You may have heard of The Basics Store – an east London popup shop that has garnered quite a bit of press attention, from Twin magazine to Time Out. We sat down with the brains behind the concept, Marina of Marina London, to find out what it takes to be a young designer in the city and run a successful popup.
What’s your background? Did you study design in London?
I came to the UK from Bulgaria with my parents when I was nine, not speaking any English at all, and have now been here for twenty years. After school I did my Art Foundation at Kingston and then a BA in Fashion Design & Marketing at Central Saint Martins.
Did you find that the marketing side helped?
They taught us to always think about your customer. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they wear? I really loved that practical aspect. I don’t like conceptual fashion or print, but it was incredible to be around that energy; there were so many talented people creating incredible things that would blow my mind! But I always knew that I wouldn’t design anything like that.
So how did you test the retail waters?
I started out with Paris Fashion Week, quite a while back. It was a bit last minute – I’d applied for this trade fair – but I ended up being placed on the top floor that no one knew about! No one came up there. Zero traffic. At least it was a lesson learned! Then I did London Fashion Week’s exhibition space, which was good for press and building a little community, but London does no sales. I did it for two seasons and then decided that it wasn’t working.
I’ve had my label for three-and-a-half years now and I’ve been able to slowly gather a really great database of clients by myself, doing so much better than any wholesale would. The traditional route is to start with wholesale and go to trade shows but actually things are really changing, especially for younger designers. Most department stores expect so much and it can be really hard to meet all of their requirements. But I don’t blame them – it’s a risk! What that means, though, is that we need to find other ways to sell and make it reasonable for us to keep the brand and business alive.
As of this September I’m not doing any wholesale, unless someone comes to me specifically, and I’ll only be selling online and doing popups. The Basics Store was a test to see if the concept worked, how people took to it, which products sell the best and which don’t, who are the customers? It’s been such an insight into which direction I should take. The proof is in the sales performance, and it’s made me completely change my mind about everything! There are other brands that have proved this point as well – Larsson & Jennings refused wholesale for ages and only moved into it when they felt they were ready. I’m not saying that’s my goal, but it just demonstrates that it’s possible to approach retailing in another way now.
I remember finding the Instagram account for The Basics Store before you had launched and was immediately drawn to the aesthetic. You showed how powerful social media can be even when you start from nothing and made it aspirational but relatable at the same time.
More and more designers are realising that if you put as much work and effort into the marketing of your own brand you are able to achieve exactly the same sales, and more, than with wholesale. Businesses can be ruined if they’re dropped by department stores suddenly. The idea behind The Basics Store was that you know everyone who’s sitting alongside you and you want to help each other out. That’s what the future is. We’re building a community in our own right, which is tiny, but working with other people is really great. As a designer you’re usually in your own little bubble and not really involved in the retail side. How is your product being interacted with? You’re placed next to a jewellery designer in a store, but do you know that jewellery designer? Everything I do is because I love working with other people so much and I feel that we are connected through a shared aesthetic vision.
Did you know the other designers beforehand? How did you all meet?
When you do your own thing in London you somehow gravitate toward one another, and social media helps. If you see someone you like you follow them, and I’m the kind of person that will contact them and tell them I love what they’re doing, which sparks a relationship. In three years of being on Instagram I’ve developed quite a few friends who are designing jewellery, bags, swimwear, sunglasses. What’s been so easy is getting the designers involved. If I could have more space I could easily fill it with ten more!
One thing I noticed when I visited the store was that the shop assistant was so helpful – it makes a huge difference! I can’t remember the last time I had such great customer service.
It’s so easy to let it slip! You can tell when someone wants to be left alone, but sometimes you’ll get the customer that really wants your opinion. We made sure that each designer would come in and work on the shop floor. Whenever the designer was in store, their products sold the best that day! Whether that’s to do with the energy, karma, or just the fact that they know their products the best, I don’t know.
I think that’s exactly what it is. And the customers get a bit of one-to-one treatment, which I’m sure helps, too.
This is the whole point – why not have the designers come in twice a week? They can interact with the customers and hopefully do better with their sales.
So…I hear you’re already thinking about a Christmas popup?
Yes! I wanted to do it in the same space but unfortunately it’s occupied until the New Year. I’m now thinking either east again or going west and then comparing the performance of the two locations. It will be the same designers with maybe two or three new ones as well.
We can’t wait! Watch this space (and follow Marina London on Twitter) for info on The Basics Store Christmas popup!