An Independent Guide to Edinburgh

The cultural capital of Scotland, Edinburgh has carved a reputation for itself thanks to its labyrinth of cobbled streets, neoclassical architecture and the fact it plays host to the world’s largest arts festival every year. While the promise of cutting-edge theatre and performance draws in the crowds every August, it’s the city’s creative community of independent shops, restaurants and bars that keep people returning all year round.

Ahead of the festival descending on the city, we journeyed to Edinburgh to visit our established community of independent shops. Our trip turned out to be perfectly timed; perched on the fringes of the impending Edinburgh Festival chaos, but with just enough of an atmosphere to make us wish we could have stayed a little longer.

Curiouser & Curiouser

In 2010 husband and wife team Laura Clifford and Ian Staples opened Curiouser & Curiouser on Broughton Street, a road almost entirely dominated by independent businesses. Inspired by a Scandinavian aesthetic, local creatives and illustrators, the shop is constantly evolving with new products from makers and brands. It’s not just the design-led products that keep customers returning, if you’re lucky you’ll also get to meet Laura and Ian’s rescue greyhound, Benny, who sits calmly on the shop floor greeting everyone who comes in.

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Laura and Benny, the shop greyhound

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Ian and I met over 11 years ago and one of the things we discovered, early on, was that we shared a dream of starting our own business. It took a little while for this to happen but in 2010 our local video shop put a sign in their window saying they were closing down and looking for new tenants – we jumped at the chance. Curiouser & Curiouser opened its doors in September 2010 after seven weeks of frantic refitting which involved friends, family and virtually everyone we knew.

My background is in the retail and hospitality industries. Ian previously worked in the public sector in various roles, latterly as a training and project manager for the NHS. We have complementary skills and generally find we work really well together. I focus on the outward facing part of the shop. I do all of the buying and a lot of the stock display and I work with colleagues on our social media presence. Ian focuses more on the behind the scenes stuff which helps keeps everything running smoothly.

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Discover design-led homewares, gifts and more.

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

We opened our doors on Broughton Street in the middle of a recession, so we had to think on our feet and make our shop appealing from the outset. At that point there were a lot of traditional gift shops in Edinburgh but not many that excited us. We really just thought about the kind of shop we would like go to and the kinds of products we loved.

I’m drawn to design, colour and all things illustration based. Our shop aesthetic has evolved over the last 7 years. We sell a very varied range of products from stationery to homewares, to prints, to jewellery. Almost everything we sell continues to be hugely influenced by illustration and illustrators. We also employ 5 illustrators and print makers and a photographer who are all busy doing their own work when they are not working with us. They help to keep us thinking about new possibilities.

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Homewares on display in-store.

Who inspires you?

We adore Scandinavian design and have been lucky enough to visit on a regular basis – Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Reykjavik are all favourites and we are keen to go to Finland soon, as we have developed a bit of an obsession with Finnish artist and author, Tove Jansson recently.

We are constantly inspired by the creativity of the illustrators we stock and work with. They come up with amazing, fresh ideas and designs which help us keep our two shops (we opened a second shop in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh in July 2015) constantly evolving.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

We think the future of retail will be increasingly split, with the big high street names and high volume products moving more and more online. The strength we have as independent retailers is the ability to stock lesser-known, quality brands and to offer a more personal and engaging shopping experience. People enjoy contact with other people. Shopping is a social as well as a functional activity for many people and we think this will continue.

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Find a unique gift at Curiouser & Curiouser

What is the best thing about your boutique?

Our customers. We are lucky to be based in two distinct districts in Edinburgh, both have strong histories and personalities. Both have active and loyal local communities. Many of our regular customers have become friends over the years and it is great to feel so connected to our communities.

We also have a lot of tourists and visitors coming to Edinburgh from all over the world. It is great to be able to chat about our beautiful city and give visitors ideas and tips for getting the most out of their stay.

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Jewellery from select designers on show.

Why Edinburgh? What do you love about it?

We are very fortunate to live in Edinburgh. Not just one of the great cities of the UK but of the world. It is a fantastic city on so many levels. You are never far from a historic building, a green space or a great eatery – three of our favourite things! But for anyone with a visual sensibility Edinburgh offers a stream of amazing and beautiful things to look at. Even for people who have lived here a long time, like us, you are constantly taken aback by the beauty of it all – the sun setting with a pink sky behind silhouettes of rooftops, buildings that have been here for hundreds of years, views across the Forth to Fife from the top of Dundas Street, the views of the city from Calton Hill.  Although Edinburgh is a city, it has more of a small town feel, we always joke that there is just one degree of separation between Edinburghers, you can always find someone you know in common!

