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50m: the Belgravia hot house for young design talent

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Opening next month in Belgravia, 50m is a new concept store seeking to support London’s young design talent. Ahead of the launch, Drapers speaks to one of the project’s founders, Paul Smyth, to find out more.

In the heart of London’s exclusive Belgravia, a new and experimental concept store is preparing to launch with the aim of supporting the nation’s young designers.

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Ryan Lo autumn 18

At 21 Ecclestone Place, 50m will open in early June and feature the work of 13 young talents – on its “50 metres of rail”, including menswear designer Daniel Fletcher and womenswear designer Ryan Lo. The store hopes to provide retail space for the designers at an affordable rate, additionally offering workspaces and expert mentoring for those involved. 

Designers join the scheme by paying a “small monthly fee” which allows them store space and access to the other services 50m offers. 

The the store is a joint venture by Something & Son, a collaborative, activist led collective, and the Grosvenor property group as part of its Eccleston Yard project – a 19-unit workspace that launched this year as a hub for creative enterprises and co-working. Among its neighbours are Barry’s Bootcamp gym and meditation studio Re:Mind. 

Ahead of the store’s opening, Drapers spoke to Paul Smyth, co-founder of Something & Son to find out more.

What is your background and how did the idea for this project begin?

Andy [Merritt] and I started Something & Son in 2009 to use artistic thinking to solve social issues and take the risks needed to try new ideas. This has taken us on a journey of turning disused spaces in the city into living working places.

We’ve pioneered new models before. Seven years ago we built a farm inside a shop in Dalston, then a community spa in Barking and, more recently, we co-founded Makerversity – a space that is home to 300 makers in Somerset House.

In 2017 Grosvenor approached us to see what we could do with an empty garage they had, and it fitted nicely with an idea we had for a shared shop. After seeing how our other spaces bring people together, we wanted to see if we could do the same for fashion designers, and, at the same time, twist people’s idea of a shop away from somewhere where things are just consumed to being a vehicle for ideas, change and community.

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Bethany Williams autumn 18

Why did you decide to set up 50m?

We want to make it easier to launch the next great fashion houses and shift power away from big shops and big landlords back to the designer – giving them more control of their success. In the past, we had places like Kensington Market, and shops were cheap and easy to get – even in London. It’s becoming harder for ordinary people to set up shop – it costs tens of thousands of pounds to get started.

Our unique and brilliant British fashion industry suffers from a loss of talent. Designers tell us that it’s getting harder and harder to showcase their work, and take control of their own creative journey – a journey that can take years of hard slog.

We set up 50m to try to help sort this out, and because we love to be around creative and passionate people, and see people’s ideas happen in our great city.

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Faustine Steinmetz autumn 18

The 50m model – sharing the shop and overheads – makes this easier and we also think we can offer something different to both designers and customers – a shop run by artists for artists with a proper community around it. Sharing things isn’t new and at its core, 50m is taking the age-old model of a market and bringing it into an upmarket area like Belgravia. 

What designers will you be showcasing?

We’re launching with a focus on ambitious new designers who have made their individual stamp on the London and global fashion. Our launch members are: Kepler, Rathel & Wolf, Ka Wa Key, Simo Markus Wernitznig, Laundry Service, Bethany Williams, Luke Anthony Rooney, Faustine Steinmetz, Ryan Lo, Daniel Fletcher, Minki London and Danshan.

The space is not than just a shop – what else are you offering the designers involved?

So many shops are serious and boring. We are trying to create a new type of shop that is more of a hang-out space and community.

Alongside selling their creations, designers and their customers can work here, and make clothes here, drink at the bar, and run events and parties.

We want to bring designers together in space where they’ll be able to support each other and have a laugh. Alongside the store there are other ways we will support designers, through an online community and also we have a network of 30 mentors from different parts of fashion who are committing their time to help the next generation.

What’s the story behind the name?

Wherever you go in the world rails are used to hang clothes: 50m stands for the 50 metres of rail we have in the store which young designers can book to sell their collections. If we can pull together to make 50m work in Belgravia then we hope that our community can grow across the city and around the world – growing from 50 metres to hundreds.

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Laundry Service autumn 18

What will you be looking for in the designers that you take on?

We are looking for emerging designers and brilliant talents who are carving out their own story with work that speaks to people on a level beyond being clothes. We also feel that good design is also design that reflects the world and is fair and ethical. Everyone in our community must be ambitious and hardworking and ready to take control of their work. You also need to be up for being part of community, lone wolves are welcome but no one who’s too salty.

Do you think it’s tough to be a young designer in London?

Rising housing costs and shop rents are making it harder and harder for young designers to get their own physical space to sell their own work or host events. Whilst brands can grow online like never before, the chances to meet customers face to face are disappearing.

The designers that manage to secure stockists must stick to the wholesale model and sell their works of art for cheap. This is making it harder and also means we get less weird and cool design in the shops as it gets too risky.

Young designers looking to do something different and individual are often creatively stunted to keep the retail price reasonable. It’s simply not fair that the person running the shop makes more than the person putting the work in to making and designing the clothes.

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