There’s a passion for independents in Leeds, a real love for what they do. But what exactly does it mean to shoppers?
Leeds has a good few independent stores, and though there are those of us who would like to see more, there’s no denying that the ones we do have help to make the city’s shopping scene unique. Yet the recent loss of some of our much loved stores has left us wondering – what do the independents add to Leeds and what will we lose if more close down?
An alternative to the high street
The high street is our bread and butter. Whether it’s clothes, home furnishings or gifts, you know there will be something to meet your needs – and because they make it all on a grand scale, you can get it for a pretty decent price. But on the other side of the coin, you know there are thousands of exact replicas out there in the world –in other people’s wardrobes and homes, just like yours.
The same can’t be said for the independents. Step inside and you’ll be met with limited editions, one-off pieces and handmade items that, even if they’re part of a larger collection, are ever-so-slightly different – unlike their mass-produced counterparts.
It’s something that came up time and time again when we spoke to Leeds’ independents. They believe, and so do their customers, that the independents bring something very unique to the city.
“You won’t find the exact same dress or blouse, in another vintage shop up the road, let alone any high-street store.” Rebecca Mason-Harding, owner of Twitwoo Vintage, told us. “Our shop, and others like us add a unique flavour to the locale.”
It’s a sentiment that’s shared by Thomas Stanley, from new design store Alavit. “We offer something different to the norm, something unusual, something unique and something that’s sure to get people talking.” He told us, “You won’t find our unique offering anywhere else in the city, with many products been exclusive to us, we are also working with local design talent, young and old to support them and help sell their work.”
But the very difference that makes the independents so special, can also count against them, as Allison Keenan, owner of Alice Found Treasure explained, getting people to try something different is the biggest challenge the independents face.
“It can be challenging to get people to step away from the high street and appreciate clothes that are not mass produced and shown in glossy magazines, to try something different,” She told us. “However, once people find the independents in the city they do become regulars, so my advice would be to spend a day only going in independent shops. You’ll find it a totally different experience, you’ll be much more appreciated than shopping in the chain stores and find some amazing unique items that no one else has.”
Making business, personal
For the independents, it’s not just business, it’s personal. These stores have been built up from scratch, with passion and hard work. So it should come as no surprise that the independents are more invested, both financially and emotionally, than high street retailers. And that comes through in the service – don’t be surprised if you’re won over by the person behind the counter, as much as the stock on the shelves.
For the independents, great service isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential. They know that going the extra mile is what makes them different to larger retailers, and they use their size to their advantage, as Heather Rogers, owner of Mad Elizabeth was happy to explain. “Being a smaller shop, we can listen to what people want, there’s only two of us that work here, but we can talk to customers, listen to what they’re after, and if people want something special, we’ll just get it in.”
And she’s not alone. Our Handmade Collective have a very similar ethos, as co-founder Claire Riley told us, “We take the time to listen to our customers to see what they are looking for and we source it for them.”
It’s that willingness to help, and that ability to go straight to source, to find out what customers want and how they can give it to them that gives the independents the upper hand. They can adapt, not just to the trends, but to the individual needs of every customers – and surely that’s worth paying a little more for?