Go with the Flo..
Orginially published on Lifestyle Maverick Blog.
Written by Gabriella Dyson
As I stood next to Gandy Street looking up at Georgie & Flo, I couldn’t quite believe that this was the first time I was paying the shop a visit. I like to pride myself on seeking out all the little independent shops I can find in the local area and I could have sworn that a shop as unique as this one would have already been on my radar. So as I peered up at the window and spied a cute little washing line of artisan cards (featuring work by artists such as Ella Cunliffe) I mentally kicked myself for not stopping by sooner.
“We opened about two years ago” Rachel explained, as she welcomed me inside the boutique shop that she co-owns with longtime friend Erin Cox. I followed her inside and after a quick glance around I realised that Georgie & Flo was not your average ‘lifestyle shop’. There was none of the usual throwaway trinkets, mass produced accessories, or cheap Chinese imports. Instead, every inch of useable space has been optimized to display intricate handmade jewellery, artisan products and the work of local artists.
How It All Began
After years spent travelling across Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, Rach returned to the UK with heaps of ideas for creating something special in her home city.
“I loved travelling and I brought home quite a lot of ideas for setting up a shop,” she revealed, reminiscing about her time in Australia, “They have some very cool interiors and I found it all really inspiring. It’s a very different lifestyle and I tried my best to bring some of the sunshine back to Exeter with me.”
Rach and Erin have been friends for over 30 years and the two creatives frequently discussed their ideas for co-creating something when she returned home from travelling; “One day Erin said, well I’ve got this space available and I’m moving back to Castle Street… why don’t we combine forces?”
That ‘space’ that Erin was referring to just happened to be her old jewelry workshop – a small yet light & airy space that occupied the spot where Georgie & Flo now stands. It’s pretty cozy, one has to admit, but that doesn’t seem to have prevented the two friends from injecting that little bit of that sunshine that Rach wanted to capture from her time spent oversees. There’s plenty of light spilling through into the store and the white walls and simple shelving interior create a trendy and stylish space. Indeed, as I took a look around a word came to mind that I couldn’t quite pronounce.
‘It’s very hyyy-gee?’
‘Yeah, hygge’, Rach pronounced effortlessly, “Don’t worry, I’ve had plenty of practice saying it! We actually changed the shop a bit because we felt like it needed streamlining. My partner did all of the work, bless him. He’s a carpenter, so he was able to install the shelves for us. It’s a very small space, so I wanted to try to pack as much in as possible without it feeling overwhelming.”
We had been chatting for a while before I really noticed the beautiful reclaimed table that occupied centerstage in the middle of the shop. It was one of those features that manages to be both trendy and practical at the same time; holding up various tin candles and pieces jewellery. Needless to say, it was love at first sight and I had to exclaim “I love that table”.
Rach laughed and whispered ‘I actually borrowed that one from my boyfriend’s Mum. I think she got it from a cricket club? It’s lovely, isn’t it? We set up Georgie & Flo with no money and it was really just a case of picking some cool stock that we thought our customers would like and doing what we could with the bits of furniture that we already had between us. Erin gave me the key one day and said ‘off you go, do what you want!”
Keeping it Local
Something that Georgie & Flo seems to do incredibly well at is supporting its local community of creators. Throughout the shop I noticed a number of products by some brilliant artists, including Jessica Pearson, Harriet de Winton and Helen Round.
“We sell Erin’s jewellery and we try to focus on local makers and producers wherever possible. We don’t want to be like every other store – we want to try and bring something a bit different to the Exeter scene. A lot of our products are handmade and it’s all ethically produced. If it’s not from the UK then we absolutely make sure that it comes from a fairtrade source. We’re obsessed with these sort of details.”
“I haven’t got around to making much myself recently, but we’re both creative people” Rach explained “- and it’s something I want to pick up again. We both understand the thought and the care and the love that goes into making something. We like it when something has a story to it and you can pass that story on to the customer. I think lots of people want that.”
As of yet, there’s none of Rachel’s work available to purchase in the store, but having studied art, she’s tried her hand at a lots of things. Above all, she says she’s a fan of photography and that she’s going back to college to study ceramic art and pottery. Judging by her keen eye for interior design, I look forward to the day that I can pop into the shop and pick up an original piece of Rach’s ceramic work!
However, the truth of the matter is that the smooth running of Georgie & Flo is a full time occupation. While Rach and Erin are business partners, Erin spends much of her time working on her jewellery collection in her workspace on Castle Street, therefore most of the time Rach is responsible for holding down the fort over on Upper Paul Street.
Business as Usual
As we continued to chat a steady flow of customers began to filter through the doors. Rach had a genuine smile for each and every one of them, and the sheer variety of people made me wonder who the typical Georgie & Flo customer was..
“We get a real mix of people.” Rachel told me, “from young women in their twenties right through ladies in their sixties. We’ve tried to set it for everyone. Erin’s jewellery also attracts a base of customers who tend to be a little bit older and know what they want”.
Overall the shop seems to attract people who simply have an eye for lovely things, but apparently it can be quite difficult to bring in customers when you aren’t exactly in a prime high street position…
“As independents it can be hard to attract people” Rach revealed, “but that’s just the way the world is now. This is a lovely end of town – with the museum, the Exploding Bakery and The Real Food store in close proximity. It would be great to bring people here and to have more support for indie businesses in Exeter”.
“We’d love to expand”, she continued, “but right now we have to focus on being here. For the time being, we are planning on running a few more workshops. We did one back in August with Ella Cunliffe. It was a linocut class and it was based in our shop. We had 5 people round the middle table and we supplied lunch. It was a tight fit, but it was really successful, so we’re definitely going to be doing another one soon. We’re also looking to host a workshop for making our crochet baskets and we’ll be doing a Watercolour workshop with Harriet de Winton”.
I won’t lie, all that talk of creative classes was quite exciting to me. Personally, it seems to me that many people are losing site of the value of handmade produce and the rewards to be reaped for creating art for arts sake. It seems like Georgie & Flo are really onto something and I for one am keen to back anything that nurtures our local artistic community.
Speaking to Rach and browsing Georgie & Flo has reinvigorated my passion for supporting independent businesses and I can’t wait to feature more brilliant shop owners and creators on Lifestyle Maverick. If you know a shop or business that you think deserves the spotlight, please let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, I hope you’re feeling inspired to check their shop out and maybe even roll up your sleeves and take part in one of their upcoming classes.