Looking back to the turn of the 80s when Gerardine and I started out… We’d never considered being designers, it wasn’t on the radar of two teenagers from Lancashire. I was playing in a band and we used to hang out in Camden. When Gerardine and I ran out of money to pay the rent on our house in Wembley, one saturday morning we emptied our wardrobes out of some of the second hand clothes that we both wore and some of the clothes that Gerardine had made for herself, put them into a couple of 50p checked chinese laundry bags and got the tube to Camden. For £6 rent we took over £100 and returned on the Sunday and for the next decade of Saturdays and Sundays. Camden taught us about peoples taste, retail and being entrepreneurs.
Then there was Kensington Market, was a dream come true for young creative minds who fancied “having a go”. Long before greedy landlords and Pension Fund purchases of our high streets turned most of our towns into Clone Towns, Gerardine was able to take a 5 x 3 metre lock up unit for £18 a week in a prime location. She took her sewing machine from home, some fabric she had bought from Ian Norris’s stall on Blackburn Market, made 8 items of clothing, after two weeks Macy’s New York visited the market, ordered 200 pieces from Gerra. We had to come up with a label sharpish, Red or Dead was born. Wayne’s mum stopped working in the pub, set up a production unit in Blackburn with the cash from Camden, Gerardine’s sisters mucked in and a label was born.
Kensington Market was full of serendipity. Martin Degville from Sigue Sigue Sputnick had a wild store. There was the 50’s store Johnstones, La Rocka and Cutz hairdressers who gave Gerardine some very strange hairstyles.
We were able to replicate Camden and Kensington up t’north in Manchester‘s Affleck’s Palace. Selling DM’s, Chinese slippers and old men’s overcoats to the Joy Division /A Certain Ratio /Duritti Column crowd and then being an integral part of Madchester continued our fashion education.
From there we opened small shops with cheap rents, all around the country in pretty decent locations (our shop in Neal St Covent Garden, London that we opened in the mid 80’s had a rent of £60 per week… try getting a shop on that street now for less than £2500 a week).
We need versions of Kensington Market back on our high streets. Rei Kawakubu of Comme des Garcons evidently said she based her Dover Street Market on Kensington Market… hardly!!!
The fact is that Britain’s high streets have been swallowed up by Pension Funds and corporate landlords. Kensington Market and just about all its contemporaries have been “gentrified”… or maybe dumbed down in the case of Kensington Market which is now a P C World. The Corn Exchange in Leeds is a posh restaurant and our stall in Camden which cost us £80 for the weekend back in 1990 when we stopped doing the markets is now over £1500 per week!!!!
Today’s corporate landlords want the Next’s and The Monsoons of this world as tenants, companies that can guarantee that they won’t default on the rent… hence our “clone streets” or “clone towns”.
So how can today’s start ups have the chance to try what we and our contemporaries’ tried? The internet doesn’t replace the value of face to face contact with your customer. There’s nothing quite like “seeing the whites of the customers eyes” to get an idea if your ideas are going to be successful.
The value of Britain’s Creative Industries both to Britain’s balance of payments and to the nation’s cultural well-being is well documented by government funded bodies such as The Design Council http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/en/About-Design/Research/Value-of-Design-Factfinder/
Our rightfully lauded Design Colleges are attracting an increasing number of young creative folk, studying to be a designer, an artist et al is now something that middle class parents approve of. Yet there isn’t sufficient outlet to “have a go” with your creativity once studies are over.
It this lack of opportunity and war formative experience and the opportunities provide by Affleck’s, and Kensington Market that led us to the KiosKiosK idea… cool low cost “pop up” shops for creative start ups www.kioskiosk.co.uk .
We have passively sat back and allowed greedy bankers, housebuilders and the investment community to lead us down an uncomfortable pass to a deep recession. My experience is of a creative community that is questioning, thrifty and often political with a small p.
Maybe it’s time for the creative community to become Political with a big P… anyone for a “Creative Insurgency”?