Store Store: the project trying to change the “social imbalance” in design

A London-based group of artists, designers and architects hosts workshops in King’s Cross every month that look to engage the young, local community, teach them new skills and help them build a portfolio – we speak to industrial designer Kevin Smeeing about the initiative.

Image courtesy of Frederik Petersen

The design industry is not a hotbed of diversity. Recent research from the Design Council shows that nearly four fifths of designers are male, only a tenth are from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds, and over half of the workforce holds a degree, compared to a UK average of only a third of the population. As a result, there is a “growing expectation” among employers for designers to be educated to university level, the report has found.

Some creative organisations are trying to change this, and disrupt the existing demographic of the creative industries. One of these is D&AD Shift, a scheme set up specifically to help those without degrees get design jobs.

Another is Store — a London-based organisation made up of artists, architects and designers, which puts on workshops and courses, public events and exhibitions, as well as undertaking social design projects themselves.

Textured tumblers, made during March’s workshops, image courtesy of Paul Plews

The group’s latest venture is “Store Store” — a physical shop in King’s Cross’ new Coal Drops Yard district, which sees students from local state schools make their own products, which are then sold in-store. The majority of profits made from sales goes back into Store Projects to fund its programmes, while a fifth goes to the students who made the items, or alternatively a charity of their choice.

This is achieved through a series of month-by-month workshops taking place mostly within the store, but also at professional architectural and design studios, where students can learn about specific processes and ways of making.

“Store brings together practitioners who share a common goal — getting more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into applied creative courses, and addressing the social imbalance in art, design and architecture education,” says Kevin Smeeing, London-based Dutch designer and one of the programme’s participating tutors.

Every month sees a new set of workshops start at Store Store, alongside different creative practitioners available to teach. The after-school club is open to any students aged between 15 and 18 from local state schools in Camden and Islington, who have shown an interest in architecture, art and design, and who are potentially considering studying them at university, says Smeeing.

Hangers made during March’s workshops, image courtesy of Fabio Hendry

Store promotes the scheme to as many local schools as possible, he says, in a bid to engage teachers and encourage them to get their students involved.

“We mostly reach out to local students, as we want to operate as a social space for the local community,” he says. “We have built a widespread network of contacts at London’s state schools. We reach out to art, design and technology teachers, often organising events and dinners with them to promote and share what we do. We also publicise the scheme to anyone who visits the Store Store shop, and promote it on social media.”

In keeping with selling items in a retail environment, the focus of Store Store so far has been on product design, with the aim of teaching young people modern industrial techniques.

As well as learning new skills, the workshops hope to help participating young people build up their portfolios and educate them on all aspects of the product development process, says Smeeing, from conception through to design, prototyping, manufacture and retail.

Image courtesy of Fabio Hendry

Last month’s workshops saw products launched at London Craft Week, including porcelain ceramics, created using virtual reality (VR) and 3D-printing, hooks and hangers made using industrial production techniques, and glassware made through 2D design and lampworking methods.

Smeeing hopes projects such as Store Store make art and design skills more tangible for young people from all backgrounds and enable them to get their hands on equipment and training they would not otherwise have access to.

“I think it’s important that young people learn product design skills, and explore other artistic practices, as engaging with the arts is essential for the development and wellbeing of every student,” says Smeeing. “Funding cuts to the arts have made these fields less accessible, so we want to give opportunities to those students who are unable to access the arts otherwise.”

Store is currently undertaking its June after-school clubs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7.30pm at the Store Store in Coal Drops Yard, Stable Street, King’s Cross, London N1C 4DQ. For more information on the initiative, head here.

Image courtesy of Kevin Smeeing
Image courtesy of Marta Fernàndez Canut
Vases made using virtual reality techniques, during March’s workshops
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