You guys know how much i LOVE a good, independent shop. I’ve written before about the state of the uk high street. Some of you know of my passion for stationery, others might not be surprised.
Well, today i’m delighted to introduce you to a special shop. Why is it special? For one, it reminds me of the good old days when london was filled with quality specialist shops. Secondly, it sells the most discerning of stationery products i’ve seen in years and thirdly, i’m already in love with the shop keeper!
So let’s start at the beginning. I met julia, a young, dynamic, french woman only last week. I say french, as both of her parents are french. Julia was born in hong kong, moved to tokyo a few years later. Then she actually spend over a year in paris, followed by london for 8 years. Off to study in montreal, back to paris and now is living back in london. Phew! Did you follow that?
Back to the story. We got talking outside on the pavement (as one does). It was dark, bitterly cold and to be honest, i don’t remember what was said. All i remember thinking was here is a feisty young woman, not afraid to speak her mind. I like that!
I was lingering because the thought of heading back home on my scooter in the freezing cold, at that very moment, seemed unfathomable. So when julia turned to go back into her shop i asked what it is she sells and whether she was new to the street. ‘I sell stationery, we opened at the end of august’ came the reply. Oh, i thought, another shop full of twee notebooks and fashionable pens! I’m just not used to quality stationery shops in the uk, but prefer to go to berlin and paris for that. Boy, was i wrong. I entered this little emporium of highly considered and specialised stationery products and was instantly smitten.
I did head back by scooter and arranged to come and interview julia this week.
Julia, briefly tell us what you did before you started your business? After my studies in japanese literature and history, I worked in commercial contemporary galleries, both in london and paris. I learned a lot about business, administration but also how important it was to present and display your products. After a while i realised that my passions lie elsewhere and that if i’m going to use the skills i’m currently using, i might as well do it for my own and in my own business!
What made you start a business in stationery? From the age of 7-14 we lived in japan. I used to cherish my letter writing sets and erasers. There is a part of me that longs to still be that little girl in japan. I somehow see stationery as a love story. All people have stationery and although we live in the digital world, it is still very much a product we can all connect with and use in one way or another on a daily basis. I also love everything for the home and could have chosen interiors products, but somehow was drawn to small items, easily transportable. Stationery products are often small objects with big stories to tell.
How did you come up with the name of your shop ‘choosing keeping’? I’ve always had a thing about valuing products and respecting how they’re made. I see them as sort of treasures. So, being a discerning shopper myself, i wanted to emphasise the idea of finding something you really love, keeping and looking after it!
I know you are particular about sourcing your products! I love history, i love researching and this is a big part of what i love about my business. Having lived in japan, it now gives me great pleasure to source interesting products that connect me to my past. People might think that a pencil is a pencil. Not so! I really like the selling part but it’s the sourcing where i get huge amounts of pleasure from. I can talk to manufacturers and suppliers, hear their stories and source responsibly. It’s something close to my heart. I like finding the ‘underdog’ suppliers, whose products are of the highest quality but maybe their marketing budgets don’t reach as far as others’. Sometimes they simply can’t supply bigger shops as they don’t have the distribution channels. I build up special relationships with these manufacturers, often family run.
How do stationery products differ from different cultures? Well, stationery from germany is super heavy, metallic, highly engineered, whereby japanese, for example, is sophisticated with some technology and a lot of artisan elements. I currently buy from japan, germany, italy and the US. I do stock some finnish crayons and pencils from india. Actually these pencils are made out of indian wood. The manufacturer produces some 5.6 million pencils a year and supplies most schools in india with them. People in the west like them because they are multi-coloured and each one is different!
Are you happy you went into bricks and mortar? Initially i was going to start my business online. Per chance i found this shop and as i would have needed storage space etc i made the decision to go the whole way. I’ve really enjoyed this process. Me and my partner kitted out the shop by ourselves, we have literally just launched online (again, not outsourced) and i’m learning everyday new skills but also, as a young entrepreneur, how resilient i really am. When i did my research, it showed that sales in stationery are up 10% every year and as long as there’ll be artists, there will be a need for pencils:) For the first time i feel professionally fulfilled and am looking forward to the ride.
I will leave you with my own little purchases made. A green kaweco fountain pen to add to my collection. A blackwing pencil, a brass pencil sharpener and mini japanese paperclips. Yay! I certainly will be a regular, but then this shop is kind of made for me!
Thank you julia for this interview and for inspiring my readers!
Any of you got a weakness for stationery? I can think of one or two:) Have a great weekend. See you monday, with another dose of vive la différence. Woohoo!