Inky Interview: Helen Ward, Independent Shop Owner at LOIS

LOIS_Helen

 

Peckham, South East London, has become a creative hub for independent sellers and makers (and movers and shakers).

In amongst them is lovely shop LOIS, opened last year and run by Helen Ward. We talked about taking the plunge into working for yourself.

 


 

The leap from midwife to shop owner is quite a bigg’n. Had you always wanted a shop of your own?

I don’t think I’d always wanted a shop. I guess I was more interested in the idea of working for myself and the fun of starting something new. I’d always worked in creative environments so I knew that was the area I wanted to be in.

What I got from midwifery training was the joy of working as part of a team of dedicated people, all focused on the same goals. However, over the past year of having the shop here in Peckham, I’ve realised I’m part of a similar kind of team – lots of young, creative businesses working really hard to make their projects work, and that’s been really nice.

 

How did you convince others (from investors to makers) to get involved?

I was very lucky in that I’d saved up some money since going to university that I was able to use to start LOIS, so I didn’t have to borrow money from the bank or anywhere else. It was by no means a large amount of money, so there was a lot of sourcing furniture and shelving from the street, as well as the understanding that I wouldn’t have a salary for a while.

When I decided to open the shop – this was mid-July 2013 – I began a database of artists and designers I’d like to have involved. It was then simply a case of emailing them and asking if they’d like to give me some of their wares to exhibit on a sale-or-return basis.

I was genuinely surprised and really honoured that so many people agreed; giving a shop something on a sale-or-return basis, especially a new business you don’t know anything about, is a risk as it could get damaged during the time it’s there, or the shop owner may be late with payments for items that have sold. However, I think there’s a lot of support at the moment for independent businesses, especially within the creative community. And coupled with Peckham’s status as an ‘up-and-coming’ area in London, getting involved with a shop here may not have seemed like such a risk.

 

Have you come up against any obstacles, or things you didn’t expect?

Honestly, I didn’t think it would work. I guess I’m naturally pessimistic so I thought it’d be something I’d do for six months before moving on, accepting that it just wasn’t meant to be. I remember freaking out on the phone to my sister about a week before opening, saying that I’d done my calculations wrong, and that I couldn’t possibly cover costs. So when LOIS was busy enough to break even from the get go, I was quite surprised and obviously very happy.

One of the things I’m not sure people realise is the amount of work that goes into something like this, even after the initial push to get it up and running. Yes, I may be sat in a shop all day looking at pretty handmade things. But I’m most likely sorting through invoices, ordering stock, promoting the shop online, wincing inwardly at the amount I have to pay an accountant, or simply worrying about whether the business is sustainable in the long term. And that’s six days a week. So I’ve missed out on a lot of stuff since opening – family get togethers, birthdays, holidays, and peace of mind!

 

You also have a studio space for hire, for workshops or hot-desking. Has that proved popular, and are there any kind of events you’d especially like to see there?

I’d really hoped that the studio be used by artists and designers as a cheap and comfortable place where they could test out workshop ideas. And we did have a few workshops initially – leatherwork, letter press printing, screen printing. But in the end, it just seemed sensible to open it up as more of a hot-desking environment for creatives looking for somewhere to work.

There’s currently one person using the studio and it’s actually just really nice having some company in the shop. I’d like to see some more workshops happening, or perhaps a pop-up exhibition. Mainly, I just want to see it used, because it’s in such a good location and it’s a means of carrying on the ethos of the shop – supporting local and UK-based creative talent.

 

What advice would you give someone thinking about changing careers to do something completely different?

Think about it logically, but don’t over-think it. Doing something as full-on as starting your own business (or any major career change, for that matter) requires a small amount of madness and the ability to leave some things up to chance.

You’re never fully in control of things – footfall, trends, seasonal whims – so it’s best to stay on top of the things you can control and do them well – like the values you bring to your business, and the personality you present to people.

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You can shop LOIS online or in real life 3D at 42 Choumert Road, Peckham, SE15 4SE.

Keep up to date with the latest news (and, most importantly, dogs in the shop) on the blogTwitter and Instagram.

Jen Wright

Jen Wright

Letterpress printer, maker and freelance writer. I blog about the people and things that inspire me, and that I hope will inspire you.
Jen Wright

2 Comments

  1. What a really good interview with some great advice. Overthinking is definitely something I’m guilty of when at times I should go with things and take more (calculated) risks! Thanks so much for sharing it. Also the hotdesking idea is such a good one as creative pursuits can be lonely at times and this is a really good way to network and build connections too! x

    • Me too, if I don’t just go ahead and do something, I risk losing my nerve. And agree on the hot-desking too. Working from home can get really lonely (and be full of distractions)!

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