Originally an antiques market in the 1960s, Camden Passage is still today (50 years later) a destination for shoppers looking for something a little different. There’s still an antiques market that pops up every weekend but now there’s a host of permanent independent, bricks-and-mortar businesses that call Camden Passage home. Among them is lifestyle and homewares boutique, HAYGEN, founded by Irish-born owner Jenny Hughes. We spent an afternoon with Jenny to learn more about the boutique and how an entrepreneurial uncle inspired her to start her own business.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I come from an extremely entrepreneurial family and have always known I would one day start my own business. After completing a business degree I decided to enter the corporate world to get as much business experience as I could. In 2011, despite working for a prestigious company with top clients, I felt totally uninspired and knew it was time to quit my job and pursue my dream of opening my own store.
Tell us about the background of your boutique and why you opened it.
HAYGEN is a lifestyle store selling trend-led home, fashion and lifestyle products carefully curated from influential brands. I have always been passionate about both fashion and interiors and inspired by stores like Anthropologie and Avoca (in Ireland) where they seamlessly combine the two. I knew this business model was perfect for me as it allowed me to blend my favourite things in one space.
Who inspires you?
My uncle Brody, a well-known Irish entrepreneur. He is focused, determined and, despite facing some really tough business periods, he always perseveres and comes out on top. I’m also inspired by strong female entrepreneurs; running a business can be really tough at times and you need a thick skin and determination to fight through difficult times.
What do you predict for the future of retail?
There will always be a place for bricks-and-mortar retail and I don’t see that ever changing. What is changing is the standard at which we serve our customers. We cannot just sell products anymore, we need to inspire customers by finding and curating beautiful products. The in-store experience must be amplified by creating stunning visual displays and providing exceptional customer service. If we don’t do this then we risk being overshadowed by the retail giants or the convenience of online.
What is the best thing about your boutique?
Our products and the brands we stock. It has taken years to build up a good reputation and be able to stock certain brands. We only work with brands who are passionate about their products and what they do. I travel a lot in order to unearth new brands and products for HAYGEN, I love that each time a customer visits they’ll find something new.
Why Islington? What do you love about it?
Having visited London while at university I fell in love with Islington. When the time came for me to find a property years later, I focused my search on Camden Passage. I called door-to-door asking local shop owners about the area, footfall and if they knew of any potential shops coming vacant. After getting word of one shop, I approached the landlord and he agreed to let it to me before it even went on the market. This often happens with the best shops so I knew I’d found a gem.
I love Islington because it has the best community spirit and it reminds me of Ireland, where I was born. There is a fantastic sense of camaraderie between the local boutique owners, we all know each other and help each other out. Similarly, our customers are so loyal to the local shops that they quickly become our friends as well as our customers.