Creative People: Alice Mayor
Meet the other 'Mayor' of London and owner of We Built This City, a platform committed to showcasing London's new creative talents, recently voted No.3 in Time Out's Top of the Shops.
Where did the original idea for We Built This City come from?
My background is in PR and I spent 7 years working for clients across both business and the arts including Arts Council England, Own Art and CultureLabel.com.
In 2014, I could see that artists were struggling to hold onto studios and to ﬁnd enough sales platforms to support their careers. This seemed odd against the enormous investment pouring into London after the Olympic Games and the fact that London in 2013 had become the most visited city on the planet.
There seemed huge potential in creating a new platform for London’s creative community that put them back into the heart of the West End where new international audiences, as well as London locals, could ﬁnd and support their work.
What’s the best bit about your job?
My favourite part of running We Built This City is enabling artists to leave the comfort of their studio and bring their work to a whole new audience of international tourists in the heart of London.
How did the shop front artist commissions come about?
When starting out as a pop-up shop, we saw a clear opportunity to offer our storefronts as ‘live canvases’ to artists with a simple brief of just ‘London’.
Each storefront gives our artists enormous visibility to international audiences, driving new projects and PR for their work, as well as helping us to drive buzz and promotion for the store and wider community. Now we are permanent, the storefront canvas has stuck and we offer it up to both emerging and established artists including Camille Walala, Sylvia Moritz, Supermundane, Mr Doodle and our current storefront artist, Lithuanian artist Egle Zvirblyte.
How do tourists react and what’s the most popular item?
Tourists love that we’re supporting independent artists and designers and that their money is going directly back into London’s creative community.
In terms of most popular items, a lot of our international customers are looking for souvenirs celebrating London’s skyline, the Royal Family, the Underground and British music icons. Affordable art prints are also a unique and lasting souvenir and have proven a very popular category since we opened.
What do you want to communicate about London?
Our mission at We Built This City has always been to curate artwork and souvenirs that tell a fresh, contemporary and diverse story of what London is today. Beyond just London buses and Big Bens, we wanted to represent some of the other layers of the city: the artists, musicians and writers who live here, our obsession with gin, tea, biscuits, the local areas we love. The challenges Londoners face and not forgetting the great British sense of humour.
All in all though, we want just our customers to leave feeling they’ve experienced the very best of London’s creative community in just one store.
How do you find the new London creative talent that you showcase?
We showcase over 250 London artists, designers and makers at any one time in store and have helped support over 700 artists to date.
To ﬁnd them it’s a real mix between artists submitting their work to us direct and our team of buyers continually hunting the most exciting artists online, as well as through visits to art fairs, trade shows and markets. Our community ranges from hobby artists all the way through to established names and long-term creative entrepreneurs.
The thing that people don’t really know is…
Not many people know that I was only given 3 weeks to set up our ﬁrst pop-up shop from our landlord on Carnaby and the only business elements I had in place were a logo and an HMRC registration - eek!
I was also offered a shop 3 times the size of the one I’d been pitching for… cue 3 weeks of total start-up madness!
To ﬁll such an enormous space, I bought in hundreds of ﬂocked London pigeons from a prop store and hilariously they were the ﬁrst 3 sales we made and have gone on to be one of our bestsellers… who knew that people loved pigeons so much?!
What would you say to someone wanting to get into this?
Working with creatives and in a retail environment is unbelievably fulﬁlling but physically very demanding with long hours and 364 days of trading!
My advice for anyone looking to do it is to make sure that your heart is fully engaged with your mission (to keep you going through the late nights!), that you build a strong team around you who can help with all aspects of running a store and that you create as many ‘human, humorous and fun’ experiences in-store as possible to keep customers coming back… and so that you can enjoy the ride too!