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Leeds Retail Pop-Up Culture

3 December 2015
Leeds Retail Pop-Up Culture
Many of Leeds’ most successful ventures started life as a temporary or pop-up project, growing from their popular reception into something more financially viable and permanent. Many of these ventures are in the food and drink sphere; sure-fire success stories, especially in a foodie-friendly city like Leeds. But what about retail pop-ups? The pop-up is a fairly modern phenomenon, and using temporary space to introduce a business in retail is becoming an increasing point of interest in Leeds and beyond. Here is an exploration of these initiatives.

Colours May Vary Pop-up in Leeds Station

Leeds Pop Up Culture - Article

Amongst the blur of commuters and revellers who sweep in and out of the station stands a glowing little pod. Once the home of fairly non-descript ATM coffee its most recently inhabitants are well-known creative stalwarts and gift shop Colours May Vary. Becky, co-owner of the shop, explains the pop-up nature of the opportunity to take over the pod: on the back of Super Mundane’s bold and blocky installation, which Colours May Vary helped to realise, they got in talks with Network Rail to take advantage of the redundant, relatively useless space. Whilst they certainly ensnare a cult following with their beautiful selection of gifts, books, and illustrated miscellany, to the infrequent visitor, their space at Munro House might be a little off the radar.

Taking advantage then of the redundant, soon to be demolished pod space, Colours May Vary opportunely took on the space. Largely an exercise of ‘why not?’ their pop-up also acts as a more tentative nudge to increase the involvement and awareness of independents in the station. As the key transport link to the rest of the country, the station is the site of most visitors’ first impressions and the gang at Colours are remedying the lack of independent representation within that.

Sitting amongst other high street names, the pop-up retails a selection of the stock available in the Munro House shop, presumably chosen for their quick-fix appeal; for those rushing through on a last minute mission to grab a token for their loved one (let’s face it we’ve all done it) Colours May Vary offers a gem-like selection of gifts, cards and wrap. For the moocher, the bijou space is far more than just a counter; in fact you can step inside the hut to check out the full extent of the stock. In addition to their stock, the space will also facilitate a showcase area for artists too; promoting people like the folk at Thought Bubble Comic Con last month, and the beautiful illustrations by Rose Blake which are now up on the pod. The Colours May Vary pop-up pod was around until January 10th.

Lambert’s Yard

Leeds Pop Up Culture - Article 2

The pop-up space in Lambert’s Yard is located just past restaurant Rare and acts as a legacy of the retail and events space’s beginnings before it expanded into a permanent fixture above. The philosophy behind the space, and the surrounding ‘yard’ area was to create a unique, premium, independent retail space to showcase the local textiles and design talents. The most recent use of the pop-up is to house Hidden Lab and Origin 52’s selection of rare and collectable sneakers, including elusive items like The Adidas Yeezy Boost.

The Courtyard itself has been transformed of late into a little hidden gem, opening up the possibility for future events. Light Night debuted their Candlit Courtyard event offering much softer lighting than the harsh pyrotechnics found elsewhere in the night, plenty of foliage and a couple of incredible acoustic performers to boot. Adam Jagger, Head Buyer at Lambert’s Yard also explains plans to develop an additional retail space within the Yard’s current offices. The pop-up space remains a bit of a side show to the action going on within the main building, including its second floor events space which has recently turned a past pop-up Humans of Leeds exhibition into a residency. The pattern is quite clear; pop-ups have facilitated the dipping of Lamberts Yard’s toe into retail and events, and proved their formula right, growing the business into a permanent, successful fixture.

Appear Here

While not strictly a Leeds venture, Appear Here is a growing business dealing in retail and pop-up spaces, expanding its reach to our fair City. Speaking to Appear Here highlighted the fertile results of using pop-ups as a full-scale market research project. Its conception came when founder Ross Bailey secured a spot on the incredibly over saturated Carnaby Street, London, prompting other retailers to hound him for his secret. Bailey tapped into this demand for retail space, eventually growing the business in collaboration with some of the country’s biggest landlord groups.

The model often works with retail space that is either awaiting planning permission or is between larger retail contracts, simultaneously fulfilling the needs of pop-up entrepreneurs looking for temporary lodging and maximising the space’s financial potential. Furthermore, with such a monopoly over high street space that chains dominate, Appear Here seeks to remedy this rather boring predicament.

The site facilitates small business to tentatively test the market without committing to year long contracts. Appear Here has also had many success stories from the services they offer; businesses returning to seek more permanent sites. Most recently, Leeds’ very own Humpit, located in the Corn Exchange, bagged the title of ‘Overall Winners’ of the Street Food category in Virgin’s Start-up Foodpreneur awards. Their prize: a week’s rent free pop-up stall in one of London’s heaviest footfall zones, Old Street Underground Station, courtesy of Appear Here.

Leeds Pop Ups

A more local initiative is Leeds Pop Ups, established by Andy York to collate the various goings on under the ‘pop-up’ umbrella into one informative space, keeping Leeds folk up to date on all of the goings on in the pop-up world. Often these ventures are at the hands of small-business people, and so Leeds Pop-Ups provides a platform to give them the appropriate shout out. With nearly 4000 followers, the forum provides a space to network with other pop-up appreciators, creating an environment where new ideas for pop-ups can be discussed. Speaking to Andy he was full of praise for initiatives like Homage2Fromage and Hedonist Drinks each finding a more permanent spot, perhaps suggesting that permanence is synonymous with success. Yet Leeds Pop Ups is a project based around supporting the temporary, something which often encourages the most creative, unique ideas of all.

The questions that businesses like Appear Here raise are of course whether pop-ups are merely a preliminary measure where funds are unavailable and space too scarce to pursue a full scale business, and whether pop-ups are merely place holders or larger scale market research projects, to scope out the market before any real commitment is made. The arguments against this idea are of course, numerous; Colours May Vary’s inhabitancy of the station pod is an exercise of opportunity, and one that pins itself taking full advantage of temporary space to promote independent and artistic ventures. The philosophy behind the idea of pop-ups is far more pervading than their physical presence and constantly reappears under different guises. Seasonal fairs popping up in venues like The Brunswick, Belgrave and The Corn Exchange frequently offer space for touring arts/crafts/record/vintage fairs. Pop-ups are by nature, incredibly popular because of their intimacy, and limited availability, which both naturally add value to the wares on offer and allows flexibility in a time where business is not the 10 year commitment that it once was.

Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.