What are your favourite shops or places to visit in Edinburgh?

There are so many places to visit but the Royal Botanical Gardens nearby in Inverleith are gorgeous and a climb up Arthur’s Seat for the views is always bracing. There are many great independent bakeries 12 Triangles (donuts and sour dough bread) and the Bearded Baker (bagels and donuts) are fantastic for tasty doughy snacks. Mary’s Milk Bar is a must for homemade gelato with a twist.  We both love Mexican food and adore El Cartel for delicious street food and frozen margaritas. For an unforgettable experience of modern Scottish food the Timberyard is outstanding (it is also where Ian and I got married!) We also love the areas surrounding Edinburgh, particularly the beaches on the East Lothian coast, where we head to walk with our dog to blow away the cobwebs.

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Discover and shop Curiouser & Curiouser on Trouva.

ALC

Founded by Adele Louise Crombie, ALC boutique is based on Thistle Street, home to a collection of independent boutiques, each with their own unique identity and style. ALC is unique in that Adele aims to demystify and simplify the denim shopping experience which so many women dread. She combats the fear of shopping for jeans with a personal service, relaxed atmosphere and an unprecedented selection of styles, washes and brands.

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Adele outside her shop, ALC

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I launched ALC in Edinburgh in 2012 as the only independent boutique specialising in helping women to find a perfect fitting pair of jeans. Five years on, the boutique has added an online store, and grown a loyal customer base across the UK and beyond. I studied business and previously had a successful career within an asset management company before deciding to follow a path of entrepreneurship.  I went on to study a Masters in International Fashion Marketing where I was awarded the Outstanding Student Award, before turning my passion for fashion into an exciting business venture.

A rail of clothes in an independent shop in Edinburgh
Alongside denim, discover clothing from select international brands.

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

ALC is Edinburgh’s first and only independent boutique dedicated to solving denim dilemmas.  There was a gap in the market for a boutique that helped women decipher the denim code, with our main aim to find them a perfect fitting pair of jeans. I started out with that concept and the shop has grown from there.  ALC also stocks a range of clothing and accessories, curated with the ultimate capsule wardrobe in mind.

Who inspires you?

My family and friends, and all the business owners I’ve met over the last few years who are all going through the same experiences as I am.

Adele, the shopkeeper, in her shop arranging a clothing display
ALC offers a personalised service and relaxed atmosphere

What do you predict for the future of retail?

Over the last few years we’ve seen a shift in retail, with trends for discounting really hurting the high street. I think the future will be positive for independents, with more and more people wanting to ‘switch off’ from too much technology bringing people into stores, but also a shift towards online shopping with more concise and curated collections of interesting and quality pieces rather than huge online department stores full of everything and anything at heavily slashed prices. We’ll probably see more social media development and integration with online shopping too.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

I think it’s that we’re doing something totally different. We are passionate about denim, and about finding a perfect pair of jeans for women who really dislike shopping for them.  We spend each day helping women work through their body hang-ups and we find clothes to flatter and make them feel confident; it really is like retail therapy. We solve denim dilemmas and offer honest style advice. We’re also super friendly and love nothing better than a good catch up with our customers.

Shelves of denim jeans at a specialist independent denim shop in Edinburgh
Discover jeans in a range of styles, washes and brands

Why Edinburgh? What do you love about it?

I grew up in Edinburgh and it really is one of the best cities in the world. It’s small but packed full of amazing independent shops and bars, and is a fantastic base for exploring the rest of Scotland – if only we had a little more sunshine.

What are your favourite shops or places to visit in Edinburgh?

Thistle Street, where ALC is based, is my favourite for independent shops, as each one has a different personality and has an amazing selection to cover all essential wardrobe items. It also has a couple of fantastic places to eat and drink. Outside of that I love Smith & Gertrude for a lunchtime or dinner time cheese and wine fix, and it’s a nice area to wander around too.

Anything else interesting about you or your boutique you would like to share.

Our shop is in an A-listed building in Edinburgh, and still retains some original Georgian features including old wooden shutters in our amazing fitting rooms (we think they are the best in Edinburgh!) and the old fireplace hearth that now forms the desk for our till point.

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Discover and shop ALC on Trouva.

