A Year of Trying & Learning

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2019 was a year of trying things out. I had started to get itchy feet in the business in the spring - I felt like I was treading water and wasn’t quite sure where to go next. I had been running my website and studio space for a good few years and though the studio is a great space it didn’t have the footfall I wanted and had its limitations in other ways….it could be quite isolating for one thing.

I decided the best thing I could do was talk to people who had maybe grown their business in the direction I thought I wanted to head in. So I rang lovely Molly at Molly Meg - we had known each other since doing a few vintage shows together as she had started out selling vintage items for kids and I had huge respect for the amazing business and following she has created. Molly basically said to try a few pop-ups…..so I did! I did a 2 week stint at Draper’s Yard in Chichester in the summer.

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This basically told me that if I could get my range in front of more people they would buy it, being visible and accessible was key. So I then set my sights on a Christmas pop-up in Chichester city centre. After a fair bit of toing and froing and talking to loads of people I got the opportunity to have a space in pretty much the most beautiful shop in the city, 30 North St. An amazing listed building that used to be a very traditional gentleman’s outfitters, which had been bought by John and Annette who were renovating it to live in the upper floors and rent out the ground floor as two retail spaces. I ended up sharing the space with Jonny from Gnarly Tree - he had been trying to get a pop-up space too and we had been comparing notes and I thought maybe the 5 week / 7 day a week slog up to Christmas would be easier shared and that was basically one of the best decisions I made last year.

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The pop-up worked - better than we could have hoped. Chichester has been sadly depleted of more interesting retailers over the past few years (big brands move in, rents go up….you know the story) so interesting products that are well-made with a real person behind the brand just seemed to be really appreciated. Jonny and I also worked hard to ‘give good shop’ and I don’t think I have laughed as much at work for ages. I liked dealing with customers and realised this is what I was missing in the studio.

After Christmas John, the landlord, asked if I wanted to stay on as the building was still not ready to be properly let as they were still doing lots of building work. My first reaction was ‘err thanks but no thanks’, I was SO tired, pre-Christmas had been exhausting and I just wanted a break. But then I thought about it and thought this is the best chance I am going to get to see what retail looks like when it’s not Christmas. So I stayed, and Jonny stayed too. Today, at the end of February, we packed up the shop to move out, Jonny is going back to his new studio in East Dean. And I am only actually moving next door, to 29 North St. with the beautiful window above, and this time it’s long term.

I am really excited that John and Annette were keen for me to stay and I am really grateful that we have managed to work out a deal that was realistic for a business of my size. Having a supportive landlord who is keen to support the independent is the thing that has made the difference in this situation and I am very aware of how fortunate I am, and just hope that other property owners might take this approach in the current climate.

For the short term the space will still be a bit of a work in progress as the building work gets finished, but hopefully by April I will be able to occupy the full space….with the ability to make a cup of tea too!

I doubt I would be in this situation if I hadn’t rung Molly, or done the pop-up at Draper’s Yard. So my key learning is just to try different things, ask those that you respect for help and who knows where it will lead you.

I still have loads of work ahead, retail basically isn’t easy whoever you are so there are no guarantees, but i think I stand the best chance I ever have and hope you might get the chance to come say hi if you are ever in my beautiful city.

Julia x

P.S Huge thanks to my lovely husband Pete for his unwavering support, and all my clever friends who I have tapped for advice and input along the way - you know who you are - and I promise to stop talking about it now. xx

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