Pop-ups and parties

Hackney based clothing store West Carolina is changing the way pop-up shops work. Owner Ana Carolina permanently stocks multiple brands including The Ragged Priest, La Come Di and House of Sunny, but every month she also uses a pop-up space to host small brands for a limited time, giving them a toehold in physical retail.

Carolina started as a pop up herself, which she says was “a dream come true.” Because of this start, she thought other small brands would appreciate the opportunity to do the same.

When choosing who to include in her pop-up from her list of applications, Carolina looks for brands that share a similar aesthetic to her store – bold and colourful.

The store aesthetic was something that drew Laura Shannon, founder of the eponymous clothing brand, to apply for the current pop up, running from the October 8 to 14. She says: “I came across the West Carolina Instagram… and I was like oh my God, that shop is a bit of me!” She added: “I felt like my brand would really fit in there.”

Clothes rail filled with colourful and holographic festival clothes
Image by Kerenza Willcox

One of 23 recipients of the Hackney Central Impact and Ideas Fund, the West Carolina store received a share of almost £600,000 to promote a circular economy in the area. Her application featured her tried and tested pop ups and launch parties, and the funding enabled her to refurbish the garden behind the shop, offering more space for DJs, clothing, and mingling.

The grant enables Carolina to waive fees for Hackney based brands, making it a super accessible way for small businesses to get their products into a physical store. While other brands do have to pay a fee, and the shop takes a small commission from all sales, it remains an affordable option with significantly less risk than opening an individual pop up shop.

Hand painted signs on the gate of West Carolina's garden, ssaying 'entrance, pop-up partee'
Image by Kerenza Willcox

The East London location is a good fit for the West Carolina audience, with owner Ana Carolina saying: “It’s full of creative, colourful, expressive and fashion forward people.” She tells _shift she would love to expand to a second East London location, but of course keep the OG store, creating even more opportunities for events. 

Maintaining sales throughout the week can be a challenge, as the shop experiences a peak in sales during the weekend and throughout the parties. Due to it being a physical store, the weather also affects sales, especially if it’s raining. Aside from this, Carolina says: “I feel like we’ve done it so many times now that we are becoming very good at it.” 

 

One of the unique elements of the West Carolina pop ups is the launch parties that offer opportunities to network, make friends, and meet like-minded people. Shannon says: “The way she does pop ups is different to other people because she does the launch parties, and I think that’s what makes it so highly sought after.”

Speaking on why she hosts the parties, Carolina says: “It’s an excuse for people to come to the store and check it out… building a community.” The parties are open to anyone, making it an inclusive space for all fashion fans.

Colourful clothing on a pink rail under a marquee in the garden of West Carolina
Image by Kerenza Willcox

The reliance of small brands on Instagram is becoming more of a barrier as the app implements endless changes to the algorithm, making it even harder for small brands to grow their following and gain sales. Shannon says: “All my sales come directly from Instagram, so when Instagram isn’t playing ball, I don’t get sales.” She then explains: “The pop ups are really good… I think people are willing to spend more and make bigger purchases in a shop”.

This thought is echoed in data published by NielsonIQ in July 2022, showing that 58% of respondents think small brands are usually more expensive, but were prepared to pay a bit more for them. 51% feel that small brands are more authentic and trustworthy than big brands, which shows that there is definitely a space for West Carolina pop ups in the current market.

McKinsey Fashion Scenarios suggest global fashion sales will reach 103 to 108 percent of 2019 levels in 2022. This implies that the fashion industry has made a swift and successful recovery post-pandemic, a promising insight for all businesses, big or small.

On a local level, with its new selection of brands in store for one week every month, there are plenty of opportunities for small brands to get involved with West Carolina. 

Keep an eye on the @westcarolina Instagram page for pop up dates and party invites.

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