A Guide To Independent Lewes

Framed by rolling countryside hills and with a creative community to rival most, we journeyed to Lewes to visit four of our bricks-and-mortar boutiques and explore the thriving independent scene.

The wealth of independent businesses in Lewes and the attitudes of the locals, who fiercely protect its high street, has successfully preserved the town’s independence. Its reputation as a leading independent community continues to flourish thanks to an abundance of artistic residents and an influx of creatives swapping London and Brighton for Lewes.

Freight

Freight was founded by a mother-daughter duo, Helene, a longtime shopkeeper, and Adele, an architect. Striving to design and manufacture the majority of their product selection themselves, Freight is home to truly unique range of household goods. The shop is a beautiful setting that echoes the simplicity and functionality of the wares they sell.

Welcomed by the sweet fragrance of their signature rosemary and wildflowers scent, we explored the boutique and talked retail with Helene, one half of the Freight family.

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I opened my first shop in Lewes in 1999. I had no retail experience but bought a house with a shop attached and decided to sell a small selection of household goods that were beautifully made and useful.

After closing the shop in 2010 to pursue other projects, I opened a pop-up called POPINSKI in my old shop which I still own (Closet & Botts are my lovely tenants). My youngest daughter Adele, who is my current business partner, was the instigator of this brief venture which led us to consider the prospect of designing and manufacturing our own products.

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We decided to open up shop once more operating as Freight, but this time we would work towards the shop being stocked entirely with our own products. We do not go to trade fairs, and whilst we have a small amount of stock that changes infrequently, we nonetheless are constantly designing and planning new products. We have a nucleus of core products that all work together to form a collection.

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Who inspires you?

Both Adele and I are good cooks and certainly my inspiration is drawn from the likes of cookery writers, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. My mother in law Fiona Adamczewski has been a huge influence both culinary and aesthetically. Adele and I share a similar aesthetic which makes for a harmonious relationship when designing for the shop.

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What do you predict for the future of retail?

Small businesses are expensive to run and to keep moving forward in uncertain times both economically and politically. It’s important for independent shops to look at their own strengths and how best they can differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Why Lewes? What do you love about it?

We left London for Lewes over 30 years ago. We grew our children here and both of my businesses have been based on the high street which has an ever-changing background of people and happenings. Lewes is like a living novel with its back drop of The Downs and its beautiful buildings, it still takes my breath away.

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What are your favourite independent businesses in Lewes?

Lewes has a huge number of independent shops and cafes. Flint Owl bakery are whole-heartedly to blame for my changing shape. Closet and Botts have cemented their position on School Hill with their great displays and collections. I’m not a great clothes buyer but Paul Clark has two beautiful shops on my stretch of high street. The Workshop sells stunning jewellery and Jonathan Swan is a sensational jeweller.

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Discover Freight on Trouva.

The Good Times Homestore

With it’s bright, burnt orange exterior, The Good Times Homestore is hard to miss and even harder to walk past. Founded by Emily Bessant, the boutique is home to her husband’s handmade furniture and a selection of well-made and useful products, sourced with care and made for purpose.

The Good Times Homestore is based in The Needlemakers’ which is Lewes’ answer to an independent shopping centre, filled with like-minded boutiques and cafes selling everything from potted plants to artisan coffee.

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I studied English Literature at University, but knew I wanted to have my own business since my first job. I would procrastinate while studying for my exams by mapping out catering businesses, or Pinteresting coffee shop interiors. From then to now I’ve worked a collection of jobs, from florist to drama teacher to retail manager; but none of them offered the feeling of autonomy that running my own creative business does.

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Tell us about the background of your boutique and why you opened it.

I’d always loved the idea of having a coffee shop actually; I wanted to create a space that would act as a creative hub. Then when I met my husband and saw the beautiful work that he was creating with his furniture design, I knew I wanted to support him and other makers like him. I borrowed some money from my parents, bought a batch of stock from designers I’d researched online, and started selling at markets and fairs. In hindsight I was hugely naive, but we learned so much about retail from starting from scratch.

