Charity in retail is usually very hard to come by, especially when it comes to high-end clothing. Why did you decide to break the stereotypical role of clothing stores in the market, and what was your motivation for choosing profit for healthcare?
The TUK Store is our contribution to what we believe should be the way businesses are run in the UK. As a social enterprise our business is run to make a profit, but all the profits are fed back into the community through projects we feel answer a particular need in our society. We wanted to break the stereotypical role of clothing stores and ask people to consider the impact they can have by choosing somewhere like the TUK Store to buy their clothes. We hope to encourage people to think about how businesses use their profits and support businesses that give back to their community. The free provision of complementary healthcare is just one area that suffers due to a lack of funding and it is a cause which is close to the Directors’ hearts. They have been working to provide funding for people with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses for over three years and the TUK Store is just another step to ensure they can do this.
As a TUK Store you are dedicated to bringing in the new and the fresh. What is the process you adapt to find the right designers that meet the needs of your store?
Every creative who approaches the TUK Store is given the opportunity to sell their work. We do not have any set idea which dictates who we chose to stock in store. The concept of the TUK Store is to provide a platform for emerging creatives and we want to give everyone that presents themselves to us a chance. If I feel that a designer might not be ready to promote and sell their work I will work with them, giving some advice and offering them a space in store once I am confident they can get the best from the opportunity.
As a diverse range, where did you source your eclectic mix of designers, and what was the defining criteria that made them right for TUK? i.e. their fabrics, their inspirations
We ask each designer/ artist to put together a collection of four or more pieces for the store. We want them to develop a brand which they can promote both in the TUK Store and elsewhere. Many of our designers are UK based, although we do have international designers also in store. The defining criteria – we ask only that our designers are independent, with unique and innovative approaches to their chosen media. They have free rein for where they draw their inspiration from, as long as it produces great quality products! We have already got a number of beautiful collections in store, showing so much incredible talent from the designers.
Do your designers have any other production support, and if so, how did you motivate them to join your team of designers?
We provide ongoing support for all the creatives through the store. My experience in retail enables me to provide day-to-day advice and guidance and part of my role is to help designers show the best of their work. We ensure a weekly sales report is generated for each designer, so they can easily keep track of what they are selling. We also take as much customer feedback as possible which we then pass on the designers. From the designers we expect a good level of administration and we have a business structure which we ask them to adhere to. We run event nights at the store for designers to showcase themselves, allowing them to use the store to promote themselves.
How have people responded to your store so far? Do you feel it is a benefactor that no other high-street store operates so charitably in the way you do?
The feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. First, when people come in, they are drawn to the interesting and unique products which we have. Then, we explain to them the concept of the store. Not simply that it is a platform for new, independent designers, but that all the profits made (after the designers take their cut) fund free complementary healthcare for people with disabilities. Some people are surprised at this, but all are impressed that we are choosing to operate a business along a social enterprise model.
We have two benefits that other high street stores do not have.
Our choice of designers and products set us apart from high street stores, so customers can be sure they are buying unique, often hand-made pieces. But also we are a charitable organisation and as people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to support community projects, we believe that people will feel a greater sense of satisfaction knowing that by making one purchase, they can positively affect someone else’s life.