365 Objects Of Design

My First Shop Design and An Important Cause: Dress For Success

23rd October 2018
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A few months ago I showed you how I decorated my first show flat and today I want to show you my first shop – although actually it’s less about the decor and more about the brand behind it. Earlier this summer I was approached by a PR company and asked if I would like to design a shop in west London (Notting Hill). Hell yes, I believe the saying goes and I fired back a reply at once without leaving that casual pause that means you are (pretending to be) busy or considering.

neon sign from rockett st george

neon sign from rockett st george

“Great,” came the reply. “We should tell you that it’s a charity shop though. So there’s no fee for you and no budget for the things you will need.”

I’ve worked with charities before (many years ago I worked in a regional Oxfam office and organised fashion shows wearing clothes throughout the decades since the organisation was founded in 1942) so I knew the drill. And I was immediately drawn to the work of Dress For Success.

sofa from made.com, tables from rockett st george and all the biographies of the women who helped decorate this store

sofa from made.com, tables from rockett st george, wallpaper by lucy tiffney with cushions from aerende alongside all the biographies of the women who helped decorate this store

DfS (not that one) was founded 18 years ago and works with underprivileged and vulnerable women all round the world to provide them with the skills, confidence, on-going support and – crucially – the clothes to help them rejoin the workplace. The charity is present in 28 countries and over 145 cities and in the US it has been featured on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Real Housewives of Beverley Hills and has supporters such as Vanessa Williams, Iman, Eva Longoria and Bobbi Brown. This was to be the first ever shop in the UK.

paint by atelier ellis and wallpaper (on reception desk) by lucy tiffney

paint by atelier ellis and wallpaper (on reception desk) by lucy tiffney

The email arrived on 25 July. The launch was planned for the end of September ( I managed to push it back a week to 4 October) and there were summer holidays in between. I don’t want to resort to clichés like there was no time to lose but, erm, there was no time to lose.

I had an immediate idea that this shop for women must be decorated and furnished by women. And so I started contacting women I knew who run businesses, make furniture and who might be able to help me. Of course they all said yes – because they are all amazing.

gold light and hand hooks by Mucknbrass

gold light and hand hooks by mucknbrass

And so we had paint from Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a sofa and changing room curtains from made.com (which was founded by a woman, its design director is a woman and 50 per cent of the board is women), Jane Rockett and Lucy St George designed tote bags, donated coffee tables and a huge neon sign, Lucy Tiffney gave wallpaper, Anna Hayman cushions. There was a mirror from Graham & Green (founded by Antonia Graham) as well as a fabulous gold mannequin light and hand hooks from Zoe Pocock of MucknBrass. Finally I asked Emily Mathieson, of Aerende (whose store has featured on these pages before) if she could help. Emily sells products made in the UK by people facing social challenges and I knew she gives employment to a lot of refugee women who sew cushions. It felt like the right thing to include women who have been helped themselves by a woman, giving help to other women who might need it.

mirror from graham & green and hooks by mucknbrass

mirror from graham & green and hooks by mucknbrass

Everything arrived promptly, but there was a lot of work to do on the shop itself. A former wig store it had a terrible pale laminate floor, ceiling tiles, poor lighting, no changing rooms and was incredibly dilapidated. But the UK director Fionnuala Shannon worked tirelessly persuading people to help out with painting and decorating and even finally called in a golfing friend of her husband’s to finish off the last few details while her husband played golf without him.

And you see the results here. The store opened on 4 October and to say it was like Changing Rooms at the end is no understatement. Peter Cuthbertson, who organised the party and press, and I turned up at lunch time in our glad rags to style a few clothes and arrange some flowers.

light and hooks by mucknbrass

light and hooks by mucknbrass

Or so we thought. In the end he had to roll up his (very smart) sleeves and I had to roll up my trousers (which were long and floaty and partyish) and start mopping and scrubbing. Fionnuala painted her nails five times as each time she finished there was another job to do and she wrecked them before they were dry. But we got it done. And the launch was a great success.

And so I hope you will visit – there are some great clothes – or donate or perhaps you may have skills you can offer. The shop is at 192 Kensington High Street and you can visit the website here.

chair by rockett st george, cushion by anna hayman, wallpaper by lucy tiffney and curtains by made.com

chair by rockett st george, cushion by anna hayman, wallpaper by lucy tiffney paint by atelier ellis and curtains by made.com

It’s not quite finished yet. We’d like a rug to go in the back by the sofa and a coffee table would also be great. As you can see from the pictures we put everyone’s story on the wall in the hope that these women who have set up their own businesses will give confidence and courage to other women who are just starting their journey back to the world of work.

