While the collapse of the high street has focused on shopping, largely because the loudest commentators can’t see beyond their big retail background, there’s an area of activity which doesn’t yet have a government champion.
I’ve written before about the rise in small-scale manufacture, and its return to the town centre where it belongs. And simultaneously, Marcus Westbury has been exploring the same ideas in New South Wales.
Working on the Retail Ready People pop up shop in Leeds reinforced those ideas.
The shop was a hybrid space, with a packed programme of live music running alongside retail. The two worked well together; a live act would sell their own merchandise in store, for example. And of course this is manufacture, after a fashion; musicians take raw materials, make something and sell it for a good profit. It’s alchemy.
But the designers making products to sell in the shop really showed the future of the high street.
Rosanna Martlew and Clinton Sheldon originally designed their simple coathook for Duke Studios in Leeds. That was the venue for the meetings and workshops in the weeks before the Retail Ready People pop up shop. The Retail Ready People team asked if they could sell them, and Martlew and Sheldon designed the laser cut packaging, which includes the screws and rawlplugs you’ll need, and a pencil to mark up the wall before drilling. It’s elegant, functional and scalable and might not have happened without that first order from Retail Ready People.
Another popular product in the shop was the screenprinted Moleskine sketchbook, from Finest Imaginary. Again, a simple, useful product, and again the designers benefited from Retail Ready People’s investment.
Split Designs are another team based in Duke Studios, again using lasers to make their products. The call to arms ‘if not now when’ has twelve letters, and their design transfers the slogan to a clock face. The clock is available in black, or white. More usually, Split Design produce websites, print or branding. Manufacturing short runs of a product adds to the creative life of a design studio, and gives them an extra income as well.
The future of manufacture might just be more like the past of manufacture. While we see manufacture as a large scale, industrial process, it started out in workshops in town centres. The shops were added in front of the workshops, and over time the manufacture was scaled up and moved elsewhere.
Small scale manufacture adds to the mix of use in a town centre, and it provides useful employment. It cuts the environmental impact of a product, reducing transport and using locally-sourced materials. It provides an extra income for businesses, who with new technology like laser cutters and 3D printers can design, make and sell small batch products on one site. And it’s an area rich in innovation. Retail Ready people is further evidence that it’s time to bring making back; get ready for the Made In England revival.