Move To Manchester

With its rich cultural heritage and a surge in regeneration, Manchester’s reputation as a cosmopolitan gem of the North shows no sign of fading. In fact, new independent businesses are blossoming in all corners of the city, helping to shape what looks to be an even brighter future for Manchester’s independent community.

We journeyed to Manchester (on the day that storm Doris decided to strike) to see three of our independent boutiques, visiting the shop owners and getting to the heart of the local community.

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Object Style

Founded by a creative husband and wife duo, Rachael and Alex Otterwell, the pair have been travelling the world since 2009 piecing together the story and the products behind their boutique, Object Style based in Chorlton, Manchester.

We were welcomed into the beautiful boutique by Rachael and Alex, looking every inch the Object Style man and woman. With a cup of tea in hand we talked retail, Manchester and honeymooning in Palm Springs.

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We met back in 2007 when we were both studying Fashion Buying BSc at Manchester Metropolitan University. After graduation, Alex carved a career in luxury retail management working for global fashion house Burberry and luxury cycling brand Rapha. I (Rachael) worked in travel PR before starting my own events company.

We spent our honeymoon visiting America and fell in love with Palm Springs, the modernist architecture is like nothing we’ve ever see before. We love to travel, especially to Scandinavia and the USA, it inspires so many aspects of Object Style.

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Who inspires you?

Dieter Rams, Margaret Howell, Grace Coddington, Jonny Marr, Guy Bourdin.

What do you predict for the future of retail?

Brexit is naturally a very unnerving time for small businesses like us, especially when we work so hard to source unique and interesting suppliers from Europe. With this in mind, we are looking to collaborate with designers closer to home and work on producing ranges that are exclusive to Object, so watch this space.

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What is the best thing about your boutique?

Everything about Object both in our store and on our website is so carefully considered. From the layout (easy access for pushchairs as we have so many parent customers), to the unisex colour of our walls, store front and branding. We always go off our initial gut feeling when making decisions about our brand. We love nothing more than seeing the genuine surprise on people’s faces when they see products in our store and knowing it’s probably not something they’ve seen before; then we know we’ve done our jobs right.

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Why Manchester? What do you love about it?

Manchester is such a proud city. It is fearlessly independent, supportive and has an amazing sense of community. It’s an exciting place to work and live, it can be as fast or as slow as you like.

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How has Manchester’s retail landscape changed in the last few years?

One of the key reasons we decided to open a physical store is because we felt independent retail was underrepresented in Manchester. We have a thriving foodie scene, bar culture and an abundance of amazing traditional retailers like butchers and fishmongers but small concept stores like Object are quite hard to come by.

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How do you see the independent community changing here?

We are slowly building up a loyal, regular customer base who choose to shop with us in our store and online because we give good, honest customer service. We know all our customers by their first names and try where possible to go the extra mile in exceeding their expectations. For example, if someone wants a dress in a different colour to what we have available in our existing collection we offer a bespoke service and order them the colour of their choice at no extra cost.

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Discover Object Style on Trouva.

Oklahoma

Next on our tour we paid a visit to Oklahoma, one of Manchester’s biggest independent shops based in the city’s Northern Quarter. With storm Doris raging outside, we stepped into the boutique and were enveloped in riot of colour and texture which made a welcome change from the wind and rain. The brainchild of Creative Director Nicola Payne, she has pioneered Oklahoma’s signature use of colour and vibrancy which has been central to the shop’s enduring success for the last 24 years.

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Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I went to Leeds Polytechnic and studied fine art and sculpture before moving to London and doing some assistant styling work. I was really inspired by the independent shops and creative spaces in London, so much so that I decided to move to Manchester and open up my own; I was only 23 at the time. I loved the North of England and to me Manchester was a really creative and unpretentious city. When I found a great and affordable space it seemed a very natural step.

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Who inspires you?

Creative colourful countries, especially Mexico, India, Vietnam, Morocco and Ghana, and the people there who work with their hands and live bright, colourful lives.

Other shop owners with their unique buying eyes, running original independent boutiques with creative displays. To name a few, Kitsch Kitchen in Amsterdam, Blackout in Brighton and OK Versand in Berlin.

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What do you predict for the future of retail?

In the future it will be more important for retailers to be thinking outside the box in terms of physical spaces for retail and how it’s combined with an online presence. For example, pop up shops, market places where small independent makers can also sell their wares in a physical space as well as online. Building concept stores and creative inspiring destinations will also be key to retaining customers in the offline world.

What is the best thing about your boutique?

It has always been a labour of love, not just a commercial venture. I love how it is a wildly colourful Aladdin’s cave full of unusual, surprising discoveries.

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Why Manchester? What do you love about it?

I love the city’s rough edges and the fantastic industrial buildings. Unlike London, the pace of life isn’t crazy and it’s easy to escape thanks to the countryside that surrounds the city. It has always been a groundbreaking city in terms of creativity; it has an amazing cultural history and music scene plus I have always loved the Northern wit and straight-talking nature of Mancunians.

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

There are lots more independent cafes bars and restaurants opening especially in the Northern Quarter which has mean an influx of tourism. Similarly, more people are moving up from the south because of more affordable housing which means shoppers with more disposable income. The city is constantly expanding and the regeneration of once deprived areas means those places have become shopping and eating destinations.

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Discover Oklahoma on Trouva.

Room 356

With the storm still raging, we headed out of the city centre towards Bolton to visit Cassie and Bev, the mother-daughter duo behind Room 356. In true hospitable Northern style, we were greeted by the offer of tea and cake from Cassie and Bev as we admired their immaculate boutique, smelling beautiful thanks to their latest arrival of soy candles.

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This is our second time round of working together. My mum, Bev, owned an espresso coffee bar and myself and my sister worked part-time there from the age of 14. I successfully managed the business for a year when I was 18 before moving to London. It worked so well that we always knew we would one day set up a business together based on our shared love of design, interior styling and homeware.

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Who inspires you?

Terence Conran, who with Habitat, transformed the way people furnished their homes. Anita Roddick, of The Body Shop, who created an international business from very small beginnings and little finance, based on principles of sustainability and fair trade. Artisans who work creatively and independently producing beautiful individual handmade products for Room 356.

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What do you predict for the future of retail?

We think there will become much more of a balance between bricks-and-mortar and online shopping. Retail businesses with an online presence only will increasingly look to complement their online business by opening physical retail outlets or ‘pop ups’. Physical stores will continue to be more closely synced with shoppers need for online shopping too.

There will be a move away from buying mass produced products to an increased desire to purchase artisan products. The discerning customer is becoming much more interested in the products provenance and is prepared to pay the extra this may cost.

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Why Manchester? What do you love about it?

Mancunians themselves have to be some of the most friendly and unpretentious people.
Manchester is a vibrant cosmopolitan city which is going to play a big part in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ government scheme to re-balance the country’s economy.
The city has a fantastic blend of history, culture and energy and the diverse selection of places to eat and drink is continuing to grow as Manchester and the nearby towns continue to develop.

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

As well as a huge growth in high-end retail outlets in the city, areas such as the Northern Quarter and nearby towns are encouraging independent retailers who are starting up new and innovative shops. Artisan markets are becoming increasingly popular in different areas of the city such as Altrincham Market which has completely transformed the area and won a multitude of awards.

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How do you see the independent community changing here?

We think the growth of independent retailers and artisan markets will continue to grow in and around the city. There is a real sense of community; many areas in Manchester that used to be known as ‘declining’ areas are now becoming affluent and desirable places to live, increasing the need for independent shops and restaurants.

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Shop Room 356 on Trouva.

Discover and shop from even more Manchester boutiques here.

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