Frome Independent

The Frome Independent market was launched in 2009 by a local entrepreneur with the aim of bringing footfall to the independent shops of Frome’s picturesque cobbled streets. Over the past decade, the non-profit business has grown from working with just a handful of sellers to over 200 and now welcomes around 80,000 visitors a year. Once a month, a close-knit community of sellers, including contemporary crafters, homeware designers and ethical clothing and jewellery brands, assemble on the streets of Frome to flog their latest wares.

Frome Independent strives to be ‘more than a market’ and a key part of this effort has been encouraging makers and craftspeople to form their own ‘community with benefits’ which extended beyond market days. The organisers have witnessed countless friendships between traders form and strengthen as a result of trading alongside one another at the market. The strength of this community has been proven by many of Frome’s traders going on to open their own shops in the local area.

Creatives who trade at the market have nothing but praise for the organisation. Elizabeth Huband is the owner of ethical brand Badger House Leather who sell at Frome Independent each month. Currently one year in to her business journey, Elizabeth names Frome Independent as the catalyst which sparked the idea for her to turn her passion into a business and strongly believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without it.

Elizabeth explains that the benefits of the community go way beyond simply being able to sell products. She says, “the market allows you to feel connected to the community you live in, to collaborate with other makers and artists and to broaden your horizons in ways you never thought you would. I’m now doing business differently and frankly, doing it better!” This glowing review shows how surrounding yourself with like-minded creatives - even on a monthly basis - can benefit you and your business in ways you never knew it could.

thefromeindependent.org.uk

ohh deer - building creative communities online
ohh deer - building creative communities online

 Ohh Deer

Over the past 8 years, Ohh Deer has established itself as a go-to online destination when searching for the perfect quirky gift. A significant amount of the brand’s success story is rooted in the online community they have built up over the years. The half a million followers which Ohh Deer have gathered across their social platforms have helped their business to grow and grow.

 In the beginning, Ohh Deer started as a blog before launching themselves into the world of stylish stationery with the help of 10 illustrators whom they connected with through Twitter. They have now worked with over 100 creatives to create gorgeous, illustrated products which can be found in the likes of Oliver Bonas, John Lewis, Urban Outfitters and ASOS. 

Despite having amassed this impressive following, Mark Callaby - who founded Ohh Deer with his partner Jamie Mitchell back in 2011 - says that getting the best out of social media has become increasingly difficult over the years. In particular, the constantly changing and ever-unpopular Instagram algorithm has made it more and more difficult for Ohh Deer to engage with their followers. Undeterred, Mark simply sees this as a chance for his team to up their game – a challenge which he praises them for rising to triumphantly.

 Ohh Deer’s is undoubtedly a success story but it hasn’t been without it’s learning curves. Last year, they chose to open a physical shop in each of the co-founders hometowns of Ipswich and Loughborough. Unfortunately, their Ipswich store was forced to close a few months ago. Whilst this was a difficult process, it did offer them an insight into where Ohh Deer’s strengths lie as a business.

Speaking about the change Mark says that “the high street can be tough and for us our strengths are definitely online and selling to other shops so we've realigned the business over the last 12 months to play towards these strengths even more.” Mark is very open about the fact that he and Jamie have made plenty of mistakes during Ohh Deer’s history but each one has taught them how to be more business-savvy and calculated when taking essential risks. An important lesson to takeaway from Ohh Deer is how they have assessed and realised where their strengths lie. Before you can grow anything, it’s important to know where best to plant the seed.

ohhdeer.com

mayke collective - a blogging collective or creative makers and designers
mayke collective - a blogging collective or creative makers and designers

Mayke Collective

Last year, some of the UK’s leading lifestyle bloggers came together to form Mayke Collective. Five well-established content creators - Caroline Burke, Medina Grillo, Teri Muncey, Francesca Stone and Hester Van Overbeek - chose to band together to pool their creative resources, increasing their individual reach and therefore power within the blogging industry. The collective offer brands the opportunity to benefit from all of the member’s collective audiences as well as their 30 years joint experience within the industry.

 The idea for Mayke Collective was initiated by Hester Van Overbeek who blogs at Hester’s Handmade Home. Having worked independently as a freelancer for years, she missed having coworkers to bounce ideas off of and vent to after a bad day. Hester already had a community of bloggers which she chatted to online and socialised with at events and wanted to strengthen some of these connections and harness the collective power they offered. Hester describes each of the members as the ‘perfect match’ as they all create similar content but with their own unique creative style. An added bonus came with the fact that they are all mothers and so understand each other’s time limitations. The blogging dream team worked together planning the collective for a year before it launched. 

