Independent Islington

Thanks to Islington’s community spirit and the beautiful townhouses that line its leafy streets, it’s no wonder that it’s one of London’s most sought-after postcodes. Running through its heart is Upper Street, home to Islington’s myriad independent boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars. Diverse cultures, cuisines and communities converge here making it truly unique part of London.

Here at Trouva, we’re fortunate enough to call Islington home, so it was just a short trip to Upper Street (by way of Camden Passage) to visit a selection of our independent boutiques.

Wild Swans

Wild Swans has long since been the destination for Scandinavian fashion in London. Since its inception, Danish-born owner Caroline, has seen the popularity of Nordic fashion soar and labels like Ganni and Stine Goya achieve cult status in the fashion industry. Catering for the appetite for all things Scandi, the Wild Swans empire now spans across two boutiques in Islington and Chiswick.

We were welcomed by the Islington shop manager, Fi who served us coffee in true Scandi style in a simple, earthenware speckled mug from renowned Danish brand Broste.

Wild Swans is an independent fashion boutique in Islington
Wild Swans on Upper Street in Islington

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your boutique.

My background is in film production, for 15 years I produced films and commercials in Denmark and the last 5 were spent in the UK while script developing for a feature film.

I wanted to do something different and after realising that I was only really buying clothes back in Copenhagen I saw a gap in the UK market for a pure Scandinavian clothing boutique. At the time, Day Birger et Mikkelsen and Malene Birger had only just launched in the UK and the Nordic fashion obsession was just beginning to take hold.

Who inspires you?

I get inspired by anyone who dares to be a bit different. Individuals who can do this without compromising the quality of their product, and still preserve their integrity are really inspiring to me.

In Denmark we have so many talented creative people for such a small country and it makes me proud to be Danish.

Scandi fashion and homewares at independent shop in Islington
Scandinavian style at Wild Swans

What do you predict for the future of retail?

I think people will always like to go and see, feel and touch a product. There is the whole social aspect of personal service, but we, as independent retailers, will have to work even harder to cut through the noise of the high street and cheap online offerings. It’s all about the experience today, it has to be more than just shopping.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

The best thing about Wild Swans, both in Islington and Chiswick, is the close bond to our customers, the constant evolution of our roster of brands and the positive experience we try to give to our customers.

Why Islington? What do you love about it?

Islington is where I live, so it was a natural choice for the second shop. It has so much to offer, so much so that you don’t ever have to leave. It delivers on all levels from restaurants to theatres, to shopping.

Broste ceramics in an independent shop
Broste ceramics on show

What are your favourite independent businesses (cafes, shops, bars etc) in Islington?

For beautiful floral arrangements with a Scandi feel, I love Dansk Flowers on Upper Street. Sunday on Hemingford Road for breakfast or lunch, their menu always makes me order more than I can eat and the coffee is just superb.

Whenever I need a present, something fun, or I have spare time I like to mooch around in After Noah. It’s impossible to leave that shop without a purchase of some sort. For evening cocktails there is The Bar With No Name, which is a tiny establishment with almost as many staff as guests but they know everything there is to know about cocktails.

Danish beauty brand Raz Spa
Danish beauty brand Raz Spa at Wild Swans

The Wearer

Small but perfectly formed, The Wearer is situated on Camden Passage with each piece of jewellery handpicked by the owner Rachel, a former jewellery buyer. The greyish blue exterior and millennial pink interior makes this an inviting shop that’s particularly hard to walk past. Similarly, Rachel’s roster of designers and products evolves and changes as she finds new local talent.

The Wearer in Camden Passage in Islington
Find The Wearer on Camden Passage in Islington

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I became a total jewellery junkie after visiting the jewellery archive at the V&A as a kid. For me it wasn’t the cost of the materials that fascinated me but the love and passion put into intricate pieces that have no real practical use other than for adorning the body.

I’ve always loved costume jewellery so I made it my career; buying jewellery and accessories for high st brands before launching The Wearer.

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

I loved being a buyer and the challenges of really knowing your customers tastes and requirements, but for me I always felt like I was offering a slightly watered down high street version of the most exciting designs.

I opened The Wearer because I want to support the independent designers and creative talents that I find so inspiring. I focus on London-based designers because there is so much amazing local talent and I can develop real relationships with them. Working as a designer in London is exciting but it’s a struggle with the overheads and other challenges that emerging brands are dealing with.

The Wearer in Islington
Each jewellery piece is chosen by the owner Rachel

Who inspires you?

My friend Syreeta who has launched online lifestyle store and studio Moments of Sense and Style (MOSS) whilst being full time carer for her partner Rob. He suffered a unexpected and devastating brain haemorrhage while they were working together in Hong Kong 3 years ago and together they have had to re-build their entire lives to make Rob strong again. She blog about her experiences; its heart wrenching stuff with beautifully curated images and music. Her experience really makes me take stock of what is important in life. It’s good to bring yourself back down to earth when you’re stressing about the minor stuff.

Handcrafted jewellery
Niza Huang jewellery on show at The Wearer

What do you predict for the future of retail?

Artificial intelligence will be huge before we know it, particularly for the larger blue chip retailers initially. There will soon be ways smaller business can exploit the innovations at low cost to really aid their online sales and customer experience.

There’s also an increasing interest in the return to bricks-and-mortar boutiques to offer the ‘real’ experience. I hope it could really help bring the high street back to life as the online retailers try and make their physical presence really unique and interesting. My customers come to The Wearer because jewellery is so tactile and they love the personal service that online can’t yet replicate.

