It takes big vision to bring together a department store that caters to indie tastes. Like a modern day Liberty or Harrods, Fabrication is one such venture which, despite a rocky start, has gone from strength to strength.
Standing out from the crowd in the sleek The Light shopping centre, Fabrication brings together an impressive collective of local artists and makers to offer something uniquely different. Like an Aladdin’s cave of gifts, homewares and beauty essentials, it’s one of those places you find yourself dwelling in and losing track of all time.
We spoke to one of it’s founders, Dawn, about the Fabrication community, the city’s down to earth feel and picking favourites in a shop full of wonders…
Who are you and how did you get here?
We’re Fabrication Crafts, a social enterprise in Leeds. We have a retail shop and craft classroom in The Light, which stocks work by approximately 80 local artists, designers and crafts folk and a workspace near the Corn Exchange.
We set up in 2008 providing adhoc workspace and support to micro craft and textiles businesses with the help of an UnLtd Award.
I’ve been a clothing/costume designer/maker for about 30 years and understand the social isolation that exists in a micro business where you never have watercooler moments and often basic equipment to use. When we set up there was really no Facebook or Twitter for help and support, so makers were often left struggling to find information on legislation and advice.
Along with my husband Andrew, of Military Metalwork, we found a little 18th century hovel near the Corn Exchange and set up a sewing and leatherwork studio and also a jewellery/metalworking workshop, which people could come and rent by the hour to use the equipment for a small contribution to bills. We then began to run craft classes, hen parties etc.and give support from a practical point of view.
In 2011 we decided to set up a retail space alongside and settled firstly on Kirkgate, then in the Merrion centre and finally in late 2012 The Light, where we were able to expand our sellers and the range of items and classes we could offer. We are now looking at increasing our workshop space as demand is growing.
What do you think makes Fabrication unique? What do you offer that other places in Leeds don’t?
Our shop doesn’t exist just to make sales, although it’s great when they come, it’s an extension of the workspace and is about building a community of like-minded, skilled people, helping them realise their business potential, with mentoring and networking as well as collaboration with each other in and outside the shop, so they and us can build a great business.
I’m very proud that several of our sellers have gone on to open their own successful shops too after the support they’ve had from us, and our model has now been copied widely, being highlighted in the LCC’s independent retail report in 2012 as one to watch.
We only have local sellers, so you know everything you are buying isn’t made in a sweatshop, is often unique and provides an income for the person you are buying from, rather than a faceless corporation. Our sellers work in the shop so they can get customer feedback, learn how to work in retail, take bespoke orders, fine tune branding etc and we run it as a cooperative, so although I’m in overall charge everyone has input on everything from the wrapping paper to the window displays.
We feel that many people just make stuff to sell without often understanding the whole business process and then get bogged down, so this can help them form a more involved business model and look at all facets, as well as establishing how sustainable it really is. If something isn’t working or is a seasonal product we look at how it can be tweaked to make it more saleable and the business more rounded.
We recently started producing an instore magazine too which has gone down well with customers and since we’ve had Wi-Fi installed we’ve a number of bloggers coming to use our class/meeting room as a hot desk space.
Many of our sellers have won awards for their work and we have an eclectic mix from locally made jams and spices, to furniture, clothing, glassware, artwork, jewellery, craft kits, and homewares such as cushions and lampshades. We’ve even a bridal department and someone who makes buttons for the Royal liveries!
We don’t stock work by sellers in other shops in the city to keep that uniqueness and exclusivity. As we were concentrating on setting up an artisan (rather than gallery or clothing) shop it meant we could go out and find products you wouldn’t normally associate, but come under the heading of micro crafts businesses.
We do get personnel changes if life crops up so someone has to leave which means that the stock and the look of the shop also changes. We have a policy that we only have one of a style of item, so there’s no treading on another seller’s toes, so all the jewellers are very different etc.
