Valley dolls break new talent

Trish Lorenz visits a shop that was set up to offer young designers their first step on the commercial ladder

Strolling along London’s Ganton Street, a quirky, jumble of a store catches your eye. It looks like a cross between the front room of a rabid collector and a stylish charity store, but Beyond the Valley is actually a treasure trove of original work by more than 100 young designers across all disciplines.

Clothing, ceramics, furniture, illustrations, fanzines and jewellery – including illustrator Sara Skeate’s hillbilly dolls and ceramic jugs by Francis Ford – litter the store. It’s a warm, welcoming space, not a white wall or chrome finish in sight. But it might not be around for long. Come January, if funding has dried up, the temporary pilot store may have to close.

The majority of designers featured are this summer’s graduates and many of the products are exclusive to Beyond the Valley. But the store offers more than just stylish, original products by up-and-coming designers.

A non-profit organisation set up by Kristjana Williams, Jo Jackson and Kate Harwood – all 2003 graduates from Central St Martins College of Art and Design – Beyond the Valley aims to provide young designers with a workplace, creative community and a stepping stone to wider commercial success.

The basement level of the Ganton Street store acts as a gallery and open studio, which participating designers use for both working and socialising.

‘So many people who come out of college bursting with ideas have to work in a call centre and live at home, so they lose the benefits of having a creative community around them,’ explains Harwood.

‘We aim to give young designers a launch pad. They’ll probably leave us to do their own thing after a year or so, but hopefully they’ll feed back into the project when they can – by offering work experience, for example,’ she adds.

At this stage the retail venture is still a pilot. Property owner Shaftesbury’s is sponsoring the project until January, but the group hopes to attract private or public funding to continue the scheme.

Advertising agency Contra has already sponsored a touring exhibition to Finland in January and Beyond the Valley also hopes to show in Tokyo next year. Harwood has contacts with a manufacturing company and the group also plans to launch a Beyond the Valley clothing label.

Beyond the Valley pilot store, 26 Ganton St (off Carnaby St), London W1F. Open 12-7pm daily until January 2005

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