Belfast Telegraph

Having a pop at kickstarting retail: the very best in creative thinking

By Frances Burscough

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. And has never been more apparent in the world of retailing than during a recession like the one we’re stuck in now.

Established businesses are struggling to make ends meet; new ones are reluctant to start up, let alone branch out; consumers are staying at home with battened-down hatches; bankers are reluctant to invest and the only people who seem to be optimistic are the politicians who got us into this fine mess in the first place.

But a new trend is emerging on the high street that makes the most of what few resources are still readily available. The concept is called the “pop-up shop” and these are quite literally popping up all over Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The basic idea of pop-up premises is that retailers take advantage of vacant premises in a prominent area. Those now-you-see-em-now-you-don’t Christmas stores that appear in shopping centres around November and have gone by January were the original models and these worked so well that other retailers were quick to catch on.

This month, in Belfast and its environs alone there are numerous businesses testing out their wares by this suck-it-and-see method. I’ve come across four fine examples, each of which have taken a different pop-up approach...

  • ReFound — the recycled furniture store

ReFound takes the concept of creative recycling to a new level by using pop-up premises around the province to showcase artistically recycled items.

In a nutshell, this is an artists’ collective, which takes used, unwanted furniture and discarded homewares and turns it into one-off designer pieces. This form of up-cycling is fast becoming a creative and practical way to reuse older pieces of furniture and breathe new life into them. The concept is not only better for the environment, but also an opportunity for artists to express themselves in a new and interesting way and an excellent chance for consumers to acquire unique pieces of furniture.

Jill O’Neill, the founder of ReFound, has built up an impressive list of artists who have collaborated with her over the past year, including Anushiya Sunda, Deepa Mann-Kler, Jill Black and renowned Irish artist Neil Shawcross, in pop-up premises around the country.

ReFound’s ethical approach has also been embraced by local district councils who are keen to be involved in the recycling of properties and products.

  • Home — the pop-up restaurant

A team of award-winning foodies has taken up vacant premises on Belfast’s Calendar Street for a pop-up restaurant known as Home. Mourne Seafood Bar’s Andy Rea, along with chef Ben Arnold, are already the toast of the town with their temporary 50-seater bistro, which is open for business seven days a week, late into the evening.

“Pop-up restaurants provide an outlet for chefs to express their culinary creativity and are seen as a way to help up-and-coming chefs experiment with running a restaurant without the risk of bankruptcy,” said Home manager Steve Haller on the opening night. “They are trendy, in high demand and can vanish as quickly as they appear, making them an exciting alternative to the traditional restaurant, but often elusive for securing a table.”

Pop-up restaurants are generally promoted through social media. Diners get tip-offs about where the next venue and can even make reservations online to secure a place.

  • — Belfast's only limited-edition menswear brand

Belfast-born designer Bronagh Griffin has worked as a consultant designer, a trend forecaster and menswear specialist for a number of international companies. She launched her own menswear brand two years ago, designing luxurious limited edition men’s shirts, ties and scarves, which mainly sell online.

She has decided to dip her toe in the water with a stylish pop–up shop on 340 Lisburn Road for the next six weeks. She hopes this will give her online presence that extra brand awareness.

Bronagh only ever designs between 50 and 65 of any one shirt. Each shirt is exquisitely finished and cut to flatter, so as you would expect from this level of luxury, prices range from between £85 and £155. Bronagh is influenced by the spirit of 1930, that very creative period that coupled tradition and modernism.

  • Proof — the pop-up designer boutique

This venture is the brainchild of award-winning milliner and accessories designer Grainne Maher. Grainne is using temporary premises on Jameson Street (off Ormeau Road) to give the best of up-and-coming fashion designers in Northern Ireland a shop window for their talent.

Following the great success of the local design collections at Belfast FashionWeek, she has cherry-picked the most outstanding ranges to feature in her small-but-perfectly formed pop-up boutique

These include Grainne Maher’s own collections as well as those by Rueidi Maguire, Bridgene Graham, Goddess and Swift, Maria Cardenas, Shauna McGowan, Sinead McCahey, Riona Treacy, Hari and Maude, Kerry Brogan, Robin Cordiner, Susan Black, Dave Henderson, Nor-Lisa, Shauna Fay and Melanie Bond.

The Proof boutique got a boost last month when stylists from the MTV awards appeared on the day before the show and selected a number of items for the presenter, Selena Gomez, which she duly wore for all the world to see. What a coup!

Belfast Telegraph