Since launching, Mayke Collective has gradually gained momentum and is offering its members more and more benefits. The collective offers the brands which each of the individual bloggers work with more coverage and gives their followers more free content plus they share PR contacts and resources with each other to help gain new clients. Best of all though, Hester feels like she has colleagues again. Having experienced how lonely a relatively young industry such as blogging can be, the best benefit has been having people who understand her and her business to talk to. Whether it is a contract query or some reassurance when she is feeling uncertain during a quiet period, the collective guarantees there is always someone there to listen. Mayke Collective seem to have struck the perfect balance as they are able to nurture their businesses, inner creatives and friendships all at once.

maykecollective.com 

the members of Mayke Collective

the members of Mayke Collective

There is so much to learn from these creatives, so along with their wise words and my own experiences, here are some top tips for building a creative community…

Collaboration over competition

Every creative I spoke to concurred that collaboration should always be favoured over competition. Libby Walker encourages all makers to “be creative, heartfelt , supportive and reward local support.” Mark Callaby agrees that the goal should always be to make friends even if you see someone as competition, saying “my parents taught me that manners go along way and they couldn't be more right!”

 Support your fellow creatives

The first step in building a community can be showing one-on-one support to a fellow creative. This can be something simple like choosing a few of your favourite profiles to share on your Instagram stories, or popping in to your local independent shop for a chat. Whether online or in person, these interactions are often the first stepping stone on the road to a thriving community.

 Do your hashtag research

Mayke Collective’s Hester Van Overbeek shared insight into how to build a creative community specifically through social media platforms. She advises you look at relevant hashtags or create your own to start a conversation and engage with fellow creatives who inspire you. There are countless examples of creative communities which started through a hashtag and if you can’t find one which fits then you can always start your own.

 Engage with people IRL

While social media is wonderful for building online relationships, nothing beats connecting with other creatives in real life. The sellers at Frome Market agree that the human interaction these events offer can prove just as valuable as any sales you make. Real life interactions can mean stepping further outside your comfort zone but the rewards will more than likely outweigh the discomfort.

Think about diversity

If you are thinking of setting up a creative community - be it a collective, an online platform or a design event - it is important to think about diversity. Online especially, the perspectives we are offered are often filtered to be as close to our own as possible. By making the effort to broaden these perspectives and include a range of people from a spectrum of genders, sexualities and races we in turn broaden our understanding of the world around us. The best design events that I have attended - such as Pecha Kucha Dundee - have included a diverse rostra of talent and allowed the attendees to reap the benefits of this inclusivity.

 Connect instead of simply selling

Similarly, if you are in the position to hold any kind of event, then think about what you are offering people, other than simply the chance to sell things. Speaking from his experiences with Ohh Deer, Mark Callaby wants to push for networking events which are more than a sales pitching opportunity saying “I get that we're all here to make some money, but we should also be here to support each other as running a business can be really isolating if you're not around like-minded people.”

Follow your own path

Mark also encourages people not to feel restricted by what has come before saying “I've seen a lot of companies that try to copy others successes and they quickly fail.” He admits that when he and Jamie started Ohh Deer they had no clue about the industry, but this in fact helped them find their own identity without being overly influenced by others. Creative communities can take any form and if you have an alternative idea of how one should look or how it should be grown then go for it!

 Remember, you are not alone

Finally, remember that you are not alone in feeling isolated sometimes. It is easy to feel like you are the only one that doesn’t know anyone when you attend an event or be a little nervous starting a conversation with a creative whose work you love. Remember though, that we all either are or have been in the same position. Wanting to make connections with other creatives is very common and if you make the first move, the reaction will most likely be positive. You know that warm feeling you get when you get a nice message about your work or someone compliments your products? Well we all get that feeling too and we’d love to be part of a community which makes us feel it all the time.

Should You Turn Your Hobby Into A Business?

Starting your own business has never been easier or more commonplace - but is it something we all need to be doing? Slow marketing coach Kayte Ferris talks us through the questions you need to ask yourself when considering transforming a hobby into a business and if you do, how to get started.

should you turn your hobby into a business?