I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in this project and thank you to the wonderful women who helped as well. You were all crucial to creating a space where women can feel welcomed and calmed when they visit either to shop or to get advice. May this be the first of a nationwide chain of stores celebrating the important work of Dress for Success.


BEFORE YOU GO: As you know I do sponsored posts from time to time (this isn’t one) and while I always flag them up, I am also conscious that many people don’t like them on principle. So, from now on I have decided that Wednesday – when I traditionally don’t post – will be the mid-week ad break as it were. The content posted on that day will be sponsored. Some of you will regard it as a bonus post and some of you will choose to ignore it. I shall continue to work only with brands that I like, and think you will, but as the blog grows and it is, of course, how I earn my living, this gives me the opportunity to give you four posts a week that are non-sponsored but means the blog can earn its keep to pay for those without you feeling like you are losing out on content. Tomorrow you will see a post about the Roberts Radio – a design classic – did you know it was designed to resemble a handbag? So I hope you will still feel it all fits but you will also be able to decide if you want to read or not. Some of them will interest you and some will not but that way it’s clear and I can afford shoes. It will still be flagged as sponsored as usual and according to the rules but I wanted to flag up why there might be an extra post from time to time. 

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  • Fiona Duke 28th October 2018 at 5:54 pm

    looks totally awesome – smashed it – amazing job Kate x

  • Jos Buttler 25th October 2018 at 5:33 am

    Congratulations Kate!
    Nice work and executed fantastically.Those Lime colored curtains are really eyecatching.Collection of dresses is really amazing. Keep on sharing your genius ideas 🙂

  • Velvet 24th October 2018 at 9:56 am

    I love the concept and I loved what you’ve done with the store. (The wall of fame was a great touch). And I totally enjoyed reading about it. It felt like I was somewhere backstage watching it all happen!

  • Sam – Dove Cottage Blog 23rd October 2018 at 3:21 pm

    Wow it looks amazing! Well done you!

  • Christian 23rd October 2018 at 12:53 pm

    nice idea, such a great content.

  • Monica 23rd October 2018 at 10:35 am

    Wonderful collective effort and the result is fantastic. Love the feminine styling (political correctness be damned) for women by women. Bravo Kate!

  • Natasha 23rd October 2018 at 10:19 am

    Good for you – great cause and you were fab to do it. Karma will come back in leaps and bounds. You should be very proud of yourself.

  • Julia 23rd October 2018 at 8:50 am

    Good idea, but I really don’t like the way they got you to say yes, before telling you that you wouldn’t be paid. It smacks of those businesses that try to get artists to do stuff for them by telling them it’ll be great for exposure. It was very disingenuous and leaves a bad taste.
    You did a great job though, and it was a brilliant idea to ask other women to help.

    Also, the sponsored post on a Wednesday is a good idea too. I don’t mind some sponsored posts, but knowing they’ll only be on one day a week means I can choose whether to read it or not, as was your intention.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 23rd October 2018 at 11:09 am

      It wasn’t quite like that – I suspected when they told me it was a charity that that would be the case and I was completely happy to do it as were the other women involved.

  • Sigrid 23rd October 2018 at 8:21 am

    Dear Kate,
    You did an amazing job turning that room into something anybody would even consider entering. Just by the looks of the lighting and the windows behind the sofa I can imagine what it must have looked before. It would have been a challenge even with a budget. But I must say that I would have felt tricked into taking that job. I guess that’s what PR is all about.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 23rd October 2018 at 11:10 am

      It was a mess! I didn’t feel tricked at all I was completely happy to help out. I love doing new things and I love this cause.

  • Tina 23rd October 2018 at 8:00 am

    Just how inspirational is this Kate! A fantastic post, you wonderwoman. Hugely worthy cause. Post away on Wednesdays. I for one, will always read your posts, so get yourself off shoe shopping!

  • Harriet 23rd October 2018 at 7:37 am

    What a brilliant idea, fantastically realised. Thanks Kate – it’s great to start the day with such an uplifting story.

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