Shop - A Sale in Two Cities

A Sale in Two Cities

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Are mass-produced high street goods killing independent retail? No, finds Kirstin Innes as she visits two shops in Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of which are bucking the trend

Krista Blake and Fleur Macintosh haven’t met. Maybe they should have. Macintosh took over tiny Edinburgh vintage clothing store Godiva as a 23-year-old graduate, and, five years and a change of venue later, it is one of the most original clothing outlets in the country and a showcase for young emerging fashion designers. Blake opened her shop Hitherto in the space at the back of Glasgow’s new Ingram Street Tinderbox late last year, and she’s already built up a network of young artists anxious to display in the shop. Both of them have made good use of the range of design talent currently coming out of Scotland’s art schools, and the success of both establishments offers hope for the future of independent retail.

‘When I took over the shop, I wanted to use it to make a stand against fast food fashion,’ says Macintosh. ‘Everything is so trend-led and mass-produced these days. I inherited lots of leftover vintage clothes, and body shapes have changed so much that there weren’t really any sellable items, but I thought they could be customised. Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) is so close to the shop, so I went along to the degree show and put a poster up - I didn’t know what on earth I was doing, I just thought I’d see what the response was. Lots of people came to the first meeting, and I gave them the unsold vintage fabric and clothes from the original shop to play with - just altering jumpers and resizing things at first.’

Godiva now stocks the work of a variety of young designers - most of them Scottish and many of them still from that original pool of fashion students. ‘There’s such a high standard of tuition at ECA that when the graduates come through, their skills are amazing. There wasn’t really any outlet in Edinburgh for their talent at the time, which was a total waste. You go down to Leeds, Brighton, London and everyone’s running their own customising business, but here there was nothing. I just approached the designers I’d been working with after they graduated, and said ‘why not stay in Edinburgh instead of trying to compete in London?’

Godiva is now part of a network of independently-run shops in the Grassmarket area, including the Victoria Street base of fashion and accessory label Totty Rocks, which is run by art college lecturers Holly Campbell and Lynsey Miller. The shop also has its own MySpace page.

‘I love MySpace!’ says Macintosh with a grin. ‘I get hits every day. I’ve met a lot of designers I stock through MySpace, and found out a lot about ethical projects and mini trade shows going on. It’s really good for independent small businesses.’ Macintosh found she was taking in so much new work that she moved to larger premises further down the West Port last year. The designer section, which started as one small rail with eight pieces on it, now occupies the whole of the sunny front room.

Across the M8, in the peaceful, white, high-windowed space tucked behind Tinderbox, Krista Blake agrees with Macintosh’s anti-mass production ethos. ‘I got fed up of going to shops where you would see the same things over and over again. I’m trying to give people access to things that have merit and value; just nice, interesting items to make them talk.’

Unlike Godiva, which focuses exclusively on clothes and accessories, Hitherto stocks an eclectic range of pictures, records, clothes and upmarket bric-a-brac. Both shops share a commitment to promoting young local talent, however. ‘People just seem to have gravitated here through word of mouth,’ says Blake. ‘I didn’t actively approach people - I know a few artists, and I spoke to Mark Bains, a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art, and told him to get his students in here. It’s that funny thing where people just kind of find out about us. Eilidh Weir, who is a student at GSA, just breezed in and asked if I wanted to buy her calendars - she’d hand-drawn all these great 1940s pinups, the classic girly calendar, but she’d given them birds’ heads for breasts. They were fantastic and sold out really quickly.’

I mention that it feels a little like a gallery, and Blake responds enthusiastically. ‘Yeah. People just kind of come in and get lost here - one great thing about being at the back of a coffee shop is that we attract a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily come in to a gallery. It’s a really great platform for the artists.’

The huge white wall at the back of the shop is currently painted with an intricate leafy tree mural by Plat, otherwise known as GSA graduates Emily Robertson and Sophia Pankenier, whose work Blake saw at a friend’s house. She commissioned them not only to paint the back wall, but to design logos, business cards, branded bags and T-shirts for the shop. ‘I just let them explore the things they wanted to make,’ she says. It’s a process she intends to repeat with a different artist every four months. Illustrator Stuart White is next in line. ‘He’s really interested in music, and because we’ve got some Triptych events happening round about the same time, we’re going to be pressing badges in store, you know, like a little rock’n’roll workshop!’

Hitherto does seem to be becoming one of those seepage points, increasingly typical of Glasgow, where the art and music worlds interact. The records for sale are supplied by Stephen Pastel’s Monorail record shop, and Blake’s musician husband (Norman of Teenage Fanclub) has supplied packaging cases for furniture.

In fact, both shops feel very much of their respective cities, steeped in specific cultural references and exhibiting distinctive idiosyncratic identities impossible to replicate on the high street. Vive l’independence!

Godiva, 9 West Port, Edinburgh, and online at www.myspace.com/godivaboutique; Hitherto is in Tinderbox, Ingram Street, Glasgow, and online at www.hithertoshop.co.uk

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