Little Acorns

Downturn or not, there are still entrepreneurs out
there willing to take a chance on new product and
retail concepts. Clare Dowdy picks three recent
ventures, all majoring on design to see them
through the credit crunch

Some big and established businesses may be on their knees or dying, but that’s not the whole picture.

A handful of entrepreneurs have found themselves starting their new ventures in the throes of the downturn. That wasn’t their original intention, of course, but well-laid plans take many months to come to fruition.

And some of these enterprises – with the help of great design – are bucking the trend.

The two high street ventures examined here, Luca’s Bakery and Constructive Lives, are following well-trodden paths. High-end, stylish bakeries have been popularised by brands such as Paul’s. And Constructive Lives is a design and interiors shop. If they succeed, it will be thanks in part to their locations in London.

Both Luca’s address on Lordship Lane and Constructive Lives’ on Portobello Road enjoy a high footfall of the right sort of consumer.

Lily’s Kitchen, on the other hand, is more groundbreaking in its offer. It is trying to shake up the well-established dogfood and catfood sectors. If this organic variant makes a go of it, it will be because enough of the right sort of retailers are prepared to take it on.

Founded by Ochuko Ojiri and Fiona Hannafin.
Designed by Multistorey.

This interiors and homewares shop opened in September 2008, and it’s a case of ‘so far so good’, says Ochuko Ojiri. ‘We did a lot better

One thing he and Fiona Hannasin now do is to buy little and often, rather than stockpiling.

The corner site, at the north end of London’s Portobello Road, has the advantage of a massive exterior wall, which Multistorey went to town on. The consultancy was influenced by the cultural mix of Notting Hill, and researched African and West Indian patterns and decorative arts. It discovered the geometric wall murals of the Ndebele community of South Africa, which Multistorey describes as simple, striking and beautiful.

Taking this as their starting point, the designers broke up the shapes into a bitmapped tile version.

Inside is simple, sedate and classic, with the tiled floor reflecting the exterior, says Ojiri. Stock includes burlesque coffee cups and teapots from Undergrowth Design, along with retro chairs, chandeliers and mirrors. ‘Fiona and I travel all over the world, so we try and pick up unusual bits and pieces,’ he adds.

Ojiri remains optimistic about the fortunes of individual shops such as this. ‘I’m really hoping that independent retailers will rise from the ashes of all this [credit crunch gloom],’ he says.

Founded by Henrietta Morrison.
Packaging design by Petra Borner.

Serial entrepreneur Henrietta Morrison sold her publishing business in 2007, and looked around for an idea that was nature-related. At the same time, Lily, her border terrier, didn’t like much of the dogfood on offer.

The upshot was Lily’s Kitchen, a range of certified organic petfood, with variants like ‘slow-cooked lamb hotpot’ and ‘home-style chicken and turkey casserole’.

The positioning for the brand was generated by Morrison’s own shopping experience. ‘[Packaging and branding for] human food has developed enormously, as fabulous independent companies have brought beauty to the kitchen cupboard,’ she says. ‘But petfood is horrendous, with pictures of dogs with their tongues hanging out looking slightly crazed. Design in this sector hasn’t moved on since the 1970s.’

Morrison asked Petra Borner to come up with an earthy, wholesome, timeless graphic that would bring the countryside into the city – with big butternut squashes, and peas bursting out of their pods. Borner’s single woodcut-style illustration is reproduced in different colourways for each variety, with water-based inks in recyclable or compostable packs.

In fact, it was the sourcing of the compostable dry goods bag that put Lily’s launch back by six months. This meant that Morrison was trying to get listed when retailers had already ordered their Christmas stock.

But it’s now selling swiftly, through 20 outlets – many of which have never stocked petfood before – as well as Wholefoods and Harrods. ‘We’re run off our feet. People make a small order, then sell out immediately and re-order,’ says Morrison. ‘We’ve sold around 75 000 units in the first seven weeks from November.’

According to market research group Mintel, there are 27 million pets in the UK, and this figure is on the rise. The petcare market grew by 14 per cent between 2003 and 2007, and is predicted to be worth almost £3bn in 2009.

Lily’s Kitchen hopes to benefit from this, and from the feelgood factor associated with good food generally. ‘It’s a tough time for everyone, but when people buy a small tin of food for their pet, they can feel good because they’re feeding them something healthy,’ says Morrison.

Next up are Lily’s Kitchen dog biscuits, launching this month.


Founded by Andreas Bajoh.
Interiors by Ivanov Versteeg Architecture.

Andreas Bajohra came to the UK 20 years ago from Germany, and has a background in photography and film-making. He’d noticed the dearth of good, simple, village-style bakeries, and last year decided to ‘give it a go’.

The site he found, on East Dulwich’s busy and increasingly foodie Lordship Lane, lent itself to a café as well as a bakery.

He commissioned Dutch architect Anna Versteeg, (who is based on a boat on the Thames) to create a grown-up, clean space. So, while the length of the left-hand wall is painted as a blackboard, and the floor is off-black oak, much of the rest is solid ash, including the geometric ceiling feature, communal café tables, counter and shelving. Bajohra’s father came over from Germany to handle all the woodwork.

Luca’s Bakery opened in late November 2008. ‘By the time [the downturn] got worse and worse it was too late (to change plans),’ Bajohra says. ‘However, the biggest problem we have is the café.’ The number of regular – and mostly local – customers means it could easily be three times the size, he claims.

Bajohra is already talking about a second outlet, and can see a time when there may be a chain of Luca’s.

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