Find us somebody more joyful to be around than W.A. Green‘s creator Zoe and we will show you two very surprised people. Named for her Grandad, W.A. Green is a treasure trove of everything you ever wanted for your home and then some. It’s a riot of colour and a smash of delight, and we went and got all up in its brand new, refurbed loveliness. Oh, and side note: in January, we won the W.A. Green pub quiz with @rebecca.wakefield, @malmo_and_moss, and @vintagecuratorinteriors under team name: Linda Barker’s Velvet Glove. You are welcome.
Robyn: So, when did the lovely refurb start?
Zoe: It started in January. I got in touch with a retail creative to work on it and we went on a safari to look at things I liked and didn’t like. We put in a wall so we’ve got a double sized stockroom as it’s grown so quickly and for the online side, which is great because it means I can buy at greater depth and get a better deal.
Emma: It looks so great – I love it!
Zoe: This is the most exciting thing though – watch this…
Robyn: Oh, a wrapping drawer! Like Love Actually!
Zoe: It’s one of the things we learned as we evolved – you need a space for wrapping. And have you seen the glitter on the counter…
Robyn: Where did you get glitter paint??
Zoe: It’s silver glitter hairspray with paint over the top
Emma: That’s so clever!
Zoe: And then the counter top is a material called Duat, which is all recycled bottles, so when you’ve finished with it you can recycle it again
**Emma careers off to take photos**
Emma: Ahh the Slowdown Studio throws! I love them. I didn’t know you did these – I’ve wanted to touch of one for forever
Zoe: They’re so soft and there’s such a lot of workmanship in there. They’re a piece of art, they come in a limited run, and SO many people are using them as wall art. You just have to pop up carpet gripper and you’re done – it couldn’t be simpler
Robyn: How did you get here, to opening a shop?
Zoe: I was working in advertising. I wasn’t really enjoying it but I wasn’t miserable, you know? I got bracketed as the the financial services girl, and one day I just realized I didn’t give a fuck if someone bought this bank’s insurance, but felt kind-of guilty because so many people would kill for my job. One day I was shopping for a gift for a friend who had one of those jaw-dropping houses in Islington. I was going up and down the high street and couldn’t find anything. So I went to Broadway Market and Shoreditch in East London, and they had the same stuff there, so ended up legging it to the Conran shop at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon and they had the same stock as everywhere else! Then we were on a family road trip through California and I just fell in love with the way they present things so differently there. It’s like in the shop we try to present 24/7 sunshine…
Emma: I love that
Zoe: There’s so much positivity over there – they’re so proud of their local designers, and I don’t think we’re proud enough in this country. We’re too scared to champion our makers. So, I felt I wanted to do something where I worked with local designers alongside powerhouse brands, to give them a platform. You need the big brands to sell because people are creatures of habit, but I think people are interested in seeing the work of other people too. Then we came up with the tagline, ‘Dopamine for the home’ and that was it. I gave up my job and then went in search of somewhere to do it. It was April 2017 that we actually opened
Emma: I had no idea you were so new!
Zoe: When I first opened I found it terrifying because you’re putting an edit of yourself out there. I was so worried that these people I saw as tastemakers might judge my taste as bad – I couldn’t even look customers in the face. But on a Saturday about three weeks in this man walked in and said, ‘Can you see inside my head? This is like the inside of my head!’ and he grabbed a load of stuff to bag up before his boyfriend arrived. Then when his boyfriend did show up he just said, ‘Oh, this is like looking inside your head’. And in that moment, I knew there were people who got it. But I’ve accepted that it won’t appeal to everyone – it’s not a vanilla store – it won’t talk to the masses
Robyn: I love this store, it’s an adventure. From the product to the way it’s presented, it’s all very authentically you
Zoe: Thank you! Yes, I’ve always loved it too. But we had to do the refurb because we had to find a way of making it work and of building on the traction online
Robyn: It’s so interesting that it’s a change spearheaded by the online side of the business
Zoe: The online thing is fascinating; like, how do you create those same sticky relationships? How do you create that experience? It’s just where the store is going and that’s where things like Instagram come in. You know, I can’t remember the last time I went into a store and tried on a dress. But with homewares I think people like to touch and experience it before they buy
Emma: Do you get a lot of repeat customers?
