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Blue Patch is run as a social enterprise and is gearing up for the launch of a second Sustainable Department Store. Jane Langley FRSA, the Founder and CEO of Blue Patch, details how it has a unique business model that aims to use surplus profit to benefit the entire community.

When on the high street, it feels as though poor quality products are sold everywhere for high prices. Online shopping seems like a better deal since we’ve been trained to think of purchasing online as naturally translating to products being cheaper, better value or better quality for money. The logic is that they won’t contain the markups that high street shops put on their products. Additionally, the ease of having things delivered with just a few clicks of a button is irresistable.

Some avoid small shops for fear of being awash with the guilt of walking in just to browse and leaving without a purchase. In larger stores we’re sometimes put off by bad store design or muddled, boring branding. If we try a new area for a different experience, we still see the same old shops selling the same old items.

Wouldn’t it be great if a shopping trip left us inspired?

Shopping spaces have always been at the heart of every community. People pop down for bits and bobs, have a chat to the shopkeeper, run into a neighbour or three, or meet a friend for a coffee. Unfortunately this idyllic way of life rarely exists in today’s world, especially not in urban spaces.

This is why we created Blue Patch, an online platform that would revolutionise the way people shop online by offering them quality, locally-made products. Blue Patch was founded as an ethical collective with a focus on products that are made or manufactured in the UK or products made abroad that have a strong focus on improving the communities and the lives of the artisans that create them. Shoppers can browse the site and buy directly from the artisans in our collective, and we take no commission on sales made this way. We’ve even got a function that makes searching for makers who are local to shoppers incredibly easy. This means of shopping benefits the environment as well as the consumer by cutting carbon miles and encouraging makers to choose sustainable methods of production.

All this, however, is only a partial solution to the problem because shopping is so much more than just the purchase of a product. It is an experience.

Sometimes we head out on a mission to buy a specific item. Other times we stumble across something by chance. It’s discovery, followed by desire, followed by the excitement of purchase, holding the product as we walk up to the till to make it ours. Then comes the satisfaction of owning it. Or buyer’s remorse if we’re impulsive.

In 2016, we curated the very first Blue Patch Sustainable Department Store for the Day in Dulwich, London, with about 70 brands on site. To our surprise and delight, we had over a thousand visitors come through our doors for a day of browsing and buying sustainable products, participating in a discussion around High Streets for the Future, watching demos and meeting the makers. We had interesting product collaborations come out from it, as well as great conversations with both customers and creators.

This December, we are coming to Shoreditch with what will be the second Blue Patch Sustainable Department Store, only this time for a whole week with over 50 brands across various departments.

There is no doubt that online shopping has become a critical component of how humanity operates now, with so many things clamouring for our time and attention, but real time shopping should not be abandoned as a thing of the past.

The brilliant thing about popups is that they bring to high streets things from designers that you would not normally see there. While browsing, shoppers can talk to the makers about anything and everything: the provenance of their materials; their child’s ability to smear crayon on an entire wall when no one’s looking. It allows us to make real connections with real people.

You might ask: ethical pop-ups are happening all over the place, what makes this one special?

All week long, we’re mixing up the shopping experience with exciting business and creative events. Music, creative workshops, wellbeing classes, coaching sessions with small business experts and a networking breakfast centered on the art of living sustainably – there is something for everyone. We’re setting the tone for a new kind of store in the high street. One that is dynamic and inviting, combining an entrepreneurial and creative space with what is traditionally a marketplace.

We want shoppers to be inspired by our stores. We want people to discover beautiful objects, and experience that thrill of making them theirs. We want to foster curiosity about provenance and the process of creation which will lend itself naturally to conversations with artisans and other shoppers, some of whom will be from the local community. We want to encourage discussion around sustainability, and what it means to live a more sustainable life, one that is kinder to the planet.

We don’t have shareholders, so once we’ve scaled and are generating a solid profit our main focus will be to invest in renewable energy and fund conservation and community programmes. We recognise that wealth is not for hoarding but is best used by being put to work. Investing in renewables will help slow down climate change, improve the lives of vulnerable people and protect the natural world.

So, are you curious enough to come?

Blue Patch Sustainable Department Store will be located at the Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London between the 11th and 16th of December, 2018. Entry to the store is free, but some events need to be pre-booked and can be found through the Facebook event page.

We look forward to welcoming you, and making your shopping experience delightful.

Jane Langley is the Founder and CEO of Bluepatch.org

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