“Should I turn my hobby into a business?” – isn’t that the perennial question of creative people everywhere? Whether you write a blog and everyone around you seems to be monetising, or your friends insist that “you should totally sell these!” about your craft projects, it can feel like you’re somehow ‘falling behind’ by not selling your work. It feels at the moment that the air is thick with talk of side-hustles and productivity that make the whole idea that maybe this is something you should be doing all the more pervasive. But the question remains: should you turn your hobby into a business?

For a long time online, monetising your passions was seen as the ultimate self-actualisation. As the old adage goes, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, and a whole generation took those words to heart and strove to forge careers and businesses that gave them the best of both worlds. However, recently, there has been a small backlash within generation monetise, with online magazine Man Repeller claiming “We don’t have to monetize or optimize or organize our joy. Hobbies don’t have to be imbued with a purpose beyond our own enjoyment of them. They, alone, can be enough.”

 Ultimately, though, this is a decision that is yours to make, and yours alone. It’s very much the kind of decision you want to outsource – that’s probably why you’re reading this article! It feels too big, too life changing, to be made by just you; you surely need to crowdsource opinions from those who ‘know better’ and follow the advice of those who seem more sure about what’s right than you. It’s a comforting notion, but not an empowered one. Giving the power to decide the course of the next phase of your life to strangers on the internet is, when you put it like that, a pretty crazy idea.

Should you turn your hobby into a business?

But still, that doesn’t change the fact that you don’t really know how you feel and what you want, right? Maybe you sought out other opinions as a way to clarify your own thoughts, but all that’s happened is that you’re now more confused, with the added weight of knowing what other people in your life expect you to do. In order to make this decision, you need to get in touch with your subconscious thoughts and feelings, feeling your way intuitively around the dark recesses of your brain to dig out some dusty thoughts from the back. And here are some questions to help you do that.

1. How do you want to feel in your life?

Find a moment of stillness where you can feel comfortable, close your ideas and imagine yourself transported to an ideal world a few months from now. What is it like, here in your ideal future? Where are you, what are the colours and the light like, what are the smells and the sounds? (Introducing the senses to this vision helps to make it real for the brain and grounds you in this place.) How are you feeling, name those emotions.

With the vision in your mind, think about how your hobby features in that version of your life? Did it feel like it was possible because your hobby was your business, or do you think that monetising your hobby will jeopardise that vision?

The future vision is something I use to make decisions all the time in my business. In my vision, I’m in a garden; it’s evening because the light is low and golden, and all around me is green. I’m touching roses with my fingertips and the heady smell of flowers is all around like a cocoon. I know that inside my work is patiently waiting for me, but that I have nowhere urgently to be and no one to answer to. Any time I’m faced with a choice or a decision, I choose the one that will bring me closer to that feeling in my vision.

2. What would your dream week look like?

This is a popular exercise from my Purpose Kit to help you start to think about what is most important to you. 

An email drops into your inbox. A loved one nominated you for a ‘week away from routine’ and you’ve now got a whole week to do what you want with. You can choose where you take this week - stay at home, go to your favourite place, fly to the other side of the world. The only expectation is that you do whatever you want to in that week - you must do nothing out of obligation. 

Write down a few lines about where you’re taking your dream week - where you’re staying, what the weather is like, how you’re feeling. Ground yourself in this place, really feel it. Don’t skip this part! It makes the difference in taking your mind truly away.

Now, plan out what you’re going to do in this week. What are you going to do that’s just for you, that fills you up? Write out your itinerary.

What does this tell you in terms of what’s important for you? Would monetising your hobby be more or less like this dream week?

 3. When you think about monetising your hobby, what sensations do you feel in your body? 

This is a very traditional way of accessing your intuition and is actually really helpful when you have a specific question like this. Again get yourself somewhere comfortable (I quite like doing thinking like this in the bath!), lie back and clear your mind as much as possible of all the thoughts you’ve had about this, and all the opinions of others.

If you’re not used to connecting with your intuition, a practice run might help. Get to know how your body feels when you speak the truth, and how it feels when you tell a lie to see how it reacts to what is right and what is wrong. This is a trick I learned from Susannah Conway: say out loud “my name is [your actual name]” and take note of any feelings in your body; then say out loud “my name is [a name that is not your name]”. How do the feelings change?

