Independent retailer CoLab is gaining traction on Bristol’s high street for its community-driven business model – not least as the winner of Drapers’ Independents Community Award 2019.
Current owner Andrea Mahoney, who bought the business in January last year when founder Simone Kidner relocated to New Zealand, tells Drapers: “Our door is always open for our community, even if it’s just for a chat and a cup of tea. Times can be tough in the current retail climate and it’s easy for businesses to lose their balance. But if we indies support one another, then we can make it a little easier for ourselves.”
Fashion is CoLab’s primary focus. Clothing, jewellery and accessories account for around 60% of sales and homeware 40%. It stocks more than 100 fashion products, spanning clothing, footwear and accessories from 65 independent designers, including artist and printmaker Richard Kaye, and Karolina Grundy, founder of children’s clothing brand Kowik Baby.
Grundy has worked with CoLab for around nine months, she tells Drapers, and praises the retailer’s unwavering support: “CoLab is an inspirational shop that has provided a platform for local artists to come together and display local work. The support and encouragement that I have personally received has been incredible and has certainly expanded my sales base.”
Mahoney adds: “One of the most fulfilling aspects of our work is spotting new talent and nurturing their success. It doesn’t matter if a designer has two months or 20 years’ experience – we want to support everyone and create an inclusive world that boosts confidence and customer satisfaction. This is why we have a combination of established names and new labels sitting side-by-side. It also inspires younger brands by showing them what they can achieve.”
As well as stocking their product, CoLab further helps support local designers by offering advice on everything from merchandise to packaging and pricing.
“We work really closely with all of our makers to ensure that they are supported in the best ways possible,” Mahoney says.
CoLab also holds in-store fashion events, such as new brand and collection launches; promotes designers on its bi-monthly newsletter and daily social posts; and offers business operations support.
“We listen to our customers and feedback to labels about what products are selling and which aren’t,” Mahoney explains. “This benefits both parties but is paramount in helping designers to grow and succeed.”
Another way CoLab does this is by forging a relationship between designers and customers.
“When it comes to purchasing new brands, people like to come into the shop and speak to us face to face and try items on. For us, this shows the importance of having a bricks-and-mortar presence, as it creates a hub for people to come in and experience the products first hand,” she says. “It also means we can showcase each designer’s talent and unique attributes.”
The award-winning retailer urges other independents to identify what makes them unique on a crowded high street.
“We’ve learned that it’s so important to have something that differentiates us from other retailers,” she says. To achieve this, Mahoney hosts monthly open-mic nights with performances from musicians and spoken-word artists.
“We like to think of ourselves as a creative community hub for all, rather than ‘just’ a shop,” she adds.
CoLab has carved a niche for itself by focusing on community spirit and creating a unique product offer customers will not find anywhere else.
“One of the most integral parts of our business is ensuring that the door is always open to the whole community,” Mahoney concludes. “It’s vital that local businesses support one another, like we do here on Gloucester Road.”