Blackhorse Lane Ateliers have arrived in Coal Drop Yards a new development bang in the heart of London which is bringing together different surrounding communities as well as establishing new ones; containing a hodgepodge of mixed backgrounds and budding new talent coming out of Central Saint Martin Arts University which is jewel in the development and has been in the area since 2011.
I'm sure we will see collaborative projects between BLA and CSM students in the future as both can inspire each other in the years to come which will hopefully invigorate craft denim in the UK and keep on pushing it forward.
So for London's only jean maker, this is the perfect environment to be surrounded by and to be able to offer their crafted goods with like-minded and talented neighbours.
As fascinating it is for people to go the Walthamstow based factory where all BLA denim garments are made, it is important for a brand such as BLA to be able to offer a shopping experience where people can stumble upon them rather than make a dedicated journey to.
BLA had their official store launch last week and I really wanted to show off their space which they have created within their new home at CDY. I hope you will enjoy getting a glimpse of the store and have a sense of the feel of it if you haven't yet been or do not live in London.
I also had the chance of asking them some questions about their new shop and the journey that has taken them there.
Why is it important for BLA to have a shop outside of the factory?
When we first opened our pop-up store in Shoreditch, we wanted to understand how we could connect with our customers on the high-street, rather than the ones who already knew about us. It was a concept store with a denim haberdashery. In that 6 months period, we connected with our customers in ways that we couldn’t have achieved at the factory.
Our experience also taught us that we learn so much from our customers; generally, when we develop a style, we do fit sessions with one body shape. Through serving our customers at our pop-up shop, we realised that there are many different body shapes and needs, and this helped us to improve our fits.
What attracted BLA to Coal Drops Yard?
We loved the design of the Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio and how it’s a real mix of residential, commercial and educational developments. It’s important for us to be part of a real community and also to be close to UAL in Granary Square, to continue our strong links with students and universities. It’s also great that our neighbours mostly include other UK-based brands with an emphasis on crafted and quality products, as well as lots of small independent brands.
What are the challenges of opening up a new physical space?
At our shop at Coal Drops Yard, we really wanted to create a mini-version of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, and this is a challenge in a retail space. When people visit our factory in E17, it’s easy to explain and express to people that what we make is really ‘Made in London’ because we can show them exactly what we do. When you are in a retail space, it’s more difficult to express the spirit of the Ateliers. We wanted to be true to that spirit and bring that into the design of the shop and so we worked with local carpenters, architects and designers who had already known us for some time and who understood our concept and what we wanted to express.
Were there any lessons learned from the Shoreditch Pop-up store which you can share?
(See first answer too)
We’d definitely recommend trying out a short-term/pop-up retail space before taking the plunge with a permanent shop. We knew that we wanted to open a separate retail space and Shoreditch was an amazing way for us to trial this on a small scale first. The positive feedback that we had from customers and friends gave us the encouragement and push that we needed to go for it with Coal Drops Yard.
What makes BLA different and how has it evolved over the last few years?
At Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, two of our key pillars of thought are transparency and knowledge-sharing, as well as an absolute determination to make the best jeans in the world. This isn’t a marketing slogan; it’s a philosophical attitude.
As the first denim-makers in the USA were originally tailors, we affiliated with their construction methods as in London we have a strong tailoring heritage too.
At our space, we have a multi-disciplinary community and in the heart of that is our kitchen, which creates constant connectivity with local people as well as those from further afield, who come to the space for amazing dinners and brunch.
The other thing we do is to run denim-making masterclasses; our idea is to share our know-how as well as to create more denim-lovers!
I see you have some sewing machines in-store, are these just for hemming and repairs or will there be other services offered?
Yes! We currently have a Union Special 43200G for hemming and a Singer darning machine for repairs as well as another four flatbed machines. We’re planning to start running our denim-making masterclasses at Coal Drops Yard in the New Year.
What new items can we expect to see from BLA in the near future?
We started off with 5 men’s styles and it has taken us four years to develop a few more for men, as well as a ladies range. In November 2019 we will be launching new garments for women and men and introducing new fabrics including wool, cord and cotton twill.
You work and collaborate with other brands both small and big, why do you feel this is important?
Since we started Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, we have worked with over 40 brands, mostly based in the UK. It’s been really great to help smaller brands and designers to produce their denim collections, as industrial production overseas often won’t touch smaller quantities. We hope that this has contributed to the development of a London ‘denim-scene’ as our hope is always to encourage and support creativity and the growth of UK manufacturing. Working with other brands also challenges and stimulates us to continue to develop and improve our own making skills … and we’ve made some incredible friends along the way too!
I think it is easy to see that BLA are not only crafting jeans but a community wherever they go and are interested exchanging ideas both with their customers and local independent makers, this is commendable not just in a marketing hype kind of way or because that is forced upon them...no it is because they are passionate about it. And for me this sets BLA apart from a lot of their industry peers.
Video Filmed and Edited by Dayo Ogunyankin.