One of the few positive outcomes of the ongoing recession in London is its triggering of a raging entrepreneurial spirit. Faced with the precariousness of working for an organisation and beyond that, the increasingly outdated notion of a single track career, more and more people are rolling the dice and going their own way. And that gamble is resulting in talked-about new businesses springing up all across London, whose bold, courageous visions and fresh, exciting work, is seeing them become a welcome antidote to outdated, stale, pre-recession business models.
Take the new wave of independent, minimally furnished coffee shops like Flat White, Lantana, Sensory Lab, Prufrock Coffee, The Espresso Room, Shoreditch Grind, Kaffeine and Nude Espresso, that have launched about London in the past five years, for whom the art of making a great cup of coffee is their one product (with the odd brownie thrown in, for contrast). These Australian/ New Zealander helmed startups have marched into the Starbucks/ Café Nero/ Costa coffee chain stranglehold and completely rewritten the market, turning tens of thousands of Londoners away from American coffee chain convenience and onto a quirky, meaningful, personalised, bespoke coffee experience.
Staying on the café theme, Cocomaya has cleverly married Cornish tea room and Parisian patisserie, by offering lavish pastries, cakes and chocolate treats, in a tea room in Connaught Village, dripping with kitsch garage sale granny crockery, heavenly baking smells and a winning soundtrack of (recorded) twittering birds. Up the road in Marylebone and Soho, Nordic Bakery, a stunningly designed Scandinavian-style café group, offers an amazing cup of coffee and delicious Scandinavian snacks, at three locations (the newest, on Marylebone's Dorset Street, opens this week).
In all these places, you sense the love that the founders have poured into their startups and that's not something you feel these days when you walk into Pret A Manger or Starbucks. The magic ingredient is that these businesses launched into the recession. That means these entrepreneurs are headstrong, dedicated risk takers. They had a vision and no recession was going to stop them realise it. It is that energy and passion, that one picks up on and adores as a consumer.
A fortnight ago, a beautiful furniture shop opened in Clerkenwell, called Forest London. The shop, the vision of Eva Coppens, sells immaculately picked Scandinavian midcentury furniture and lighting. Coppens, previously behind the successful pop-up, Lulu Bright, set her new shop up singlehandedly and her eye for detail is impeccable: walking into Forest London is like walking into a gorgeously styled interiors spread in Elle Decoration or Dwell.
Also in Clerkenwell, you'll find the headquarters of Visual Editions, a book publishing startup, who launched in Autumn 2010. Publishing fiction and non fiction which they call "visual writing" (literary writing, which makes use of visual devices), the press achieved instant, overnight infamy with Jonathan Safran Foer's die-cut stricken Trees of Codes, a book which not only offered a beautiful story and a reading experience unlike any other, but also questioned publishing's confused embracing of the soulless e-book. Tree of Codes has now sold over 30,000 copies - quite a feat for the startup's partners: Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen. Next week, Visual Editions publish their fourth title, Adam Thirlwell's Kapow!, a ground-breaking novel about the events of the Arab Spring, whose narrator's spiralling digressions quite literally start folding out of the book (by the end, pages concertina out and billow about your ankles as you breathlessly reach the climax). With such lavish production values, there's no sign of austerity cuts at Visual Editions: they are simply committed - recession be damned - to putting out great looking stories.
London's recent trend for street food is another market where spunky startups are emerging. A growing number of food van entrepreneurs, for whom the financing for an actual restaurant would be impossible to raise due to all the banking red tape surrounding small business lending these days, are earning themselves loyal followings. For example, at Soho's Berwick street market, you'll find hefty lunch time queues surrounding Pizza Pilgrims (a new startup who bake Neapolitan pizza in their Italian food van's woodfire oven); Banh Mi 11 (Vietnamese street food) and Freebird Burritos (terrific Mexican burritos).
In the world of London Yoga, two bold start-ups have appeared in a tight market recently. The first, Indaba Yoga, which was opened in July 2011 by Ellen Walsh Moorman, is a large, popular New York style yoga and pilates centre, tucked behind Marylebone station. The second, the petite, pretty looking Yoga On The Lane, on East London's Shacklewell Lane, was opened just weeks ago, by Naomi Reynolds. In both cases, their founders put everything they had into their ventures and it shows.
It seems this same entrepreneurial spirit is appearing across London in every market right now, whether it's a fashion label (Fanny and Jessy), a menswear boutique (Trunk Clothiers), a tea shop (Postcard Teas), an art gallery (The Oblong Gallery) or a wellness spa (Jivita Ayurveda) and it's a positive sign that while the recession is squeezing the lifeblood out of the U.K right now, it's also inspiring a "have a go/ go it alone/ make it happen" mentality among London's entrepreneurs, which is arguably leading to an exciting re-framing of every single market sector.
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