‘Everyone finds it enjoyable. It’s characterful – the high street starts to feel like a large market,’ says Philip Handford of London group Campaign, which designed Dr Martens’ recently opened pop-up shop.
This high-street ‘market spirit’ has taken off in London. Even young creatives are getting opportunities – Camden Council and Camden Town Unlimited handed over vacant shops to young artists, fashion graduates and creatives this summer, to keep the high street alive.
But it is brands that have really latched on to the idea. The past few months have seen pop-ups from Gap, Fred Perry, Terra Plana, Uniqlo and Nike. The pop-up concept – which started with discount retailers, before inspiring Comme des Garcons and a host of upper crust fashion houses and restaurants – has now reached the high street.
Design and marketing consultancy Fresh has received many requests from brands for this type of retailing. While we might hope to see more independent entrepreneurs and makers temporarily join the high street, the reality is that vacant shops are soon to become ‘teasers’. ‘High street brands are opening pop-up shops near their rivals – like a little irritant,’ says Louis Philo of Fresh. Because renting this space is comparatively cheap, the pop-up shop has now become the ‘equivalent of getting a billboard in a good space’, he says.
Dr Martens is using the pop-up concept to expand – making the most of the cheap rent available right now. The shop is as much about achieving an aesthetic – a new sobriety, using locally sourced materials and resources – to create an experience that mirrors people’s change in attitude to retailing. ‘People don’t want anything ostentatious. They might think “You’re doing all right. We’re not”,’ says Philo.
Dr Martens isn’t the only retailer roughing it for the recession. Starbucks is also going back to basics, using locally sourced materials, in its new coffee house in Seattle. Interestingly, though, its name is missing.
With bigger brands increasingly scooping up the vacant spaces, many younger entrepreneurs will again be priced out of the market. This is a pity, as there’s no shortage of talent wanting to set up shop.
Design entrepreneurs Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway set up Kioskiosk in July, a mobile, self-sufficient pop-up shop offering free rent to creatives. Its success has surprised even them.
‘I thought the hardest thing would be filling it,’ says Wayne Hemingway. ‘At first, we had two-week slots [for creatives participating], but we ended up giving away two- to three-day slots, sometimes with people sharing to fit everyone in.’
The Hemingways’ concept was developed for the Design Museum’s Super Contemporary exhibition at Shad Thames in London Docklands. ‘The first one was a sign to decision-makers,’ says Wayne Hemingway, citing its location outside London’s City Hall. ‘I wanted the councillors to see it and then go to their towns and ask for one.’ And they did. As a result Kioskiosk will head up to Nottingham in October.
The best news is that the Hemingways have received an order for three Kioskiosks in London – and rather than pop-up, these will stay up. ‘We haven’t set up a business for doing this,’ says Wayne Hemingway. ‘But maybe we will have to.’
Dr Martens has decided to expand and open its second store in London – it has splashed out, to give the impression that it hasn’t.
It was designed by London design group Campaign, and nearly all of the materials, furnishings and fittings in the pop-up which remained for one month in Old Spitalfields Market are locally sourced from scrap yards, Brick Lane and wholesalers.
‘Dr Martens are worn by warehouse owners,’ says Philip Handford, creative director of Campaign. ‘We wanted to go back to the basics of this industrial footwear. The space is like the warehouse – we used off-the-shelf wall studs to give it this look.’
The entrance is through the stock room. ‘It looks a bit like an abattoir,’ says Louis Philo of branding company Fresh, which got Campaign involved. Space is divided with long strips of PVC, which, by chance, the designers found in the brand’s trademark yellow. Pallet wood is the raw material, used to make the most of the furnishings, and all the furniture is shrink-wrapped and stencilled with branding.
Expanding now is worth the risk for Dr Martens. ‘The company does well in times of recession,’ says Philo. ‘People turn to well-made, utilitarian design.’ And although money was spent, Handford says, ‘The shop cost loads less than we are used to spending on a store.’
The outlet 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in Seattle looks like a local coffee shop. It is a humble-looking haunt, made with local furniture and re-appropriated local material, and it employs local staff – but it is, in fact, a branch of Starbucks.
After 40 years in the game, the coffee brand decided the only way to get more customers was to remove its name and branding. ‘We’ve built a brand that is very distinct in people’s minds. To introduce them to a unique expression of the Starbucks experience, we needed to start with a fresh canvas,’ says a spokesman for the company.
The coffee shop on 15th Avenue is one of three set to open in the city, each named after their street location (with ‘Inspired by Starbucks’ in small print). Starbucks’ tea and coffee is sold, but the interior is basic, exercising the new sobriety the recession has made chic – and that no doubt took considerable investment. The store ‘celebrates local materials and craftsmanship’. Inside, furniture is re-appropriated from a local ship, theatre and office. The 6m-long wall mural and metalwork are by a local artist.
Bloggers in the US have been busy speculating whether the move will be a success or not. While an effort to use sustainable materials and local artisans is always a positive move for mega-brands, Starbucks’ decision to hide in small print might not impress customers who think they are supporting local entrepreneurs – especially at a time when open sourcing of information, honesty and locality are highly valued.