The Scottish Design Exchange

To celebrate buying local this Christmas, we spoke to Mairi from the Scottish Design Exchange - a social enterprise with shops in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, which provides a space for Scottish artists and designers to sell their products and grow as independent businesses.

Here's what Mairi had to say about what makes Scottish design unique and why you should shop local this Christmas.

How would you describe the Scottish Design Exchange and the work that you do?

Mairi: I would say the Scottish Design Exchange is an exciting new model of retail, where the way money is divided makes it more equitable for everyone. We're 100% non-profit. The way it works is that the artist rents the space from us and that's what keeps the shop open and pays the staff to be here. That covers our overheads and they get 100% of their sales. There’s no commission taken, 100% goes back to Scottish based artist and designers. 

The only stipulation that we have is that they have to be based here in Scotland. The money has to stay here in Scotland. There's a 50/50 split between people that have been doing this for a very long time but struggling to make ends meet because when they go to many of the galleries, 50, 60, or 70% + VAT can be taken on commission. We have people like that who come in here and suddenly it's kind of turning their quality of life around so to speak. Then we have those who are are fairly fresh out of art school or design school and they're basically trying to make their mark and hoping that they can use this as a stepping stone and learn while they're here. They can learn about marketing their product, branding their product and developing a product range that can sustain them, so that ultimately they can work on commissions and higher end stuff. I think it's an exciting model that we have here and it means that the lion's share of the money we take goes to Scottish artists and designers.

The other exciting aspect of it is that it’s not all tartanry, that it's not all the usual. It's really giving young Scottish designers and artists somewhere to showcase their work so they’re not spending all their weekends at arts and crafts fairs and markets, because most of them don't want to do that. They want to make the work, they want to sell the work, but they don’t want to spend all their weekend selling.

Can you tell me more about the non-profit aspect of the design exchange?

Mairi: We're a social enterprise and if we do make any profit, we have a charitable arm and the money that the design exchange makes in profit is transferred to that. We're about to launch workshops for kids in disadvantaged areas - initially in Edinburgh and then we'll be working here in Glasgow so that we can help encourage the next generation of Scottish artists and designers, because we all know that art as a subject is becoming more and more diminished by the education system. We want to make sure that kids of all backgrounds get the opportunity to express themselves and maybe get a taster, then think: "You know this is maybe something I want to do when I grow up".

Scotland has such a rich design history, so what is it about the new wave of Scottish designers that makes them unique?

Mairi: I think the exciting thing for us is seeing young Scottish designers really have a clear identity; not only of who they are and the brands they are creating but how they perceive and how they hope that Scotland will be perceived on the world stage. They don't want us to be all about highland cows and kilts. There is a place for that - we're not saying there's not, but there's so much more to Scotland. We've always been innovators and Scots have been really instrumental in building the modern world, in many ways. I think that we see that in our young designers; they have absolute confidence in who they are as young Scots. We've even got people who have chosen to make their homes here, we have people from Greece, we have Portuguese, we have Swedish, Italian, and more. We have people from all over the globe who have chosen to make Scotland their home, and the common factor is they're all extremely proud of Scotland. They all see Scotland as an exciting, innovative place to live. A welcoming place to live and they really want that to be conveyed through their design and their work to show the world stage.

There’s no commission taken. 100% goes back to Scottish based artist and designers.

What are the benefits to the consumer of buying from independent designers instead of the highstreet or major brands?

Mairi: I grew up with a father who had a small business and worked hard and used every penny that was spent in his business to help pay for my ballet lessons and things like that. Buying local keeps the money here in the Scottish economy; it keeps your neighbour down the street with a roof over their head and food on their table quite literally. We've seen that in our business. People in Edinburgh have been buying a certain product and then they realise that the person behind the product just lives down the road from them and they've said: “that’s fantastic”. This money's not going off to China, it's helping to pay that man's mortgage, or his rent and the customers love that. It's hugely important that we get that from our customers. They love the fact 100% is going to the artist and designers; that the money is staying here in Scotland and it's encouraging small businesses. Customers are fed up with the big chain stores; we've had tourists from Australia, Canada, America, South Africa and they say “we could be in any shopping centre in the world before we stumble across your shop” because so many of the shops in these shopping centres are worldwide brands, so when they come across the Scottish Design Exchange, they're excited because it's something completely different and they are going to be taking home a true taste of Scotland and not the ‘Disneyfication’ that's often promoted as Scotland. I think, spend your money in the wee shops, go to the wee butchers, the bakers, come to stores like ours and help make artist and designers in Scotland have a very merry Christmas!

On that note, who are your designers to watch? Which ones are on your Christmas list?

Mairi: Well that is a tough one because all of us who work here in the shop are always completely broke because as soon as our pay comes in, we have to pay for the little pile of goodies that we've set aside in the back office! We have some of the most amazing jewellers here in our shop. We have Lisa Crockard, we have Shelia Kerr, we have some phenomenal jewellery of all price ranges and again it's all quality materials and quality products made here in Scotland. The jewellers I'd say are definitely people to look out for. We have The Squid & Nib, a fashion label who are based here in the Glasgow area with t-shirts and sweatshirts and baseball caps, I think he has some exciting plans for the future. Our biggest sellers at the moment are two amazing glass artists: Glowing Glass and our lovely Greek glass maker Agelos who makes the wonderful recycled Buckfast Christmas hearts and trees. We can't keep them in! As soon as he makes them, they're out and it's the same with Anne from Glowing Glass - she sells like hot cakes!

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Finally, how important are digital platforms in your marketing strategy and how do you use them to raise awareness about what you do and the designers you feature?

Mairi: Our online presence via various social media platforms is extremely important to us. As a Social Enterprise (non-profit) company, we need to utilise every aspect of social media to promote our business and the artists and designers we have with us. Now via our own network of around 300+ artists and designers within the two stores, our audience is ever increasing. Recently, we launched an online shop for the Design Exchange and any of our members can opt into this should they wish. Demand for the online shop is great, and not only from here in Scotland. We have customers from as far afield as Australia, South Africa and Canada who have visited our shops to take advantage of this opportunity. It's nice to know that people from all over the world can help in supporting Scottish artists and designers, and making Scotland a more equitable country.

 

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