Form your version of that question in your mind, ‘should I turn my hobby into a business?’, speak it out loud if you don’t feel too awkward, and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Do you feel any pangs, sparks, heaviness, tightness? Where in the body are those feelings? If you did the practice run, do they feel more like the truth or the lie? Can you put a name to any of the feelings – excitement or dread, potential or worry?

Should you turn your hobby into a business?

Hopefully, by working through these questions, you have more of a steer of what feels right and true to you. Maybe the answer surprised you, or perhaps wasn’t quite the one you wanted, but at least it’s come from you – you can know that you truly wanted it, or that you didn’t. So what next? If your intuition told you to keep your hobby for yourself, you can relieve the pressure – if you feel you need to, formulate a stock answer to quash those “you should be selling these” conversations, and go about enjoying your hobby!

If, however, your intuition said “let’s go for it”, you’ve likely got a whole other set of questions now! Where do I start? Do I need a business plan? What’s the next step? Here is my key advice for those on the cusp of their business:

  • Start before you’re ready – get a website up, start sharing your work on social media, book a market, do whatever it takes to start being visible in your business. Our compulsion is to work away in the background until everything is ready and perfect but the problem with that is two-fold: if you’re waiting for it to be perfect you’ll never take it public, and if you’re keeping it a secret then your potential customers aren’t getting to know you and trust you

  • Experiment – when you’re starting out is the perfect time to test and try things out, as you haven’t got much to lose if it doesn’t go so well. Play around and see what works, have fun with creating different content and try on some different methods of marketing. Don’t feel you have to start out with a rigid plan; your plan will be better for having things you’ve already tested in it

  • Be curatorial with the advice you take – there is so much business advice on the internet, and a lot of it won’t apply to you. People may be writing for business owners with a different business to yours, or at a different stage. Stay connected to your intuition and don’t assume that others know best – follow the advice that feels right

Ultimately, whether you decide to start turning your hobby into a business now, later or never, my biggest hope for you is that you continue to stay in close contact with yourself. As you continue to tread this path you will have well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) voices telling you what you definitely must do – it is never ‘wrong’ to do what feels like the best thing for you, even if that’s not what others want. It’s all in your power, and you can exercise it.

You can find more from Kayte at simpleandseason.com. Basecamp, her course to help overwhelmed beginners get going with their businesses, is available now.

Now is the time for independent retailers

If you’re an independent shopkeeper whose ever felt disheartened by the domination of big brands in the retail sector, and wonder how you will ever compete, then read on. Retail Strategist and founder of Future Retail Consulting Catherine Erdly tells us why now is the perfect time to be an independent brand and speaks with four business owners who have not let the big players put them off in following their retail dream…

Another week, another story about the death of the high street. With Amazon continuing its path to world domination, it can feel like a worrying and uncertain time for those of us in the business of selling products. However, looking more deeply into the reasons behind the failure of big retailers shows a different story.

 It shows a story of customers waking up to the possibility of something different, something special and something that speaks directly to them. In that way, there has never been a better time to be a creative retail business.

The Fig Store, featured in  91 Magazine AW17 . Photograph by:  Kym Grimshaw

The Fig Store, featured in 91 Magazine AW17. Photograph by: Kym Grimshaw

Retail Revolution

Let’s be clear, retail is not dead, but BORING retail is!

In the 80s, 90s and 00s, people were interested in fitting in or “keeping up with the Jones”. Big retailers expanded - convinced that the way to keep growing was to take on more and more store space. Because they were servicing a customer base that was interested in fitting in, they were able to manufacture in bulk. Prices in China were so low that they could achieve huge profit margins to cover their costs. This created large chains with identical stores, full of unadventurous products designed to appeal to as many people as possible.

 As consumer behaviour has changed, especially with the growth of online shopping, then these retailers have been slow to catch up. So, when many of them were faced with a customer who no longer wanted something boring and mediocre (BHS anyone?), then they could no longer keep going.

Midgley Green, featured in  91 Magazine SS18 . Photograph by:  Kym Grimshaw

Midgley Green, featured in 91 Magazine SS18. Photograph by: Kym Grimshaw

People no longer want “stuff”

Fast forward to 2019, and now not only do people want to stand out instead of fit in, most people are dealing with having far too much stuff in their lives. We want fewer items, but for them to mean more, suit us better and reflect more of our personality.