Zoe: What’s cool is: we try to really service the customer. We write a little note, everything is wrapped in tissue. If it’s a gift we ask if the customer wants to include wrapping paper or a card. I always tell my team not to be scared to pick up the phone and have a conversation
Emma: do you find that because Shoreditch is such a tourist area now that lots of the customers are into things from local designers?
Zoe: Absolutely – they always ask, ‘So, what’s British?’ and you have to think what they can easily pop in their luggage
Emma: Does that inform your buying?
Zoe: A little bit. It’s a consideration, but it can’t be THE consideration. Especially as we ship. Like we’ve just shipped £2000 worth of tableware to Miami for someone’s pool house
Emma: That’s nuts! And I’ve just been distracted by these tea towels
Zoe: We’ve just started creating our own product – those and the matches. They’re great pick-up items. And our lips design is about to become a blanket! Where all our things are made is really important to me, so it’s all produced in the UK. Actually, I used to be a school secretary so when I decided to do the tea towel I went to someone who used to do the tea towels with children’s drawings on them
Robyn: That’s AMAZING. Do you think you’ll move more towards creating your own product?
Zoe: I think so. It’s no secret that the margin is so much better, but it’s also more of a risk committing to a design as you have to buy in volume. It’s scary. You have to be able to think ‘Yes, I can sell 250 of these’. The blanket is the next step. I hope it’ll be ready for the London Design Festival. The plan is to have it out there alongside a collaboration with Paris Essex who make these amazing knitted blankets that are like crochet – craft meets art meets joy
Emma: That’s amazing
Robyn: I want to wear it as a poncho
Zoe: And then we’ve got a collab with Silken Favours who’s designed us a cushion for the store, which is so nice
Robyn: I love the way you think about stocking the shop – it’s so holistic, it’s not just, ‘What sells’. You’re quite an agile thinker, aren’t you?
Zoe: I think you need to really quickly know what’s selling. You know the minute it lands in store. Some leopard candlesticks arrived last week and they’re all sold out already, so I need to get more of those quickly. I started the store with some quite big pieces of furniture, and it took a while, but I had to admit that to stay in business in this location, I have to sell quickly, and furniture not only sells slowly, it takes up so much room as well. What’s interesting now is that so many people come into the store for gifts. I had this ego thing where I thought, ‘I don’t want to be a gift shop,’ but actually what’s wrong with that?
Emma: Yeah, people often think more about gifts for other people – it’s like giving a little parcel of joy to someone
Zoe: Exactly – I love gifting. I put loads of thought into it. I’ve got a little cupboard of things from when I’m out and about or on holiday that I think someone might like. It’s called Mum’s Guffins
Emma: Would you like to grow the store and have more, or do you think you’ll concentrate more online?
Zoe: I’d love to do something on three floors like ABC carpets in New York, and sell for the whole house. But you have to start off with where you are. The focus at the moment is growing online but I love having the store. I don’t think I’d be happy online-only as I like to feel connected. Having a shop is such a joy. Customers have become friends, I’ve been invited round for dinner… they’re buying for other people so you find out about their lives
Robyn: You can tell from the way you speak you’re a collector of stories. You love the stories around the product; you love the stories around the customer. Maybe that’s to do with the advertising background?
Zoe: I think you just can’t help it can you? You’re always looking for something to talk about. The name of the store, W.A. Green, is actually after my Grandfather. After WWII everyone was given a bit of money to start again and he decided to open a greengrocers. He found this store and the name above the door was Elizabeth’s. He had rolls and rolls of tissue paper that was printed with Elizabeth’s so he thought, ‘I’m not throwing that away’ and twelve stores later they were all called Elizabeth’s. So, when I opened the store it had to be named after my grandfather.