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Who inspires you?

The best thing about working in The Needlemakers, which is a building of other creative businesses, is that there is always someone to inspire you. There are so many women here with children or other commitments who are doing fantastically well – it’s a privilege to be around them.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

I think it’s going to become impossible to operate on just one level. The businesses that will be successful are the ones that are making use of all the avenues that are available to them, whatever they might be – online, bricks-and-mortar, events, retail, wholesale, bespoke. We offer a bespoke furniture and cabinet-making service from our shop, and that is where we see the future of our business lying.

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What is the best thing about your boutique?

I’m pretty biased, but I think our furniture is the stand-out work in our store. We are currently working on a new collection, inspired by the meeting of form and function, and I think that sums up what we’re looking for in all the products we source. Nothing superfluous, just good design.

Why Lewes? What do you love about it?

We are so lucky to be part of a community that actively support independent business. I was so surprised and humbled at the loyalty of the customer base we built up when we first opened our bricks-and-mortar shop, here in Lewes.

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What are your favourite independent businesses in Lewes?

Obviously all of the shops in The Needlemakers! We have so much variety here, and you know each of the business owners have taken great care to curate a selection that is unique from the other. It’s like a whole high street in one building. Bun & Bean Cafe recently opened just a few doors down from us, serving really good coffee and vegan food – it’s formed a pretty expensive flat white habit in me. I love the Lewes Arms for after-work drinks, it’s unpretentious and homely.

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How do you see the independent community changing here?

I’ve had so many conversations with local independent businesses here about ways we can help each other thrive, rather than competing with each other. Not only is it good for our own businesses, but we can offer so much more as a whole.

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Closet & Botts

Founded by two school friends, Harriet and Chloe, Closet & Botts is an immersive shopping experience that celebrates new, vintage and handmade products. Harriet and Chloe have retained many of the original features of the shop, which is a former pharmacy, and have filled it with objects uncovered on their travels to Belgium and France. Stepping into Closet & Botts transports you somewhere south of Paris to a local vintage market thanks to the skilled visual displays and the wealth of beautiful products in every corner.

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Chloe and I are both originally from Lewes, and have always shared an interest in beautiful, old objects. Over the years we have spent many a cold morning hunting around markets and car boot sales, dreaming of opening our own shop. Eventually we decided to go for it so we left our jobs, I was working as a display artist for Anthropologie and Chloe was running a French patisserie in Brighton, and pooled our money to buy a van. We then spent the next eighteen months learning the trade, driving around France and Belgium looking for old treasures to bring home to sell at vintage fairs and pop-up shops. When the shop became available we had accumulated enough stock to start off with, so we went for it.

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Who inspires you?

The Bloomsbury Group and Charleston Farmhouse. Matisse. William Morris. We also love Sibella Court and her use of colour.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

It is hard for independent retailers to keep up with the large high street brands. We would love to see the rent and rates for high street shops become more affordable for smaller, independent retailers. It is so much more interesting having a bit of variety and being able to find unique things, rather than seeing the same shops selling the same things in every town.

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What is the best thing about your boutique?

We mix old and new products together to create a homely and comfortable atmosphere, displaying products as you would at home, in order to inspire people with ideas on how to create a similar look. Our aim is to create an immersive shopping experience in a beautifully curated setting.

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Why Lewes? What do you love about it?

Lewes has an eclectic mix of independent shops that all complement each other. We both grew up in Lewes, so have watched it grow and change with the times. Hopefully we have a good idea about what our customers want.

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What are your favourite independent businesses in Lewes?

Freight Household Goods, Lewes Antiques Centre, The Needlemakers, The Little Natural Company, Flint Owl Bakery.

How do you see the independent community changing here?

The local community are very keen to support independent businesses, which perhaps explains why more and more are opening. The local businesses try to complement each other rather than compete, so each shop is unique. This in turn attracts people to Lewes, as it becomes known as an eclectic and interesting place to shop.

