Slap bang in the heart of the city lies creative hub We Built This City – a cohesive collection of cityscapes, witty slogans and glitter galore. I’m a sucker for design stores and this shop hits the spot with lots of London lovin’ and a score of talent from across the capital.
Whether you’re looking for a poster of a landmark or a little quirky gift for a friend, this place has it all. And guess what? You won’t find anything to file under the term tacky here. In fact, it’s been sourced to be the complete opposite, although there still might be the occasional piece of red, white and blue! Oh and remember The City Works interview I recently did? Well they’re the bunch that adorned the shopfront with a cityscape mural and there’s not even a chance you can walk past the store without noticing it. Bravo guys, bravo.
Alice Mayor is the lady behind this brilliant store so of course I had to ask her a few questions about how she came up with the idea and what it takes to get your work into such a magical place – after all you’re being showcased to London’s finest, tourists and residents alike. Here’s what she had to say:
Thank you! I was working in PR for a website selling art and design from independent talent and kept hearing the same thing from creatives in London; that they were spending too much time trying to sell their work and on business admin and marketing themselves online, rather than getting on with what they do best! I was at that time looking to start my own business, was incredibly passionate about the creative sector and knew that there must be a better way to bring all these talented artists and designers to sell their wares.
I began focusing in on new audiences that I could open up to the community and at that time London had become the most visited city on the planet with 4 out of 5 visitors citing creativity and culture as the reason for visiting. It suddenly seemed strange that there were very few opportunities for the creative community to tap into the millions of tourists landing in London every day – and furthermore that the souvenir market hadn’t been modernised. With so many artists and designers living and working in London taking inspiration from the city itself, I knew immediately there was a collection of art prints, accessories, stationery and ceramics I could curate that offered tourists an alternative to the mass produced tat.
With the concept fleshed out – the next hurdle was the location. We needed a large space right in the heart of the west end with high footfall – no easy feat! I kept knocking on doors until I managed to secure a meeting with Carnaby who fell in love with the concept and offered us a 3000sqft shop for Christmas 2014 – with the caveat that we had to go live in just 3 weeks! It’s been such an adventure since and we’re very pleased to be able to say a successful test of the business with us still on the street with the work of over 350 creatives now showcased.
What do you look for when illustrators and designers pitch to be stocked in We Built This City?
We place a huge emphasis at WBTC on curation with the collection handpicked to offer our customers a diverse range of both artistic styles and London narratives. At a very basic level, everything we sell has to offer a certain level of artistic skill and integrity – with much of it illustrative. From there, we need to ensure that London is showcased across the board – from its skyline, landmark buildings, lively streets to its cultural icons, music venues, bikes, foxes, beards and tea. And its pigeons of course!
It’s such a hard task as we’d love to showcase so much more of the creative community’s work but the London narrative has to be at our core as we continue on our mission to revolutionise London souvenirs.
Any insider tips on ways to get noticed when showing your work?
We look at all submissions (from email and store submissions) on a quarterly basis before we refresh each collection, but we’re always on the look out for other specific work throughout the year so the best way to pitch is with the ‘theme’ of your work in the subject header eg. print of St Paul’s – also highlighting if you think it would be good for specific gifting occasions like Father’s Day or forthcoming newsworthy events like the Queen’s Birthday. We’re often drawn in by the story behind the artist or creative process as much as we are the end product itself – so always provide a short bio along with plenty of clear images attached or linked. If you’re visiting the store, there may not be time for a full chat so be sure to leave some samples / bio for us to take a look at!
What’s next on the agenda? Can we expect more glittery floors?
In 2016, WBTC will be working with even more of London’s creative community. Not only will we be commissioning our own brand collection of London souvenirs, but we’ll also be inviting more creatives to host live art sessions and design workshops in store, promoting their work to local and international audiences on Carnaby. The glittery floor of our Coop was a big hit! This year we’ll be opening up the interior design to more of our creative community too. We’ve always commissioned our storefront as bespoke canvas to artists & designers – in 2016 window display commissions, murals and space for bespoke installations will be up for grabs!
This year will also see us take the souvenir revolution to more pop-up locations across London including major transport hubs and summer events, as well as offering our superior souvenirs to audiences online in our new online shop! It’s going to be another busy but incredibly exciting year.
An exciting store, right guys? With Mothers Day coming up this Sunday, WBTC is the perfect place to grab those those last minute unique gifts. I’m sure if you say hello to Nick, the store manager, he will even help you make a selection (he’s a knowledgeable guy, trust me). Keep an eye on their twitter and instagram for more fabulous workshops, collaborations and plenty more pigeons and don’t forget if you have something that fits the London aesthetics to send them a pitch! For now, I’m just trying to stay out of their in my lunch breaks as my walls are filling up fast!
Thanks so much to Alice, Adam & Nick of WBTC for being so kind to answer my questions and talk me through the store.