Discovering Emerging Talents + New Designs from a Shop That’s “not just a shop”
The joy of finding a new, undiscovered designer is two-fold. You get to support emerging talent as well be one of the first to sport cool, original design before it breaks the news. At not just a shop, new design by emerging designers is exactly what you can expect to find. Pioneered by the University of the Arts London (UAL), this unique store features a range of design-led products and artwork by students and alumni of the university’s six prestigious art colleges: Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion, and Wimbledon College of Arts.
For many students and alumni, not just a shop is more than just a retail store. The concept store is their first ever stockist so the concept store serves as a launch-pad for them to jump-start their careers post-college. Proceeds from the shop goes directly back to the department’s enterprise program which helps support the young design community with free talks, workshops, funding, and one-to-one business education and support. It’s also used as a venue space for the UAL to host learning events centered around invaluable topics for creatives and designers, such as pricing + selling, intellectual property, building a brand, and delivering the perfect speech. Buy great design + supporting great designers: it’s completely a win-win, guilt-free shopping experience.
We caught up with Natalie Stevens, Enterprise Space Retail Manager at UAL, to learn about how the shop has changed since opening in September 2017 and what’s to come for the shop…
Why did you pick this storefront?
This space is part of the main University of the Arts London (UAL) campus. We previously used it to showcase student and alumni work through a rolling exhibition program and ran a few pop-up shops as part of that, which were always really successful. We quickly realized that there was potential to turn it into a full-time store as a way of supporting our students and alumni with their creative enterprises. High Holborn is a really busy stretch of London, so we also saw an opportunity to provide local consumers – and the many tourists who visit the area – with the chance to buy unique, design-led products.
Where did you get the name for the store?
The name not just a shop derives from the fact that it is much more than a commercial retail space; profits from the shop are reinvested back into UAL’s enterprise learning program, which provides students and alumni with free talks, workshops, funding and one-to-one business education and support. We want UAL students to see what their contemporaries are achieving with their fine art practices and design businesses and to feel inspired to set-up their own. Our enterprise learning program therefore covers everything from marketing and branding, to getting your design ideas into manufacture.
Has it changed much since it opened? How?
We’ve made a number of small changes to the space since opening in September last year; mostly adding more storage and display space to accommodate our ever increasing product ranges! We have also established our open-calls process, so now all UAL students and graduates can submit their art and design work to be considered for sale.
What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?
In order to run enterprise events program for UAL students and graduates, we have a limited opening times from 11-3pm (Mon-Fri) which can become restrictive for those outside the area to visit. We’re keen to attract visitors from a wider geographical area so we’re now trialling late night opening hours to allow customers to travel to us after work. We also plan to launch an online shop later this year to allow us to take national and potentially international orders.
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
My path to setting up not just a shop has been an unusual one! At UAL I used to manage the UAL Art Collection (purchases and rentals) as well as an exhibition program showcasing artists and designers in exhibitions, art fairs and trade shows. My previous employment in an art consultancy gave me a good understating of the commercial art world, and I’ve worked with an amazing retail consultant who has given me lots of useful advice and support for this project.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
My favourite item at the moment are the new sports luxe bags by Just Kim. She hand prints the designs on neoprene and the pieces are manufactured by ‘Making for Change’, a social enterprise programme set up by London College of Fashion and the Ministry of Justice.
What is this season’s theme?
We have a big ethical push at the moment; lots of our products are made in the UK and many of our designers support a social enterprise or charitable initiative. Examples include: AURAQUE, Just Kim Prints, Kaloskopic, ES Studio, Terracotta Row and Bonito.
We recently took delivery of all of our summer stock so there are also lots of amazing bright colors on the shelves right now.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
We have just bought in a new designer, JDP Ceramics, a graduate from CSM who makes these beautiful ceramic vases each one with a totally unique pattern. He is showing them at the UAL stand at the Pulse trade show coming up in May, and already received several orders just from being on the Pulse website. It is really exciting to support a designer at the early stages of business and watch them grow!
What’s been a consistent best seller?
We have two main big sellers. The Yuta Segawa hand thrown miniature pots are hugely popular and we have lists of people leaving their email addresses when we sell out. The second are the cheeky Chatty Feet socks – we sell so many our director jokes that we are running a sock shop!
Does the store have its own line?
Not yet but that’s definitely not too far away. UAL is a hotbed of creativity so we plan to work with current students to produce ranges of beautiful and useful merchandise. We ran a really successful Christmas card competition last year which was a great test run to the process. We had 4 designs sold in packs of 8, and they were exclusive to our store which our customers really liked.
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collaborations coming up?
We’re planning something really exciting for this year’s London Design Festival as we opened just after the festival last year. Watch this space!
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
I’ve treated myself to a few jewellery pieces (by Materia Rica and Finchittida) and two beautiful Yuta Segawa pots – it’s a dangerous place to work!
What’s next for you and your store?
We have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline at not just a shop including a branded merchandise range developed in collaboration with current students, some public-facing events and the launch of our online store later this year.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned since opening your store?
There is no rhyme or reason to a good day of sales (other than the classic retail biggies like Christmas, Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day). We try and attribute good/bad sales to the weather, but it can go either way! The main thing I have learnt is to not worry too much about it and to just focus on ensuring the displays are well merchandised, products are positioned well and the shop is as welcoming and inviting as possible.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to follow a similar path to yours, what would it be?
I work for UAL’s Careers & Employability department, which help students and alumni to make a living doing what they love, so my advice would have to be go for it! There are many ways to test the water; if you’ve got a great product idea try selling it at markets, fairs, pop-up shops and online before investing in a permanent retail space.
If you’re a UAL student or alumni, you can submit an application to not just a shop’s open call (held 4x a year) to be featured in the store here.
Shop at not just a shop in person at 272 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EY!
Photos by Yeshen Venema and Damian Griffiths.