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The Little Natural Co.

Part boutique, part social hub for local parents, The Little Natural Co. specialises in organic clothing for children. The owner Charlotte has successfully created a space where parents can relax, socialise and shop with their children in tow.

The boutique was immaculately presented and surprisingly serene, even Charlotte’s adorable daughter, Luella, sat quietly as we explored the boutique and talked about the changing independent landscape in Lewes.

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I was lucky enough to grow up in Brighton, which is an incredibly cosmopolitan and colourful town, but moved to London to study Fashion Design at University. My passion has always been in clothing and visual display, but after university I settled working in fashion wholesale for a Dutch denim brand, which was only supposed to be a temporary thing but I fell in love with the social side of the job, getting to travel and visiting the most beautiful stores. It was in Amsterdam that my love for retail began, I was astounded by how much detail they pay to every aspect of their shops.

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Tell us about the background of your boutique and why you opened it.

I opened the boutique about a year after my little girl was born. I was on maternity leave and knew it wasn’t an option for me to leave her and go back to commuting to work in London full-time, I just couldn’t bear leaving her and not watching her grow up. I also didn’t have the option of being a full-time mother financially, so I had to think of something that would fit around our lifestyle.

Since falling pregnant, I became very aware of what I was putting on mine and my daughters skin, and after a little research, I realised there were no baby stores that dedicated themselves solely to natural and organic products without comprising on style.

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Who inspires you?

Mostly, my daughter Luella, she is the reason why I do what I do everyday. Since opening the physical store, I have been lucky enough to meet some incredibly inspirational women. Having a shop hasn’t just helped financially, but also socially; it can be quite lonely being a parent so having a space where people can meet is amazing.

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What do you predict for the future of retail?

I absolutely love my boutique but with a large percentage of our sales coming from online, I am aware that there is only so much you can do with bricks-and-mortar in a small town. Finding ways to maximise online potential is key to growth and at the same time helps us to do what we love in the store and allows us to maintain our presence on the high street. The key is to try not to keep up with the competition but create your own niche and stay true to your values.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

I know too well as a parent to a very active toddler, that going shopping is the most stressful thing. The play area, nappy changing area and breast-bottle feeding area should all help in letting a sleep-deprived parent relax. Getting to know so many lovely people is definitely the perk of my job, especially when I meet them as excited parents-to-be and then watch them grow into the proudest, and also slightly tired, new parents.

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Why Lewes? What do you love about it?

I used to travel the country quite a lot and there is nowhere quite like Lewes. The community is so supportive of independent businesses, there are so few chain stores and absolutely no fast-food giants. We all support each other, send customers to each other and generally look out for each other. There is such a strong sense of community and I am just so happy that I’ve chosen to start a business here. It doesn’t seem competitive and people on the whole are conscious of their choices, socially and morally.

What are your favourite independent businesses in Lewes?

Flint for homeware, clothing and the most beautiful flowers, Flint Owl for a great coffee and cake, Freight for the best knitwear and candles, From Victoria for the loveliest selection of cards and plants, and The Swan for a family-friendly Sunday pub lunch in their garden area. There is also a market on the high street every other week and you can pick up fresh flowers and local seasonal fruit and veg.

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How has Lewes’ shopping scene changed in the last few years?

The people here are much more tuned in to supporting local enterprise and although many work and may have lived in London, they still choose to shop and dine here. The problem with London and a reason why Lewes is so attractive, is you just can’t get so many amazing things in one small area, it is just too expensive with business rates and rents that choke the life out of small creative businesses and give them little chance of surviving.

How do you see the independent community changing here?

It is only getting stronger and more varied. Although you do see independents closing every now and then, you see more popping up and that is so encouraging in this economical climate. The people here are so creative, but also take risks and that is why we have such a strong independent community in Lewes.

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Discover and shop from the best independent boutiques in Lewes.

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