We’re thrilled that Sheen Living has chosen some of Iain Kemp’s Retro Cars collection for their Christmas stock and look forward to working with them in 2016. This little gem of a shop is big on ideas and ideals. They sell an eclectic mix of reclaimed or repurposed vintage furniture, accessories, one-off and small edition art, photography and ceramics – all currently jostling for space in a colourful seasonal set up replete with Christmas decorations, handmade gifts and cottage industry finds.
What makes this shop so great is their focus on selling products which are sourced mainly from other independent businesses and individuals. As an online store offering art and photography (as well as books) it’s particularly exciting for us to have a physical presence. Seeing an artwork ‘in the flesh’ can make a real difference when someone is debating whether to purchase or not. So far we’ve had regular exhibitions at The Petal Pusher café in Kew, a fantastic way to show a body of work ‘up close’. With Sheen Living we now have a display of pieces integrated into an interior space, giving customers the opportunity to visualise how the pictures might work in their home or work place.
We were recently invited to Sheen Living’s 2nd birthday party and welcomed the chance to get to know the team better. The guest of honour was Mary Portas. Kudos to them, because she has after all visited a LOT of shops, she described Sheen Living as a ‘mini-Liberty’. Liberty being a long-standing beacon of style and independence in London, this is a compliment indeed and reflects the passion and individuality that goes into Sheen Living’s product selection. The business was set up by a trio of inspired and design savvy local friends and the atmosphere in the shop is relaxed and knowledgeable.
Mary was in town to read extracts and sign copies of her recently published Shop Girl memoir. I have my signed copy but the most valuable take-away from the evening was her impassioned speech about the importance of the high street, of all things local, and more particularly how crucial independent businesses are.
As Charlotte Lymburn, one of Sheen Living’s founders said: “You can really see how she became the dedicated ‘high street’ campaigner that she is.” Losing her mother at a young age Mary had to juggle her grief with finishing her education and taking over the running of the family home. It was the strong community connection within her local high street which helped make that possible, right down to parcels of food dropped after hours at the school bus stop with instructions on how to prepare and cook the family meal.
Mary’s speech was personal and engaging. It also highlighted the changing face of commerce and recognised the irreversible trends that have altered the way we shop. She embraces progress but also campaigns for the preservation and revival of independent businesses. What’s important to her and crucial for all of us, is a good mix of small and independent shops thriving alongside the chain stores, creating town centres which have a soul and a committed sense of community. This ethos also applies to the web.
Independent shops and businesses like Sheen Living, The Petal Pusher and Zita Elze, all of which we’re proud to work with, keep our villages and high streets alive, especially because they are run by individuals who reflect their personal take in what they sell and how they sell it. These small businesses are accessible, approachable and have a creative edge, something which many larger chains find hard to hang on to. Watch the SW14 video and see what Mary Portas has to say.
These same values drive us forwards at Armadillo Central – we may be online but we have a shop front too, it just happens to be on the web. The difference is that it’s virtual but that doesn’t stop it being personal. You can phone, email or communicate with us via social media (see the top right of the site to connect). We’re always happy to have a dialogue with customers, friends and new contacts. And while we aim for a global reach, we’re firmly anchored in our local roots, in the relationships we forge with the creative people that we work with, the businesses that we deal with and with our off line and online communities.
This Christmas and in the year ahead think twice before you buy from a big chain and consider how much more worthwhile it would be if you spent your money supporting a family business like ours and those we mention above, helping an artisan, an artist, a writer, an indie. Let’s all keep the internet as well as the high street alive and diverse, help us to keep on truckin’ alongside big business. Next time you need a gift or a treat, go indie!
Words © Armadillo Central / Photography © Iain Kemp / Sheen Living pictures © Jane Cox Photography