Kakao By K

Originally hailing from Copenhagen, founder Karina Baldorf was inspired to replicate her experience of Scandinavian shops and to introduce Danish brands to a UK audience. When Karina first opened Kakao By K, there were very few other boutiques specialising in Scandinavian style and in the 9 years that has elapsed since, Karina has been witness to a huge and ever-growing demand for Scandinavian brands. Unlike some of Karina’s Scandinavian counterparts, she focuses on ensuring that Kakao By K is accessible and affordable for everyone.

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Karina, the shopkeeper outside Kakao By K

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I moved to Brighton from Copenhagen 18 years ago with just a suitcase full of my clothes and the intention to stay for 4 months, I’m very happy to now call the UK my home.

I do not have a retail or business background, I studied social policy but always I dreamt of pursuing a more creative path which would contribute to the Edinburgh community; this is how Kakao by K started taking shape.

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Discover an accessible selection of Scandinavian clothing and accessories.

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

When I moved to Edinburgh 16 years ago I fell in love with the cobbled streets, I remember walking past a shop in Thistle Street and thinking how much I would love to have my own retail space. I’m very fortunate to say that I am in that exact premises.

I felt Edinburgh at the time was missing a boutique which offered exclusive collections that appealed to a younger market with an affordable price tag without compromising on the quality.

My vision from the outset was to create a cool, relaxed Scandinavian atmosphere where customers could browse and to become a place they would want to return to.

Who inspires you?                                                                                                                              

I’m inspired by people with passion and motivation who are not scared to push the boundaries. It is these people who open new exciting places in and around Edinburgh.

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Karina arranging a display in the shop window

What do you predict for the future of retail?

I am certain that online shopping will only increase as technology will develop to support and make online shopping even easier. I do however believe that independent boutiques will grow as customers search for good quality, customer service and original products.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

Kakao by K offers a unique product range from Scandinavian and independent UK designers not readily available. The Kakao by K team is what really makes the boutique; together we curate the collections on offer and are careful to create a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere which we are known for amongst our customers.

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Simplicity and quality design lies at the heart of the products at Kakao by K

Why Edinburgh? What do you love about it?

Even with the weather Edinburgh is a great place live and work, it is full of opportunities and you get the city life feel whilst being close to the countryside.

What are your favourite shops or places to visit in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is packed full of original shops, bars and restaurants. On a child-free evening I would have dinner at Edinburgh Food Studio and/or drinks at Panda & Sons with the girls. For a bit of shopping I head to Broughton Street’s independent boutiques for a bit of an interior fix.

With a toddler in tow I love having brunch at Twelve Triangles in Leith, the social dining table they have is fab idea. When we are not eating we go to Portobello beach for fresh air and a play in the sand.

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Discover and shop Kakao By K on Trouva.

Frontiers Man

From a career as a chartered surveyor to founding a new menswear boutique, Nigel Pashley has undergone quite a career transformation. Supported by his wife and fellow shopkeeper Jane, he opened Frontiers Man just 18 months ago with no previous retail experience. By successfully identifying a gap in Edinburgh’s shopping scene, Nigel was able to secure a range of key independent menswear brands to help build the shop’s reputation.

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Nigel outside Frontiers Man in Edinburgh’s West End

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Having come to Edinburgh from North Yorkshire and spending most of my working life in Edinburgh as a commercial property surveyor specialising in healthcare development, together with my partner Jane Forbes having successfully run Frontiers Woman for over 20 years – I felt it was time for a radical change and hence Frontiers Man was born.

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Nigel handpicks each designer that he stocks at the shop

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

My partner Jane had been successfully running Frontiers Woman for over 20 years – joined latterly by her daughter Kim, and trading in the West End of Edinburgh for the past 12 years. I was tiring of my previous career as a Chartered Surveyor and was looking for something new to do. In a way it was staring us right in the face, as for a capital city like Edinburgh there didn’t appear to be many decent independent menswear stores stocking quality independent brands (with a few exceptions, of course!)

We approached a few key brands and once these were secured it just snow-balled and we opened nearly 18 months ago in the West End of Edinburgh and have been busy building up the business since then.

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Nigel in the midst of visual merchandising

What do you predict for the future of retail?

The right kind of retail has a great future – whether it is online or bricks-and-mortar, people will always want to buy quality goods that they know where they have come from. I think physical retail spaces are here to stay because people like to interact – both with whoever is selling the products and also with the products themselves; see, touch and try on.

Why Edinburgh? What do you love about it?

We have lived in Edinburgh for a long long time so why not? It is a beautiful city which still has a ‘big town’ feel which is very personable. I also love the fact I can walk from home to work in 10 minutes.

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Frontiers Man specialises in contemporary clothing for men.

What are your favourite shops or places to visit in Edinburgh?