 They want to connect with other people who share their values

More than that, today’s consumer, especially the younger generation, really want to connect with companies that share their values. They are far less interested in faceless corporations and much more interested in seeing the founder on their Insta stories giving a tour of their workspace. They want to buy, and support, businesses that share their beliefs and their world views. 

The story of your brand has become one of the most valuable marketing assets for retail businesses in 2019 - but what is Debenhams story? Or Next’s for example? 

Conscious consumerism is here to stay

2018 marked a tipping point for public awareness of the environmental impact of modern manufacturing.  The move away from single-use plastic and growth in reusable items such as coffee cups is another example of how today’s customer is far more interested in sustainability than ever before.

 And this environmental awareness amongst customers is only going to grow. Generation Z, who are rapidly gaining purchasing power as they move into adulthood, tend to be very aware of environmental issues and are even more likely than other age groups to base their purchasing decisions on how products are manufactured.

As the GlobalData report on UK Sustainability in 2019 highlighted, 93.5% of consumers want retailers to act sustainably, and 80% of them feel that retailers are not doing enough. The perfect opportunity for small businesses with a focus on sustainability to shine.

Winters Moon, featured in  91 Magazine SS18 . Photograph by  Georgia Gold .

Winters Moon, featured in 91 Magazine SS18. Photograph by Georgia Gold.

Independent businesses can build a community

So what does all of this mean for independent retailers? Well, as an independent retailer or brand, you are perfectly placed to take advantage of these shifts in buying behaviour. You can relate directly to your customers as a real human being, not a faceless corporation, mainly because it actually IS you talking to the customers, not a marketing department!

You can build relationships with your customers, getting their feedback on new products, understanding what they like and don’t like, and inviting them to be part of your buying process. Above all, you can relate to your customers by sharing your story and your values, and ultimately build a community around you of people who share their world view. Focus not on trying to beat the bigger retailers at their game - no-one will ever be faster than Amazon - but think instead about what you can do that the bigger retailers can’t.

To find out more about how independent businesses can compete successfully against bigger players, we asked four independent businesses to share how they focus on what small businesses do best.

Hetu, zero waste food store, London
Hetu, zero waste food store, London
Laura, owner of Hetu

FOOD 

Laura Boyes, founder, Hetu Zero Waste Store

Hi Laura, how long have you been running Hetu? 

Hetu opened its doors on 3 December 2017 but I was working on it for about 9 months before opening.

What inspired you to start your business?

I was living in Australia which had over 50 zero waste shops, while there were only a handful across the whole of the UK and none in London. At that time I was also looking for a new direction in life. So I decided to return home and open London’s first fully vegan zero waste shop.

What will a customer get from you that they won't get from a supermarket?

Loads! Our customers get the personal treatment, we know our regulars by name. They get advice and help along their vegan or zero waste journey.

 They also know that we have done the research for them and only stock products that meet our strict guidelines. And above all, our customers get to go home with plastic free, vegan and cruelty free products.

Why do you think customers like to shop with independent food stores?

It helps foster a feeling of community. People like knowing that their money isn’t going direct to big corporations and making the rich even richer.

 How have you used your physical shop to create a relationship with your customers?

Our customers have become friends, I see them more than I see my own family!  Being able to interact with customers face to face means we really truly know them and know what they need. We are always asking for feedback and they know they are part of the shop and its success, not just another customer. 

What advice would you give to a small business competing in a category dominated by big players?

Don’t be afraid to stay ‘small’ - scalability does not always means success. Staying small means we can be nimble and change quickly as and when needed. It also means we are able to make decisions based on principles, not on making shareholder profits.

Small print books
Small Print Books
Jenny, owner of Small Print Books

BOOKS

Jenny Thomas, founder, Smallprint Books

 Hi Jenny, can you tell us when (and why!) you started Smallprint?

I started the business online in January of 2015 having worked on the concept for 9 months or so. The bricks and mortar shop opened in October 2017. After 2 children, I was ready to throw myself into something new and exciting! 

What is the appeal of shopping in an independent bookstore?

Books are magical - they transport you to a new place of possibility and imagination. Shopping with independent bookshops is a special act as you impart some of that magic from the seller to the reader, it's a lovely exchange of feelings and positivity. 

How important has building a community been for your brand?

Hugely important! You are nothing without word of mouth and that has been our number one force to withstand the pressures on small businesses. 