**Everyone does a little teary wobble **
Zoe: And my grandmother is still alive, she’s nearly 99! When I opened, I brought her a gift from the shop in our beautiful green bag and she was so overwhelmed. She keeps it by the side of her chair.
Emma: What did she say?
Zoe: She said it was just such a shame that my GranDad’s original store wasn’t called Green’s cos they did really well and she got sick of people calling her Elizabeth!
**Everyone does a hooting laugh**
Emma: We spoke to Emma from Design and That and she mentioned that her Dad used to run a shop too. It’s this thing that seems to run in families…
Zoe: My Dad had a shop. It was called Cook’s Table and he sold tableware and kitchen stuff. But, you know, I’d forgotten that my Dad had that store. When we were opening, all the stock was in the living room and none of my family could move because I’d ordered 10,000 bags, I was killing myself laughing because I realized I turned my house into my childhood home. I just thought, all this is coming from somewhere
Emma: Does it feel familiar?
Zoe: Yes, as I used to go to the markets with my grandfather and I’d hear him negotiate. And then with my Dad to the trade fairs so bizarrely being in a big hall filled with stands felt natural. I knew how to navigate them and how to discuss minimum orders because somewhere I’d heard these conversations while sat there bored as a child
Robyn: Was it tough at the start?
Zoe: It’s tough every day. It’s really, really tough but I need to work. I need it for me. I’m really enjoying the team I’m building here, too. I’m now able to go away and I’ll be on emails every day, but I know the store will be fine. At the start it’s so hard to let people do things because you’re so nervous. You’ve poured all this money into stock,and that money’s gone, because even when that stock sells the funds are straight back into the business. It’s so scary. You’re doing things like spending £15,000 on Christmas decorations in June
Robyn: You’re getting Dolly Parton, aren’t you?
Zoe: Yes! Dolly Parton and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg
Emma: So, relinquishing control. I really struggle with that – how do you do it?
Zoe: I’ve learned that whenever someone makes a mistake it’s because I haven’t explained properly. I haven’t given enough detail. I tell the staff never to be scared to make mistakes as it helps me learn what I need to do. We don’t use the term manager in this store – I need the staff to feel empowered to make decisions. They just say, ‘I’m not sure – I just need to ask someone’. When I’m not there they represent and run W.A. Green
Emma: And you can feel when you walk into somewhere and the staff feel part of a business – it’s so nice
Zoe: I’m also really transparent with the figures – I’ll be like, ‘This is what we’ve done this month – if we’ve made a loss, this is how we’re fixing it – I need you to aim to get to that figure every day’ – things like that.
**Emma has to leave because Robyn told her the wrong day for the interview. Robyn is suitably ashamed. Then when the coast is clear, Zoe and Robyn denounce Scandi in all its forms…**
Robyn: I love this store – there’s not many like it around. There’s lots of Scandi shops but not much like this.
Zoe: I’ve never been able to do that very well. I look around my house and there’s stuff everywhere. It’s never appealed to me because when I’m home I need to be nourished, and I feel nourished by things that make me feel happy. I feel like that whole Scandi, minimalist things zaps me of my energy and makes me sleepy
Robyn: Yes! Like I love a minimal, Scandi hotel because it’s so relaxing
Zoe: Exactly! It’s just not my thing. I have customers who come in and say they’ve got a ‘scheme’ they need to be shaken out of and they leave saying, ‘You’ve shown me how to use colour’. But it’s so easy – colour attracts colour. There’s this fear about your home being judged, but who’s going to do that? You just have to start with something you absolutely love and go from there
Robyn: Have you always been like this?
Robyn: What was your childhood bedroom like?