When I come on shift there’s always something new to see and it takes me a while to get around so we all love it as much as the customers and don’t get jaded. I’ve not bought presents, or even chocolate, anywhere else since we opened, why would I ? We’ve the perfect things in stock and there’s something for everyone. It’s the kind of shop I’d go into if I was a visitor to a town; we’ve worked hard to get it to the point that we have become an established presence in the city too, giving indies a high profile in a more corporate setting.
What can people expect from Fabrication?
Locally made items, which are well made, often unique and unusual, friendly and helpful service, by people who are passionate about what they do, a very different experience from the usual high street. Because of where we are customers often amble in while waiting for friends at the cinema or one of the restaurants and then just get engrossed, taking in every item as they would a gallery and leave with a smile on their face. We have many who tell us we’re the best shop in Leeds, as they purchase items to send abroad to show what their home city has to offer.
What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?
It’s big enough to know its own mind but small enough for us all to know each other. It’s fiercely supportive of its independents and its creative energy, but also very down to earth so you don’t believe your own hype.
I worked in London in the fashion scene for a while and it’s very bitchy and two faced, in Leeds we all help each other
I’m a Barnsley/Huddersfield rather than Leeds girl, but this is where we came for a day out as soon as I was old enough to be let out on my own. I came to gigs at the Queen’s Hall and visiting shops such as Boodleam and Funny Wonder, dreaming one day I’d have my own in the city.
Where do you like to hang out in Leeds?
I’m so busy running the shop as well as my design business and Andrew is also a self-employed craftsman so we’ve always got some deadline or other but when I do get time Kendells Bistro for a special dinner, The Wardrobe or Hifi for dancing. Cottage Road for the cinema, The Reliance, Ambiente Tapas. My own studio is behind Kadas and Café Moor which is great for lunch.
I want to run a regency ball upstairs in Cattle Grid, as it was the old Assembly Rooms and the features are still there so I love the area around the Corn Exchange and being part of old Leeds.
On the subject of old Leeds I’m also co-chair of Friends of Stank Hall, which is the oldest house in Leeds and derelict, and we are building an edible community garden with a view to one day being able to get the buildings restored and in use, so I spend a lot of my ‘spare’ time up there.
What’s your favourite item at Fabrication?
There are just too many! You can see myself and the other sellers working out how many of our products we need to sell to buy the long list we’ve got, drooling as new stock comes in. To be honest if we just all bought from each other the shop would still do well!
I’ve a collection of Magnolia’s handmade silver jewellery from the rose collection; she’s Columbian now living in Leeds. I don’t buy jam or cordial anywhere else, and our body products and cosmetics are amazing. The Mirror Mirror light boxes are beautiful and one day I’ll have a house big enough to completely furnish in all our fab furniture and artwork.
What’s your most popular item?
Again due to the demographic of The Light it varies daily; glassware, furniture, blankets and leather bags are always tying for first slot, with the ceramics coming up a sharp second, both the practical and the ornamental.
The menfolk aren’t forgotten either, with the fantasy and Steampunk art, canjos, leather hip flasks and blacksmith work doing well.
Jewellery is always popular from the upcycled through to Swarovski hand beaded work and the fine silver. Our kitchen and bathroom areas are growing with gorgeous candles too and we’ve now even a treatment room using the products we sell, all paraben and cruelty free.
We’ve a variety of price points from a couple of pounds to a couple of hundred so it suits all comers, you can grab a t-shirt, a notebook, fairy lights, a mirror, a card, a wedding dress, some tea or spice mix, a clock and a sofa all at the same time.
We have a number of interior designers visit us for one off pieces for clients as we have a great cushion range as well as bespoke tables, which is great, meaning we’ve been called Leeds Indie Department Store due to the range of products.
We have people travel across the country to our classes too, and run some very unusual ones such as making 18th century clothing and metalwork, as well as run projects in the community teaching a variety of craft skills.
Finally, describe the experience your customers get in 3 words…
Unique, Handmade, Local.