Continuing my theme of talking to interesting people about their creative spaces, this time I’m picking the brains of Rosie Jacobs who brings together independent traders and craftspeople through Independent Oxford. We met at the Covered Market where Independent Oxford has a pop-up shop running until Christmas Eve to showcase unique products from independent businesses.

Independent Oxford is the brainchild of Rosie and Anna Munday. They set up the organisation in 2015. I asked how it all came about:

“Anna and I both felt there was a lack of community for independent businesses in Oxford and the surrounding county. Anna was the marketing manager at the Old Fire Station and I ran my own business, and we thought that others may share this need too.”

“First we put an online directory together, and it was clear as it grew that indies loved making connections with other indies and appreciated the support on offer. It can be quite lonely running your own business, especially if you’ve come out of a salaried, secure situation. We saw the Independent Oxford community come together to help each other and provide an antidote to the isolation.”

“The demands of running your own business can have a negative effect on your mental health – something that’s not widely recognised. We are so pleased that Independent Oxford can provide a supportive framework for better mental health. This, along with sustainability, is a major focus of what we do, and in the summer we held a fantastic ‘Redefining Wellbeing’ project in Florence Park with workshops on health and wellbeing.”

I completely agree with Rosie on this. When starting from scratch, you are learning all the time and no matter how supportive your family is, there are some things that only another new business owners can understand. If we believe everything posted on social media, it’s easy to think that everyone else is super successful and doing better than us, but when you speak to people in person you find that we all face the same struggles at times.

I find a lot of support in the network groups I belong to. There is always somebody who has been through what you’re going through and can offer advice or a service that can help you out. I find it invaluable to meet up with other business owners and I rarely come away from a meeting without picking up something useful.

Rosie continues:
“We have built an amazing online community and the website gets over 20,000 hits a month, supported by a strong social media presence, but what really matters to people is the face-to-face meet-ups that we run, there’s no substitute for personal contact and support.”

“Last year we held our first pop-up shop in the Covered Market with a wide range of traders like Indigo the ethical clothing and gift shop, Oxford Alterations, Cranston Pickles and many other indies. This year’s event began in September and is even bigger and better, running for four months leading up to Christmas!”

“The pop-up shop is a great way for independent traders to try out their new products and stock, to see how customers respond and to test whether a city centre location is beneficial to their business. We see it as an incubator space to find your feet and work out where to go next. With rents so high in Oxford, the Council are keen to work with us to attract more indies into the city.”

I noted that many of the products on sale are arty, food and jewellery, so clearly there are many creative artists around Oxford. I asked Rosie how Independent Oxford supports these artists.

“One of the challenges of making a living from your creative endeavours is that you need time to create your products, which you can’t do sat behind a shop counter. The pop-up shop gives artists some time back with a staffed space: we just ask each indie to do the odd shift in the shop.”

“We also have an amazing creative space upstairs where they can share their creativity through workshops. Retail needs to be more than just a shop to attract loyal customers, it needs to offer an experience. This year our wonderful indies have run workshops on macramé and henna and a Christmas Crafternoon for visitors to make decorations, try calligraphy, have a family photo taken and of course, your very own Open Stage Arts Alternative Christmas Singing workshop!”

I asked Rosie about sustainability and the future, as I know this is a key theme for Independent Oxford moving forward.

“We want to showcase how indies help people to live a more sustainable lifestyle. For instance, the products are made locally not mass-produced or imported from China, the candles use soya wax, the pickles are handmade, etc. The sustainability message sits well alongside the creativity and it makes sense to tap into that, customers care about what they buy.”

“Our next aim is to find a multi-use space for our members to use for retail, workshops and events – a real hub for indies to share skills and learn about all aspects of business. For many artists, it’s a struggle to make a business out of your passion, but our creativity is really important for our wellbeing so we want Independent Oxford to give arty people the space they need to be creative and make a success of their business too.”

I had such a great time chatting to Rosie about how Independent Oxford supports artistic businesses, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about it too.