Welcome to our brand new series of articles on retailers that are operating in ways that provide some interesting and valuable lessons to the wider industry.
Location: Eccleston Yards, London SW1
In a nutshell: Running a co-operative shop model where each contributing member is given a 50 metre space for their goods.
Located just behind Victoria Station the Grosvenor Estates has restored some old industrial buildings and transformed it into an upmarket creative enterprise hub called Eccleston Yards. One of the units has been taken over by clothing store 50m, which describes itself as a ‘democratic retail environment for emerging designers’. The project is the brainchild of the activist-led collective Something & Son and Tracey Suen is its co-founder.
She explains that on the one hand the fashion industry is the third biggest in the UK, which affects everyone as we all have to choose what we wear every day, while on the other hand high streets are becoming homogenised and London’s reputation as a creative capital is dwindling. She puts the reason for this latter issue down in large part to high rents and gentrification. And this is where 50m comes in.
Suen’s project gives young fashion designers the chance to apply to be a co-operative member of 50m, once joined up successful applicants are given their 50 metres of retail space which could be a clothes rack or a jewellery stand area, which they then curate with some guidance from Something & Son.
It is important, according to the founders, which the young designers understand there is some loss of control after the total freedom they may have enjoyed in their degree shows for example but Suen notes that ultimately most applicants do not mind sharing creative control as a trade-off for having a channel to consumers. So, the store as it is designed is mid-way between having a market stall and one’s own shop.
The cost of this retail space is £295 per month from each participating member and unsurprisingly there has been a lot of interest since the outlet opened three months ago. Currently 50m is host to 17 separate designers but this roster changes every couple of months and organisers try to keep the mix between male and female designers equal. It is encouraged that individual items are priced at less than £1,500.
But there is a more tough-edged side to this enterprise – it’s not fluffy and woolly and it does need to make proper money. Clearly the £295 rent is not going to make the outlet feasible so those designers who are more successful in actually shifting their goods are those most likely to be kept on in the co-operative. Something & Son takes commission on everything sold so it is clearly in its economic interest to keep on those designers who are finding most favour with the public and to jettison those who sell very little.
Other valuable lessons for the high street from the 50m concept include the fact that the co-operative members on payment of their monthly rent instalment also get access to a group of almost 30 specialist business mentors. Experts (all volunteers) will help them in areas like intellectual property, PR, marketing, and branding. There are two workshops that they can attend every month as well as one-to-one mentoring sessions.
The actual physical space can also be used by members for photo shoots, casting sessions, parties, launches etc and so it fits neatly into popular themes of retailtainment and the blurring of lines around what a shop can be used for and what its ‘working hours’ actually are.
Customers fall into three main categories. There are the adventurous locals with money, fashion-savvy customers who have travelled to see what is on offer and may not necessarily be big buyers, and finally there are the tourists visiting London via the fashion scene. One of the challenges that the concept store has faced with such a disparate customer base is building a community and the founders are clearly grateful to those early adopters who came and supported the idea in its first months.
Suen firmly believes that the concept as it stands can be rolled-out successfully in other areas of retail, and she points to the fact that Eccleston Yards, unlike most high streets, is not somewhere with a high passer-by-footfall. The fact is people visit 50m because it is an exciting destination – something the high street could definitely emulate.