I’m a big fan of shopping small as I think not only are you helping support someones dream of earning a crust from their creative talent, you are investing in something that not every Tom, Dick and Sally have in their cupboard. The amazing Scottish silk scarf designer Mimi Hammill has written this gorgeous story about falling in love with pieces from small businesses.
You’ve read all the boo-hoo stories about self-employed creatives right?
About how we don’t have Trish in IT to fix our massive computer malfunction on a hump-day afternoon? And how we don’t have Stuart in Legal to point out, on a quarterly basis, the myriad ways we’re cocking everything up? And how there is no woman in HR (y’know the one with the permanently deranged lip liner?) to seamlessly take care of all our tax affairs? So as well as making our beautiful niche creative thing that we desperately want you to buy, we have to learn how to do all that boring crap as well. And how all-of-that-is-really-hard-and-please-please-please-buy-my-stuff.
Well, all of that is true. But I know you’ve read it twelfty million times already.
So, when Audrey asked me to write a piece on the importance of supporting small businesses this Christmas I thought; let’s take a look at it from a more optimistic point of view. What can buying from a small creative business do for YOU?
Here are a couple of examples of shop-small purchases I made recently, and why I think they are infinitely more enriching than the alternative.
We didn’t have enough dining chairs. And then I invited a family of six for dinner, and we REALLY didn’t have enough dining chairs. But buying furniture wasn’t something we’d budgeted for this month. I saw some nice ones online but they were really spendy for a Chinese import, and I didn’t know how good the quality was going to be.
So, we did what we always do on these occasions. We emailed Claire. Claire runs Peapod, a vintage shop in Aberdeen. She had four stacking ex-school chairs, bent ply on tubular metal frames, £50 for the lot (with a few authentic felt tip pen marks thrown in for free). Not only are they absolutely perfect, but every time we visit Peapod we get a warm welcome, and usually a funny story from one or both of Claire’s kids. Also, Peapod always makes me think of the day, five years ago, that Claire delivered a wardrobe to our house. But despite having arranged the delivery I wasn’t in. Because I was in hospital having my own little delivery. Literally. At that very moment. I’ll never part with that wardrobe. I swear it was infused with oxytocin the day my boy was born.
Do you reckon those expensive, mass-produced, imported chairs would have all these warm and fuzzies? You know they wouldn’t.
Here’s another story. I have this friend of twenty years, a globe-trotting designer who makes amazing commercial interiors in the US. He told me years ago, over cocktails in a tropical speakeasy while cicadas screeched in the surrounding jungle, that he has a favourite cup (we’re so rock’n’roll). He said it was the perfect example of a cup and that he took it everywhere with him. It was a plain (blue I think) small Finnish coffee cup, and I really liked the affinity he had with this object.
I’ve spent years searching for my own ‘Goldilocks’ cup – the one that’s juuust right. On a trip to Fife this summer I think we found it. Crail Pottery is run by three generations of the same family. They make several ranges, but it was the very plain earthenware cups that caught our eye, so we bought a couple.
They fit my hand just right, they hold exactly the right amount of black coffee, they go in the dishwasher, and I think they cost about £7 each. Mugs from high-street shops would cost about the same, but wouldn’t come anywhere close in quality, texture, and positive associations. They wouldn’t be handmade by a family who have specialised in doing just this one beautiful thing for fifty years. Let’s face it, a mass-produced high street mug – no matter how beautiful – is unlikely to retain the memories of our holiday in the same way that these will. We won’t ever be able to pass through Crail in the future without buying one or two more.
I could go on and on. The Heather McDermott necklace my husband gave me for Christmas last year. The Hazel Terry card I bought from The Hammerton Store last week that’s going to be perfect for Grampa’s birthday. You get the picture.
What I’m trying to illustrate, in a rather long-winded way, is that shopping small isn’t necessarily more expensive or inconvenient (a widely-held misconception). But it is always more enriching and interesting. You meet remarkable people who, if you’re lucky, might become friends. And your purchases become suffused with memories and stories.
I think supporting small creative businesses is like seasoning. Our culture, whether we like it or not, is to buy big, buy cheap and buy quick. It’s the meat and two veg of our standard 21st century consumer diet. But it would all be pretty boring without some salt’n’pepper. Choosing to support small creative businesses little and often (while respecting that many people have limited options) will, hopefully, keep our culture full of flavour and prevent it becoming bland.
Now, did I ever mention how hard it is doing all the paperwork and keeping on top of the receipts and managing stock and learning SEO and… [fade to static]
For more of Mimi’s funky designs follower her on Instagram (it’s a treat for the eyes)