To celebrate the up coming New Designers Show which is set to take place at the Business Design Centre in London this month, we have spoken to curator, Rheanna Lingham about her involvement with the show’s ‘One Year On’ feature.
As a jeweller and retailer, Rheanna is the perfect individual to curate the show’s ‘One Year On’ feature, with industry experience as a designer and knowledge as a retailer, we’re keen to hear from her, especially as along with her partners at Luna & Curious, she endeavours to support British manufacturing.
As a retailer and a designer, how do you manage your creative storytelling. Do you keep some ideas for Luna and & Curious and others for your jewellery business or is there a more natural ebb and flow between the two? How do you balance the two sides of your work?
When we started Luna & Curious it was a group venture to sell our own products, so naturally the work was one and the same. However in the last years as I have gone on sabbatical with jewellery making, I am venturing more into personal projects, whether that be writing, photography, walking or research. I feel that I am at a reflective stage for Rheanna Lingham and enjoying the unknown.
When you graduated from University having completed your jewellery degree, did you envisage being a retailer? What have been the major challenges establishing Luna & Curious?
Not at all, I think I quite categorically said that I didn’t want to own a shop. I didn’t even think I was going to continue my own practice; I wanted to work in museums. However there were no jobs I could find, and my graduate collection kept finding life in other places, so unconsciously I found myself setting up a workshop, and then when the idea of starting a shop was presented to me, it seemed the perfect next step.
You and your partners Polly George and Kaoru Parry seem to relish being retailers, combining your skills and experience as designers with a passion for British products and manufacturing. How do you approach buying new products and brands for your store? Is there a checklist in the back of your mind or do you trust your gut instincts?
Ha! Glad you think so! We keep going, we are our own harshest critics, constantly thinking the shop looks boring or needs a change, so that impetus always exists. We probably spend far too much time discussing whether a product is right, we have a two against one democracy but normally the decision is unanimous. We get a bit tired of the trade shows and try and find weird and wonderful opportunities that other buyers might not seek out. We do not need a brand to have been affirmed as being cool and will often shy away from labels that are a bit too much ‘on trend’. Our gut instinct is based on ten years of experience, so is an unsaid checklist, but we always consider provenance, manufacture, originality and quality.
Can you tell me about Copenhagen and its influence on British design/retailing? You embarked on a trip to the city last year and you stock Mads Norgaard, what are the links between your store and the city?
Obviously the Scandi influence is all over the UK at the moment, we began stocking BangBang Copenhagen in 2011, then Mads Norgaard and FUB in 2013. So we naturally felt a Danish affinity brewing, we decided to go to Copenhagen Fashion Week, as it was a bit more off the beaten track than Paris, a greater chance of finding an unknown gem. Last year we added Stine Goya and MP Denmark to our repertoire and this season we have gained a Dutch hat company and Swiss baby knitwear.
We are always so impressed with the Danish attitude towards design; they respect it and understand it, and are willing to pay for it. Department stores such as Illum Bolighus, feature huge ranges of homeware, and its not for the trendy few, houses are furnished with quality design as standard. The other striking thing is the patriotic support for Danish design, something we would love to be echoed in Britain.
What are your thoughts on British manufacturing and what needs to be done to ensure people can keep making and selling British made? With steel manufacturing making headlines and 2017 being the year of the engineer, how far down the line do these topics affect your business?
For the first five years of Luna & Curious, everything we sold was made in the UK, however we realised to grow the business this was not sustainable as so many products were hard to source in Britain, fashion in particular. We all tussled with this change, but knew it was needed, we declared to always respect provenance, so French socks made in France, Japanese scarfs traditionally made in Tokyo etc.
We get so frustrated with British manufacture, so often the default answer is ‘No we can’t’. I remember having a conversation with a Welsh blanket maker, enquiring whether they would make for Luna & Curious, and the answer was ‘No we cant because the makers cant afford the wool’ I countered saying we would pay for the materials up front, the answer was then ‘No because the makers couldn’t get enough work they didn’t make anymore’ but we were offering them work! This conversation has happened time and time again with knitwear companies, ceramic manufacturers, sock makers, enamelware manufacturers and countless more industries. There is a market out there, and the slow boat from China isn’t always cheaper. British manufacture can result in smaller batch production, so less outlay and less of a gamble to flog huge numbers of units, quicker lead times, easier quality control, let alone its advantage to employment and local economy.
I do believe the government are offering opportunities to keep Britain making with funding opportunities available, but we shouldn’t need to be handheld, if we believe in it stand up for it, manufacturers say ‘Yes’ for once, or even ‘Possibly’, stop harking on about the good old days, this is now.
Being based ‘up North’ we hear a lot about East London being a centre for British makers and designers. Real products being made in real work rooms. Can you tell us about the area and what your favourite businesses are?
We are jealous of those ‘up North’ as they often have much better links to manufacturing, East London might be full of little one man bands or small studios but it is the big boys that intrigue us.
We’ve been in the same area for ten years now and boy, has it changed, some good, some not so good. We are proud to be based on Calvert Avenue, part of the historical Boundary Estate, Britain’s first ever social housing, red brick mansion blocks that culminate in a two tiered circus atop sits a bandstand, its stands as a reminder that we are all temporary in London, the hipsters will come and go, it makes you take yourself less seriously.
We have some great neighbours on our street that share a similar ethos, O’Dell’s, Ally Capellino, Leila’s Café, plus a couple of our makers are a stones throw away, Charlie Borrow and Shimell & Madden.
SCP work very hard to support Shoreditch design businesses and generously head up Shoreditch Design Triangle every year for London Design Festival. That Flower Shop is a hive of Britishness, Hattie specialises in British blooms.
Your relationship with New Designers as curator for their ‘One Year On’ show must be incredibly exciting. Are there any new ideas that have resonated with you for a particular reason or have you come away feeling any particular way about the work you’ve seen?
After curating last years show I came away feeling very positive, being involved in the show really affected me. I think after having a few years of negativity working in a diminishing Further Education environment and seeing all my courses close, I needed to feel hope for new makers. I realised I had become someone that harked on about the good old days, however these graduates knew no different and they were brimming with excitement and enthusiasm about the future. It is an honour to be able to support a fresh bunch of talent again this year.
Max Fraser gave an empowering speech at New Designers that encouraged us to use design to make the world better not to make us richer.
From a commercial perspective how do you feel looking ahead as a business owner? Have you plans to grow or change the businesses in any way?
We want to make more and more ourselves, so we aren’t another shop that sells the same old things as any other shop that went to the same trade show. This year will see the launch of our baby range, the blankets are almost ready to go, more knitwear, more handmade ceramics from Polly & Kaoru. Plus a few secrets up our sleeve, including a very exciting collaborative project for London Design Festival. Our ten year anniversary will see some surprises too.
Having come across The Great British Exchange what are your thoughts on what we’re setting out to achieve? Would you recommend us to fellow retailers and British makers?
Anything that sets out to connect British manufacturers and retailers is a good thing. Keep it up.
New Designers will be starting the first of it’s exhibitions on 29th June 2016, ticket details can be found on the website www.newdesigners.com