Two local creatives – illustrator Tiff Howick and jewellery designer Lucie Ellen – are behind a shop, gallery and workspace on Francis Road with a focus on environmentally friendly, ethical gifts.
In her former life as a project manager in various different fields including technology, financial services and the NHS, Tiff got her creative kicks doing life drawing and printmaking in the evenings and on weekends. In 2012 she started selling her animal-themed illustrated prints and products through her website, at markets, and in bricks-and-mortar galleries and shops.
She moved to Leyton in 2001 with now-husband Stuart. “We had our wedding reception in the old Leyton Orient social club, before it was replaced with a block of flats. Leyton was the first place in London we lived in where people you passed on the street said hello. There’s always been a feeling of community and I love the variety of cultures here. There are lots of new businesses opening up but also lots of established, independent businesses – like Carnival, in other words, the shop that sells everything.”
Meanwhile Lucie started her jewellery brand Lucie Ellen ten years ago, with a market stall on Brick Lane. Since then her business has grown and she sells online, at local markets and events, and is stocked in shops and galleries all over the world. “I’ve always dreamed of opening a shop, I can’t quite believe it’s happening,” she says.
She landed in Leyton after living in Suffolk, Cambridge and Camberwell. “My wife and I had friends who lived nearby. We needed somewhere affordable that was easy to get back to Suffolk to see my family, so Leyton was perfect. I love the green space and the diversity of Waltham Forest, it’s such an interesting place to live with a real sense of community.”
Tiff and Lucie have known each other for four years, having traded at the same local markets. “We talked about doing a pop-up but soon realised we wanted something more, so started talking long-term. Being an artist or designer for a living is wonderful but working alone can be isolating so this seemed like the perfect thing to do.”
Having made the decision to open a permanent shop, they started looking for premises on Francis Road. “We had a sense that it would become Leyton’s independent business centre and really wanted to be a part of it,” they explain. The first shop they found fell through. “We were so disappointed but that same day we heard from a local shop owner that [200 Francis Road] was coming up for rent so we literally ran down the street to introduce ourselves. The owner was happy to let it to us and seemed keen on what we wanted to do with the space. It felt like it was meant to happen, this space – which is between Tiger76 and Let Kings and opposite Phlox – is bigger and lighter.”
Having been empty for over five years the space needed a lot of work. “We’ve restored the original floor, smashed up a lot of concrete with our trusty hammers, made furniture, made and fitted skirting boards, replaced the ceiling, fitted a tiny kitchen and designed and built all our fittings. We’re keeping it fairly minimal – we want it to be a welcoming easy space where the things we’re selling stand out.”
Tapping into the movement towards environmentally friendly, ethical and sustainably sourced products, the focus will be on beautiful, responsibly made products from local makers. “We want to be the place local people come to when they need a gift or something to accessorise their home or themselves, that they can’t find anywhere else. We’ll be selling our own works, so screen prints and jewellery, alongside art work, ceramics, accessories, textiles, homewares, candles, beauty products, paper goods, cards and wrap, plus a few things for babies and children.”
As well as being somewhere to pick up that perfect gift, Venner is the place to go to discover local artists or develop a new skill. “We have a dedicated exhibition space in the shop and will be holding regularly changing exhibitions, either by one artist or a group that we will curate around a theme. We have a lovely big table around which we’re hoping to hold workshops with jewellery and print making, paper craft and textiles.”
Oh and if you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s a nod to Tiff’s Norwegian heritage and means ‘friends’. “We thought it fitted very well,” she says.
Venner is at 200 Francis Road, E10 6PR. Head here and follow this for news and updates.
COVID-19 UPDATE JULY 2020: Venner is open 10am-4pm Tues-Sat for click & collect and doorstep shopping.
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