Time is a funny thing
Time is a funny thing. 18 years ago, which seems both like yesterday and also like a lifetime ago, The Made in Stroud Shop first opened its doors for Goodwill Evening. Launched by the Mayor of Stroud John Marjoram, the shop began life as a co-operative of 25 makers.
The shop was very much the vision of the makers. I had first started running Made in Stroud maker markets in 1991, and ran them occasionally over a couple of years. There were buskers, a children’s corner, a vegan café, which I ran with a friend, and around 37 stalls. I never had any interest in opening a shop, and told them often “I don’t want to spend my life stood behind a counter” Besides, I had 3 young children and could never see the point of going to work to pay someone to look after them when staying at home with them was so much fun.
So here is a brief history of the shop.
In July 1999 I started Stroud farmers’ market. I was funded by Stroud District Council and Stroud Town Council to work with Stroud Valleys Project. Stroud Valleys Artspace helped me with the funding application, business plan and marketing strategy.
There was no social media, no-one had a smart phone. Letters were printed onto paper and posted, telephone calls were made from landlines sat at a desk.
I hired a desk in the Stroud Valleys Project office and worked freelance from there. They supported my work with facilitation and volunteer helpers. I had a volunteer who would spend a day a week calling farmers (found under 'F' in the yellow pages) trying to persuade them to sell with us.
The market was launched by Isabella Blow, who had supported Made in Stroud since I moved the markets to the Sub Rooms in 1992. Her friend and fashion designer Jasper Conran launched the market with her. Both were fabulous. Isabella in an Alexander McQueen lilac lace dress with a wired hem, a Philip Treacy hat and bright red lipstick, Jasper in a kilt, crisp white cotton shirt open to the waist, driving a vintage convertible Bentley. At the time, this was a big thing for Stroud!
I got permission from the council for Jasper to park the Bentley outside the market (which was held in the market place only) Chef Robert Rees did a cooking demo, there were bands and buskers and generally a festive atmosphere.
After 6 months the market went from monthly to twice monthly and I was beginning to need my own office. I was loud, disruptive and had a lot of visitors! Often farmers smelling rather dubious.
After a year, the market had moved out to the streets and there was a waiting list for craft stalls.
After a year and a half, I was walking through town and noticed a newly refurbished shop with stained glass panels and large windows. I immediately saw it as a Farmers' Market Information Point on one side, and a shop on the other. Made in Stroud was born. I contacted the landlord, had a meeting with him and negotiated a five year lease with a two month 'get-out clause' and a sliding rent. I wrote to all the artists in the area and I knew, and 25 of them replied. I signed the lease, borrowed £500 from my mum and dad for shelving, bought some second hand shop fittings and gratefully received donations of shop fittings from Moonflower Too (which we still use).
The makers had exactly two weeks to deliver their stock. Flooring was way out of the budget, so the floor boards were painted and varnished. If you look when you're int he shop, you can see where the old wide oak boards meet the new narrow pine one. Large brushed aluminium letters were ordered for the shop front and meetings were held. It was agreed to set up a cooperative run for and by makers to run the shop, which would pay half the rent, the other half being covered by the farmers’ market.
The opening night was Goodwill Evening, 1st December 2000. At first, people didn’t necessarily ‘get it’. “Why would I pay £6 for a mug when I can buy one in Woolworth's for 50p?” was a common question.
But with time, a culture of appreciation for the hand crafted was nurtured and latterly the resurgence of the popularity of quality hand made work has stood us in good stead to hopefully be here for another 18 years.
Over the years, the shop has been home to the work of several hundred artists and makers. After 7 years, the farmers market business expanded and the makers voted unanimously for the shop to be run as a limited company, so they could concentrate on making.
Five years ago I became the sole director of the shop, and it’s been a journey of learning about retail management, getting to know the makers, learning about how the business works and finding new suppliers. It’s been an unexpected delight and I don’t think the shop has ever looked as abundant, as stylish and as current as it does today. This is down to the great suppliers and their enthusiasm, drive and constant innovation. Without them we would be nothing. So hats off to the makers, and in celebration of 18 years, we bring you our new online shop.
As is our tradition, we are starting off small. So don’t be surprised if we sell out periodically. Everything is made to order and everything is made by hand. We hope you love the new online shop as much as we do. Do tell your friends, Stroudies living away and Stroud lovers from all around.
Kudos off to my eldest son Ry Gerbrands, who’s brain child this is, and who has cleverly created the site.
We still have the same box of toys in the shop as we had when we opened. Wooden blocks, a Brio train track and some wooden figures. We brought the toys from home so my youngest could play while I worked. My kids were 5, 10, 12 and 14 when the shop opened. Now my grand kids share the toy box with the children of Stroud. Hundreds of tiny hands have built towns and villages with them over the years.
Stroud is a wonderful community which has grown and evolved since we opened, and we hope to keep growing and evolving with it. If you haven’t visited yet, be sure to come on market day, Saturday, when the town is as vibrant and colourful as your imagination.