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Market forces

Greenwich Market has been attracting visitors for decades. But as well as pulling in the punters, the market has also been something of an incubator for creative entrepreneurs. From handbags and homewares to bread and pastries, start small with a stall in Greenwich, and you stand to take on the world.

Not that it’s easy. For Lush Designs, whose quirky prints cover everything from cards to lampshades, the market stall years were long and hard. For 25 years, come rain or shine, Maria Livings and Marie Rodgers would be at their stall. “It does your head in a bit,” Maria says. “Trying to keep everything clean, setting up, clearing up, storage.” But, she is quick to add, “The camaraderie with the other stallholders keeps you going. And you get instant feedback from customers.”

The company branched out to sell their stock in department stores such as Liberty and Selfridges, as well as small independent shops. Then, seven years ago, the opportunity came up to open their own shop within Greenwich Market. A few years later, they moved to a bigger spot just outside the market.

“Pop-ups are great, they let us try things,” Maria says. “It’s quick, stimulating. You have to think on your feet and not be too precious. Just go in and do the best you can.”

Another fan of pop-ups is Isaac Lilos, of Arty Globe, which sells jigsaws, homewares and souvenirs featuring prints from the unique fish-eye perspective of the artist Hartwig Braun. Not that he’s tried pop-ups himself – not yet, anyway. He hasn’t needed to: the company moved from stall to shop in just six months in 2009, one of the fastest transitions in the market’s history. “You have to be proactive and keep trying new things all the time,” Isaac says. “You can’t rely on one income source; what happens when it snows?”

Since the shop opened, Arty Globe has taken off – quite literally. In 2010, not only did they move into larger premises in Greenwich Market, the company began a successful collaboration with a number of airlines, the latest of which is Virgin Atlantic. Now you can do an Arty Globe jigsaw of London, New York or Paris at 10,000 metres above Greenwich. “It’s great exposure,” says Isaac. “I’m very proud of our airline business.”

But he still credits the months on the market stall for the company’s success. “When we started, we didn’t even know who our audience was,” he says. “The stall helped us to understand our customers. It’s really useful market research, because people feel no commitment, they can escape from you down the aisle. So they’re more off-guard and happy to tell you who they are and why they’re buying.”

Sophia & Matt is another local business that has been careful to listen to its customers and respond. “We really, really know what people want,” says Matt Savage, co-founder of the company that, he says, has kitted out at least half the mums in Greenwich with nappy changing bags in colourful retro prints. “Our range is the culmination of seven years of talking to our customers. They can be blunt!”

The company started selling its distinctive dotty handbags and accessories at a stall in Greenwich in 2005. At the beginning, Matt and his art school sweetheart Sophia Afxentiou made everything by hand themselves. “Our entire product range could fit into two plastic boxes,” he says. But soon, they had to take on a studio, in East London, to cope with demand. And when a Japanese visitor kept coming back to buy up all their stall’s stock, they knew they were really on to something.

By 2009, they had market stalls in Greenwich, Camden Lock and Camden Stables, as well as expanding their company into Japan. And by 2010 they had their own shop – right by the entrance to Greenwich Market. “For any stallholder, the dream is to get a shop. We couldn’t have done it without the help and support of Greenwich Hospital [the leaseholder]. They’ve been absolutely critical to our success.”

While Sophia & Matt doesn’t do wholesale, the shop has caught the eye of scouts from the likes of Liberty. The duo is now putting the finishing touches to a new range of bags and accessories made to an even more exacting specification, with heavier-weight fabrics and more complex designs. This is the range that might be sold in department stores – should they find one that meets their high standards for quality.

High standards were also what drove Paul Rhodes into the world of the market stall. A professional chef, credited with winning a third Michelin star for Chez Nico in Mayfair, Paul was dissatisfied with the breads that were available. So he set up his own wholesale bakery business, with a stall in Borough Market, in 2003.

“Back in those days, the market was phenomenal,” Paul says. “I couldn’t get the bread in the bag soon enough.” But once Borough Market became a tourist attraction, the foodies went elsewhere. Paul had already moved his wholesale production to Greenwich, and taking on a lease on a shop was the next step. Paul Rhodes Bakery opened in King William Walk in 2008, selling sandwiches, pastries and cakes; a second branch in Notting Hill opened a couple of years later.

“Deep down, I always knew I wanted to go into a shop,” he says, “but the market was a good learning curve.” His company now supplies bread and pastries to some of London’s top restaurants, as well as Tate Modern, boutique hotels, and City law firms, with further expansion planned and a bigger site for the bakery sought.






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