Smallprint grew in the early days through community fairs and festivals - speaking to people and hearing their stories about childhood favourites and the power of words and pictures to raise children. Every day someone comes in who has been recommended and that is something I am forever thankful for!

How have you used your bricks and mortar space to grow that community?

We host a series of events in the space we created at the rear of the shop. We have a lively room with beautiful artwork and tipis, cushions and drawing tables. We have a program including dance, music, storytelling and languages as well as craft and story sessions with authors and illustrators. We have great success with regular attendance for these and we keep them free so everyone can access.

What advice would you give when it comes to your competition, who may well be much bigger than you?

Believe in yourself and switch off to the competition! Not everyone wants to give their money to big corporations. Yes it can be disheartening when someone comes and chooses to buy elsewhere, but stay true to your USP and believe in your heart that you are doing something that makes a difference. 

mind the cork
mind the cork
Jenny, designer and owner of Mind the Cork

HOMEWARES 

Jenny Espirito Santo, founder, Mind The Cork

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jenny! Tell us about your journey so far with Mind The Cork.

I started Mind The Cork on a very part time basis back in 2014. It partly started due to my love of the material - cork is incredibly sustainable. The brand has evolved hugely since that time - and sustainability is becoming even more important for the customer today. 

What benefits do your customers get from buying from a small business?

There isn’t anything that we, as customers, don’t already have. So the vast majority of purchasing is not a necessity, everything that people buy is frivolous, in a way.    

If you buy from a small business, then you get to be part of something. If you want something bespoke, then a human is able to customise products specifically for you. You can have that “beyond the brand” connection with a real human being who’s behind the products.

How many of your customers come to you because of shared values?

It’s a mixture really. There is definitely a customer who comes to me because of my minimalist, pared down aesthetic. And others, who love the cork leather products I make because they are waterproof and behave like leather, but are completely vegan.

But I’m also very much against mass-production, and I’m constantly looking at ways to improve the design and processes of making the product to reduce my impact. I definitely attract others who share that ethos.

What advice would you give to anyone competing in a niche dominated by larger players?

Don’t try to compete. It’s as simple as that. You have to remember that small businesses, often one person, will never compete with an entire marketing department in a bigger retailer.

What we do have is ourselves, as human beings. Life is about connections. Human to human. 

We care about what we are doing, not because we’re in it for the money, but because we are passionate about the design, material and ethos of our business. When people buy from us, they are buying that passion. 

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 13.35.56.png
Lowie
Bronwyn, owner of Lowie

FASHION

Bronwyn Lowenthal, founder, Lowie 

Hi Bronwyn, tell us about how Lowie began.

 Lowie began life in 2002 when I was travelling in Turkey. I’ve always been fascinated by local handcrafts and I brought back some knitted socks. They were an instant hit and in our first season we were stocked in House of Fraser and Topshop. 

We expanded over the years out of knitwear and into other ranges - always produced ethically, and using organic cotton.

Five and a half years ago we opened a shop in Herne Hill in South London, and then two years ago added a second site, also in South London, in Crystal Palace.

Why do customers love to shop with you?

People love to support local businesses. Our customers want something different, unusual and with a story to tell, they don’t want to be wearing the same as everyone else. Also we’re big on colour!

 We offer free repairs for life which gives the customers trust in the brand. They know that for us to offer that service, the garments must be high quality and durable.

How does having a physical store help build that relationship?

Having a place where we can talk to our customers definitely helps build trust. We know that 50% of our web orders come from local customers. They know the quality and they’ve seen and touched the clothes and tried them on. 

But you can’t just hang clothes on a rail and expect people to buy them. You need to offer an experience - our customers love the personal attention and convenience that comes from shopping at a small boutique close to home. 

What advice would you like to share with other small businesses competing against bigger brands?

Hone your offer, make sure it’s unique, so that people have got to have a reason to come to you. There is no point in doing what the high street is doing but charging more money for it. 

People love to support small businesses but they won’t spend more money just because you’re small. They need a distinct offer, so the design is really important.


If you are a small retail business and feel you need some help with pointing your business in the right direction, check out Catherine’s website - Future Retail consulting - you’ll find useful blog posts as well as details on her online & IRL workshops and 1-2-1 sessions. Catherine is offering 91 Magazine readers 10% off her one-to-one services booked in the months of June, July and August. Just quote ‘91 Magazine’ when you contact Catherine.