A lot changes very quickly in our fair city, but it’s rare that an independent can stand the test of time thanks to a loyal following from us Loiners – that’s basically independent retail gold dust. One such business that has managed to thrive is Our Handmade Collective, which is why they were crowned winner of the Leeds Love Affair’s Best Place to Shop by our trusty readers at the end of last year.

Housed in the fast-developing Grand Arcade with a whole host of other fascinating independents, Our Handmade Collective was founded by two friends with a clear vision. With crafters making a name for themselves online on platforms such as Etsy, notonthehighstreet, eBay and Folksy, Our Handmade Collective provide a much-needed alternative to blind buying for fans of handmade.

We caught up with Claire and Natalie from one of Leeds’ only truly handmade department store so they could tell us how the model works, what’s available and what might be in the future for this wonderful little place.

Who are you and how did you get here?

We are Our Handmade Collective, a handmade gift shopping experience based in the historic Grand Arcade, Leeds. We bring together 57 local designer makers collectively providing an Aladdin’s Cave of handmade treasures for any and all occasions.

We were founded in June 2013 by Claire Riley and Natalie Entwistle, from a love of working together at craft fairs and events, but wanting more. We wanted a platform to be able to showcase our businesses (Little Shop of Lathers and Handmade By Natalie) to a larger audience and felt we were ready to take the next step, but we didn’t just want to do it alone. So we began talking to our circle of designer makers and crafters who we worked with on a regular basis to see if they would be interested in our idea. The Our Handmade Collective ethos is to provide a total gift shopping experience all under one roof with our designers collectively working together to provide high quality handmade gifts for any and all occasions.

Some people will remember us as Handpicked Hall (in the Grand Arcade) when it opened in June 2013 with 18 of our friends who we were lucky enough trusted us with their handmade products to form the handmade, handpicked gift shopping experience that is Our Handmade Collective. We had no idea what to expect but we had lots of ideas of what we wanted to achieve. We steadily grew in numbers and size, and decided to look for our own premises. In March 2014 we moved into a vacant retail unit in the Grand Arcade, directly underneath where we were located within Handpicked Hall! We felt that the Grand Arcade was synonymous with what we wanted to achieve in terms of being an independent retailer so we wanted to stay local to our original destination. Since our move we have gone from strength to strength, our customer base grows daily and we have a fabulously loyal following of customers and friends for which we are very grateful and honoured!

What do you think makes Our Handmade Collective unique?

We have many exclusive ranges from our designer makers, and some designers that are not available any where else in Leeds so you will always see something different. Our designer makers are all selected for their high quality handmade product ranges which all compliment each other perfectly (in our opinion!) We hope that we are providing our customers with everything they need for their gift shopping needs.

What can customers expect from Our Handmade Collective?

Customers can expect lots of high quality handmade goodies that are a little bit different, and not available on the mainstream High Street. We specialise in unique, fun and quirky! We now have 57 members of Our Handmade Collective, all of whom collectively promote and market the shop and each other. We have a great online community of followers on social media, we have been featured in local and National press, and we are ranked number one on Tripadvisor for Shopping in Leeds, an accolade which brings us lots of discerning customers. And we were extremely honoured to have won the Leeds Love Affair Best Place to Shop in Leeds after just over a year in business, and are very proud of our award!

What’s your favourite item available from Our Handmade Collective?

Ooh, that’s a tough one! We have so many fabulous products from all of your makers that it’s really hard to choose just one – it just wouldn’t be fair of us! We have products from £1 to £100 covering gifts for her, for him, for the home, for fun, for creativity, for eating and drinking and for cheering up.

What’s your most popular item?

One of our most popular products are our Christmas Sprout tree decorations by designer/maker Wonderkind. They were our Christmas craze last year and we sold out over and over – we couldn’t get enough of them made! They are also shaping up to be a huge seller again this year.

Our most popular event is our Mistletoe, Mince Pies & Mulled Wine Event, an exclusive Christmas Shopping Evening which last year was held on 30 October. In fact it was so popular that we decided to do it all over again later in December, so we’ll be up for doing that again. You can check our website to see what other events we have going all year round.

What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?

Leeds is so diverse that you can literally find everything that you need, if you know where to find it. There is a huge independent scene in Leeds and we are proud to be part of it. The discerning shoppers of Leeds are always looking for something different and we believe the Independent scene provides that. We also have a lot of visitors to Leeds and the tourist guides are very supportive of the independent scene, which makes it easier for out of town visitors to find out about us.

Where else do you like to hang out in Leeds?

We have a lot of favourite spots, many of which are in The Grand Arcade. Casa Colombiana is where we get the best coffee ever to keep us fuelled throughout the day. Belgrave Music Hall is a favourite after-work hang out. The Greedy Pig is a favourite for breakfast. San Co-Co have the most delicious meatball ciabattas for lunch. We also love to pop into Just Grand! for tea and cake.

Finally, describe Our Handmade Collective in 3 words…

Handmade. Quirky. Independent.