There are many great little areas in Edinburgh to see – it’s not all Princes Street and the Castle. Living and working in the West End means I am a bit biased but there are so many original independent shops, pubs and restaurants, all within a few minutes stroll from the hustle and bustle. We live in the Dean Village which is a beautiful place and at times an unimaginable few minutes’ walk from the City Centre. We also love strolling down the Water of Leith to Stockbridge where there are also lovely shops and restaurants.

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Discover and shop Frontiers Man on Trouva

Hannah Zakari

Starting life as an online brand in 2004, Hannah Zakari soon grew into a bricks-and-mortar shop for founder Rachael Griffiths to showcase her jewellery and accessories alongside select designers. The range of products is constantly evolving in store with Rachael always on the hunt for new makers to work with. Similarly, in anticipation of the Fringe festival, Rachael collaborated with a Japanese artist called Naoshi who specialises in sunae (which translates as sand painting) to commission a creative and colourful window display made entirely of sand.

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Rachael outside her shop Hannah Zakari

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

When I opened Hannah Zakari I was struggling to find a job I enjoyed in a new city so took the chance to try something new and set up my own website. I started out selling my own range then saw an opportunity to sell work from designers I’d been talking and swapping ideas with in America and that’s when I expanded the store to sell a selection of work. Now we stock designers from all over the world and since opening our real life boutique in 2010 we work with them to create exciting window displays, our self published zines and interesting collections, and I still design and sell my own range too.

Who inspires you?

All the independent designers and makers I work with. Most are running their creative businesses as one woman bands and they’re some of the most inspirational, creative and well-organised people you could have the pleasure to know.

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Alongside jewellery, there are products perfect for gifting.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

I think the future holds a much more personalised retail experience as things become easier to manufacture and more accessible. The internet can make things feel a bit more anonymous, including shopping. At Hannah Zakari we are mindful that we should continue to keep our mix of personality and individuality and carry on engaging with our customers whether that be with thank you notes in orders, new technologies in store or chatting online via social media. Plus fast shipping, it’s the only thing the high street has over online shopping.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

It’s element of surprise. I always wanted a shop that you just stumbled across but it kept you coming back.

Why Edinburgh? What do you love about it?

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities I’ve ever visited, it’s perfect for a shop like Hannah Zakari.

What are your favourite shops or places to visit in Edinburgh?

There’s just so much to choose from. It’s a fantastic place for independent shopping, and I love Life Story and Curiouser & Curiouser.

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Discover and shop Hannah Zakari on Trouva.

Covet

Founded by Edinburgh natives and friends Anna Somerville and Blaise Donald, Covet has quickly become a destination for well-heeled locals and tourists in search of unique designs and enduring quality. Not content with running their own shop and label, Anna is also an abstract artist and Blaise is an aerial performer who had just returned from performing at a festival on the day of our photo shoot.

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Anna and Blaise outside Covet in Edinburgh.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

We met working in a restaurant together and have been friends for nearly 20 years. Anna is an award winning abstract artist and she regularly exhibits her colourful oil paintings in fine art galleries. Blaise is an aerial artist and regularly performs at festivals and at events, she owns Skylarks, a corporate performance company.

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

We opened Covet in 2007 because we wanted to offer shoppers more choice than what was already available on the high street and from luxury designer handbag brands. We wanted to stock high-end quality and design for mid-end prices by sourcing lesser well known brands that were unavailable anywhere else in Edinburgh.

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Covet specialises in designing quality leather accessories

Who or what inspires you?

We are both inspired by other artists and their motivation to constantly evolve and find new ways to express themselves and engage their audiences.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

Customers are moving away from buying disposable fashion and instead looking for investment pieces. The Covet label offers timeless design, high-end quality in an array of contemporary colours and luxe materials.

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Blaise arranging a display in the boutique.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

Our boutique is a social space where friends can meet, have a glass of chilled bubbles and enjoy trying on unique bags, jewellery and accessories that are unavailable anywhere else.

Covet is located on Thistle Street, a charming cobbled street in Edinburgh’s city centre that is home to independent shops, bars and restaurants. this is our favourite street in Edinburgh because it is occupied by independents like ALC, where Blaise buys most of her wardrobe. We have both always lived in Edinburgh and we love it here so our boutique belongs in the same city as us.

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Discover and shop Covet on Trouva.

Take a tour of the best independent shops that Edinburgh has to offer with our interactive map.
[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=11TJZGWkFtDw_yXwTcj1EU78BmC4&w=640&h=480]

Eleanor Middleton

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