The owner of a shop arranging the jewellery
The owner Rachel is a former jewellery buyer

What is the best thing about your boutique?

I think its the size. The Wearer really is a tiny jewellery box of a store but its big enough to house a focused selection of designers. Without the space restrictions I could easily go a bit mad, filling the space with lots of jewellery.

The size also means that rent and business rates are at the lower end of the scale for me, which for a young, micro business is very important as these charges can be crippling. It’s been good to start small on my budget and it also means that I’m always here and very involved with my customers which is so important. This week I had a lady from Boston whose friend had told her she had to visit the ‘cutest boutique in London’. Its lovely to hear that.

Jewellery shop in Islington
The jewellery on display at The Wearer

Why Islington? What do you love about it?

Its really well known for being a hub of independent boutiques with a really lively mix of locals and tourists. I’m lucky to have The Wearer situated in the Camden Passage area. We have quite strong community of independents here which really helps when you’re building a business on your own; there’s always someone to chat to. Islington is bursting with places to eat, drink and socialise which can be dangerous for your wallet.

Jewellery shop in Islington
Matthew Calvin jewellery at The Wearer

What are your favourite independent businesses (cafes, shops, bars etc) in Islington?

Neighbourhood restaurant Oldroyd is an absolute favourite; Tom and his team serve up delicious seasonal European food in a lovely relaxed atmosphere.

Cloud Cuckoo Land vintage clothing boutique is great for sourcing something really unusual. They specialise in 50s and 60s embellished cocktail dresses and have been trading in Camden Passage for more than 30 years so they a really integral part of the area. Chrissie is great to have as a neighbour too. She knows exactly when i’m in the mood for some chocolate.

New neighbours to Camden Passage are In-Residence who sell to die for interior treats. The kind of pieces that I never knew I needed in my life but can’t stop thinking about, like the huge corrugated cardboard pendant lights.

the wearer-3
A corner of The Wearer

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

It’s definitely becoming more corporate and sadly rising rents and business rates have driven out many of the independents that made the area so vibrant. We do seem to be slightly overrun with coffee shops and estate agents, but that just makes the boutiques that are still here even more special. We’re lucky on Camden Passage that the independent spirit is strong.

How do you see the independent community changing here?

The last few years has really seen a reduction in the number of antiques traders in the area. It’s a sign of current trends and sad to see changes, particularly when it was what gave the area its appeal to begin with. On the other hand, they are being taken over by small independent food and retail start-ups. It’s really important to our community that we continue to drive the independent spirit and keep the area the uniquely picturesque corner of North London that it is.

Jewellery at The Wearer
Beautiful necklaces on show at The Wearer

 

After Noah

It’s impossible to go to Islington and not visit After Noah. Part antique restorer, part toy shop, part gift boutique, After Noah has many strings to its bow. The shop is a real Aladdin’s cave with every nook and alcove overflowing with products. The basement level is home to an unparalleled collection of antique furniture, all restored in house by special team members who work behind the scenes.

The close-knit nature of the After Noah team lies at the heart of the shop’s enduring legacy. Each individual takes pride in what they are tasked with, be it cabinet restoring, customer service or buying and that translates perfectly into the shop experience.

After Noah's shop front
The shopfront of After Noah

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Matthew apprenticed in cabinet making & furniture restoration taking over his Grandfather’s trade whilst at college he met his business partner and soon to be wife Zoe who was training in fine art & textile design. A few years later After Noah was born. One year later through another accidental meeting Simon arrived on the scene looking for a part time job to pay his way through design college at the London School of Furniture. The rest as they say is history.

Shelves stocked at After Noah in Islington
Discover After Noah’s iconic lamp

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

Knowing from early on that they intended to combine their respective skills, Matthew & Zoe first opened the doors to After Noah on the 11th May 1990. Part antique shop and part contemporary design home-store they aimed to create a relaxed and approachable environment where you weren’t embarrassed to ask the price. We combine old and vintage furniture with well-produced contemporary design, on the basis that this is how most people actually live. Their homes being a mixture of old inherited and newly purchased items and not a magazine photograph.

After Noah shop with cards
A corner of After Noah

Who inspires you?

Our staff. Our current team have been with us for years and we are very much a big family. Coming from far and wide they have unique insights into life and the items we sell. They all have amazing talents like British drummer and poet Mark, Swedish singer songwriter Malin, British film maker Kate, French graphic designer Laura and Brazilian interior designer Mimi, to name a few. Their energy and enthusiasm for the shop and the stock is as much of a reason to keep pushing as our own desire to always be improving.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

The retail industry is always in flux but we don’t think it’s healthier or more diverse anywhere else in the world than Britain and London in particular. Now with the internet, people from all over can experience and benefit from the diverse product curation that we and other independent boutiques show.

The team at After Noah shop in Islington
The team at After Noah

What is the best thing about your boutique?

Personal service. Buying for the shop remains in the hands of the partners who handpick everything from the greeting cards and spud guns, to the desk lights and sofas. It’s this attention to detail, and the fact that shoppers are likely to be served by one of the three owners, that results in a truly unique and pleasurable shopping experience.

After Noah shop in Islington
Discover and shop After Noah.

Explore all the independent boutiques that Islington has to offer and their distinctive products.

 

Trouva

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