"Timeless functional products for everyday life" is how Labour and Wait rather modestly describes the range of items on offer in its East London and online shops. But this seems to understate the case when you see the goods themselves. Each carefully selected piece is a celebration of functional design and these are products that both take you back in time and, heaven forfend, may actually make you want to do a spot of housework. Who knew that items like ostrich feather dusters, canvas work aprons and non-drip French candles could give so much pleasure?
We asked co-owner Rachel Wythe-Moran how she and business partner Simon Watkins put together such a special shop:
What inspired you to open Labour and Wait?
Simon and I first met whilst working together in the clothing Industry - we were both menswear designers. We were both very disillusioned by how the high street was dominated by designer brands and labels or cheap imitations and how everything had to be constantly reinvented. We felt that everything was becoming over-designed and contrived - nothing was made to last or have a life. It was, and remains, a throw away society. We both wanted to be able to find honest, simple products which were fit for purpose, often evolving through function rather than being designed. We discovered we both had a passion for simple everyday items such as beautiful string, wooden brushes, metal dustpans etc (and have since discovered many others do too) which were impossible to find. We talked about setting up a shop for a couple of years before taking the plunge to do so.
Where does the name come from?
The name Labour and Wait comes from a line in a poem called A Psalm for Life by Longfellow. It is about working and waiting for the results of your labours. We felt it related to the type of products we wanted to sell.
How would you describe the products you sell?
Fit for purpose - we only sell products that can be used, we would never sell anything that was purely for decoration. Most items have a life and a story to tell. We never promote a brand, everything is anonymous in fact we de-label the products. Each item has to stand by its own merit, not rely on its label. We like to think that the products will last and actually mellow and improve with age becoming favourites. We spend a great deal of time selecting the 'right' product. We may look through a huge range and select only one item. We like the odd mix of different types of products together.
Do you have any favourite products at the moment?
The Welsh floor rug in black & cream wool, the long-handled dustpan from Italy and an old favourite - the toilet brush and bucket.
You have several outlets for your products in Japan. What's the link there?
We were approached by a Japanese company called Boys Co who had been to our shop. From the beginning - Labour and Wait has had a lot of interest from Japanese customers and media. We have been featured in several magazines and books. Obviously having been approached we felt it was a fantastic opportunity. We now have 11 Labour and Wait corners in Japan.
Is there a typical Labour and Wait customer?
No we don't really have a typical customer as such. When we first put together a proposal for the shop, we specifically did not include a customer profile. We wanted the shop to have something for everyone. And this is how the business has worked out. We get anybody and everybody - young/old, male/female, people with a very limited income to customers who are very wealthy. We get people from all walks of life which is really very rewarding.
Which other homeware shops do you admire?
D + Department Store in Japan - any traditional hardware shops - although sadly not many left now!.
Where do you do most of your shopping for your own home?
Simon and I have different homes, but the answer would probably be the same for both of us - no particular place. Both of our homes are quite eclectic – a mix of old and new products.
Check out all the fantastically functional products available to buy in the Labour and Wait online boutique.
Click here to discover our other Boutiques of the week.
Labour and Wait, 85 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ (new shop) and 18 Cheshire Street, London E2 6EH (original shop - now open on Sundays only). Tel: +44 (0)20 7729 6253, www.labourandwait.co.uk