Zoe: Shithole! My mum didn’t care about interior design at all. It was a typical teenage bedroom – just posters and mouldy mugs – awful. I do remember buying a sofa from the reject shop and being really interested in the colour and how to style it. I was maybe about eighteen then. It all changes when you’ve got your own home though. I’ve lived in the house I’m in now since 2003 and there’s this beautiful tiled wall in the bathroom. We’re about to have some work done on the kitchen and there’s talk that it could disturb the wall upstairs, so I’m completely panicking, because I still love it so much
Robyn: If you love something, you loved it for a reason
Zoe: Exactly! Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made mistakes, but they’re only mistakes, so you can change it. It might be expensive and time-consuming and disruptive, but it’s never the end of the world. I bought a floor based on the Superbrand floor at Selfridges, but I hadn’t thought about not having a man to polish it every day, and it was an absolute sod to keep clean. I also think it’s really interesting making these decisions as a couple, because the spend is so high and it has to be agreed by both of you, so you can end up making compromises you shouldn’t
Robyn: So you and your husband collaborate on projects – is he fully on board with your taste?
Zoe: He likes the decisions that I make. When we got our kitchen done he was obsessed with things lining up, the lines of things, he’s a designer by trade you see and it pleased him so much that I just went with it even though it wouldn’t necessarily have chosen it myself. But now we’re getting it done again he’s more on board with my vision of eclectic chaos
Robyn: Is he involved with the shop?
Zoe: Oh, he’s hilarious – he’ll come in, pick something up and say, ‘There’s no price on that’. He’s AMAZINGLY supportive of me and the business though. At the weekends when I’m in the store he’ll be redesigning the website, or he’ll check over my press releases. He’ll always make time to give me his opinion
Robyn: Has it ever been taxing on your relationship having the shop?
Zoe: I would say no, but the shop fit was stressful. My daughter was doing her A Levels, and things were delayed in a way that was out of control, and I was struggling to keep it together. I’d reached my peak saturation of stress and the shop wasn’t open yet, and I had staff to pay. You’re not making money but it’s still going out of the bank, you know? But we’ve got a solid relationship and he bucks me up. He walks me through the data and makes me look at the bigger picture – he’s amazing
Robyn: So how has the refurb been received?
Zoe: We’ve been in for a month and the profits are up and the cost per head is up, so it’s going well. But it worked because I learned to drop the ego again. Like, people would come in for cards and so I got a little basket of cards but now I’ve done the refurb I’ve got a whole wall of cards. And I used to have a few candles in containers and now they fill the whole counter at the till and are our most-bought item
Robyn: It’s so nice to sell isn’t it? Emma and I met in a shop we both worked and I loved making a big sale
Zoe: Oh yes – we high-five. We do a little jig. Every sale means something. But there’s no rhyme or reason to sales. You can have a rainy day and you can have record sales or it’ll be sunny and nothing. You don’t know what’s converting to sales when people walk out the door though. We were so busy yesterday, in store and online…
Robyn: Pay day week?
Zoe: Yep and I got home and kicked myself because we should have thought to email about that. We’d love to get someone in to do the social and comms because if you don’t have things like that in place how do you grow? We’re at a point where I have to make some big decisions about things like that
Robyn: And are you always sourcing new brands?
Zoe: Constantly. And I’m going on holiday next week, but August is the worst time to go away because it’s my peak buying period. There are lots of trade shows, and I mix them with arts and crafts markets so I can look for smaller brands I want to work with. It’s really interesting working with an independent maker. They don’t like the pressure if you ask for 20 of something so you have to go in and say, ‘Let me know when you’ve got five’. I go to UK trade shows and then try to get to as many international ones as I can.
Zoe’s 10 rhymers
Best thing you’ve ever seen?
Jeremy Irons or Sean Bean?
Best way to live your dream?
Try it and say yes to things
Scones with cream then jam or jam then cream?
Cream then jam and it’s scone as in cone while we’re on the subject
Keep things reserved or come on real keen?
Work on your own or as part of a team?
Tidy as you go or weekend super-clean?
Ha… tidy as you go goals but reality is weekend super-clean unless it’s sunny outside then it can wait until next week
Rather be 38 or 18?
Twenty four hours on roller-skates or a trampoline?
Nostalgia says roller-skates but now I’d sleep on a trampoline
Best thing about starting W.A. Green?
I’ve found my happy place