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The Electrical Shop

Lifestyle store owners, London

For our final interview of 2015, we meet James Borley and Greg Avis, the switched-on creative couple behind London-based lighting brand The Electrical Shop.

Cleverly combining their shared skills and interests, the boys created a simple business goal: to bring well-designed, affordable lighting to the masses. The solution came in the form of a small but perfectly formed range of industrial cage lights, each one designed and made by their close-knit UK team.

And, as if running one start-up in their spare time wasn’t enough, the entrepreneurial duo also recently launched their second online venture Resident, a carefully curated blend of homewares and accessories. 2015 has certainly been a big year for them.

On a chilly December morning, we drop by their suburban studio before settling down in their cosy North London flat to hear more about that lightbulb moment and their plans to take on 2016.

  • Joseph Perry

    Words

  • Theo Bridge

    Pictures

  • 21 Dec 2015

    Published

  • 8 min read

    Length

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Tell us a bit more about yourselves and briefly describe your path to now.

JAMES: We started The Electrical Shop (TES) in October 2013, born out of an idea we’d had for quite some time. We’ve always had an entrepreneurial desire to do something different and the idea of The Electrical Shop seemed to combine our two skill sets. By day, I work in marketing for an architecture firm…

GREG: And I’m an electrician, so I guess that helped!

We toyed with some stupid business ideas when we first met. We tried to buy a vegan cafe in Brighton about 8 years ago. We didn’t even have a business plan, yet, we still went to the bank asking for money. They basically laughed us out of there!

We started making our cage lights just for friends initially – as birthday and Christmas presents – before exploring how we could sell them.

In November 2013, we set up shop at Netil Market in Hackney, back when it was still a market in the traditional sense and before there were any permanent stores. Actually, that’s how our first stockist, Triangle Store in Clapton, found out about our products.

J: Two months later our lights were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration. That moment was huge for us!


Wow, how did that come about?

J: I hassled them! Haha.

It did require a bit of PR work but actually it was down to luck more than anything. My phone went crazy with orders the day the issue came out. We were at my parents that weekend and we had to rope them into packing – we had a whole family production line happening at one point.

For our first year, we worked on TES in any spare time that we had. We used our flat as our studio, which was great in the sense that everything was contained but also horrendous because you couldn’t move for light bulbs!

We used our flat as our studio, which was great in the sense that everything was contained but also horrendous because you couldn’t move for light bulbs.

‐ James Borley, The Electrical Shop

Earlier this year, you also set up Resident, an online lifestyle store specialising in homewares and accessories. How did that come about and how is that brand linked to The Electrical Shop?

J: From our work with TES, we’d met loads of local makers and designers in a similar position to us. We wanted to create a space where we could collaborate with them but it didn’t feel right to shoehorn it into The Electrical Shop brand.

G: There also aren’t that many lifestyle shops in and around where we live in North London. We think there’s a definite gap in the market round here. I guess we’ll find out when we open our studios for the first time this Christmas…


So, as the name suggests, are you keen to keep Resident locally-focussed?

J: Yeah, definitely. A lot of the designers’ products we stock are London-based too.


How do you go about finding designers to work with?

G: Various routes really. Daniela Rubino, who designs the concrete pots we stock, is a friend of a friend. Louise Madzia, a local ceramicist, had an open studio at the Rochelle School in Arnold Circus at the beginning of the year – that’s where we spotted her.

J: We also sell a range of products by Nota Bene Wares. We started following Matthew Brooks (the founder of Nota Bene) on Instagram quite early on and have kept in touch indirectly ever since.


Have you found Instagram to be an effective way of finding up and coming designers to collaborate with?

J: Definitely. For us, it’s been the most effective tool.

We also try to attend as many degree shows as we can. We stock some really nice ceramics from a Central Saint Martins’ graduate called Matias Møllenbach, who we discovered earlier this year. It’s always great to be able to support young talent so early on.


You recently launched your first Resident pop-up shop at
Pop Brixton. How does selling in a physical space differ to selling online?

G: We’ve always wanted to have a physical store of sorts and saw the pop-up as a good test bed before opening a more permanent space. Being able to interact with people face to face – that’s what really interests us. There’s nothing better than actually seeing a customer’s reaction to one of your products.

Tell us a bit about your hometowns and how you came to arrive in London.

G: I’m from Bath originally and James is from Bristol, which is where we met.

We first moved to London in 2009 but we quickly got fed up with the pace and the prices and decided to move back to Bath for 3 years.

We then came back to London just after the Olympics in 2012 because we found we were getting bored! But even now we still toy with the idea of leaving again. We were actually born just 15 miles apart, so deep down we’re both West Country boys at heart!

We were actually born just 15 miles apart, so deep down we’re both West Country boys at heart!

‐ Greg Avis, The Electrical Shop

Haha, me too! You’ve gotta love the West Country.

J: Definitely. Maybe we’re getting old but we’d love to give Bristol a try. The creative culture there feels much more accessible than it does here. As we mentioned, we do have a slightly romanticised vision of owning our own shop one day but unfortunately we just can’t do that here.


What are some of your favourite places to go in London?

G: I love Hampstead Heath, purely for the views.

J: I’ve recently become a little obsessed with The City. It’s so obscenely grand and unashamedly opulent. I love walking around that part of town on a weekend when it’s totally dead.

We also really like Chatsworth Road in Clapton. Whenever we deliver our lights to Triangle Store, we’ll usually spend an afternoon there. There’s so much going on and so many amazing cafes, restaurants and shops to explore.


Where do you guys go to find inspiration?

G: We try to travel at least 2 or 3 times a year. We were in LA earlier this year and Copenhagen last month. We try and get around the UK too because there’s still so many places we haven’t been to. We went to Margate earlier this year and we’re heading down to Somerset in a few weeks time, whilst we wait for our airmiles to clock up!

Tell us a bit about the communities you’re a part of.

J: Living in a suburban area of North London, we’re probably slightly removed from some of the more established creative communities here. But through our work with Resident, we’ve been lucky enough to meet loads of local designers such as Ashley Watson and Daniela Rubino, and through them we’ve created our own little creative community.

In terms of a gay community though, I’m not sure we really belong to one…

G: I play for a gay football team.


Really? Which one?

G: Soho FC. I’ve been playing for them for about a year now. It’s a gay team but straight people are welcome to join too.


Why did you choose to join a gay-specific team?

G: I always used to play, but gave it up about 8 years ago for some reason. I realised I was never going to the gym when I should be, so thought this would be a great way of exercising. It’s really good fun and I’ve met some great people as a result.

So are you quite familiar with the London gay scene then?

G: We’ve got a lot of gay friends here but I wouldn’t say we are overly involved in the gay community. We go out to gay bars and we go out to straight bars.

J: We did go out on the gay scene in Copenhagen a few weeks ago…


How was that?

G: European!

J: We went to a place called Jailhouse. It was this little underground bar full of old bears sat at the bar smoking and drinking shots. It was just so different. It was like being in a gay bar back in Bath or Bristol 10 years ago!

G: We used to spend a lot of time at gay bars in Shoreditch but in the last few years we seem to have gravitated back to Soho.


How come?

J: Personally, I find it less pretentious.

G: The whole ‘East’ thing bothers me a little. Everyone is always trying to outdo one another. Soho’s great, especially on a weekend. You can wander around it and stumble across somewhere new every time.

Actually, have you been to The Glory in Haggerston? That’s nice. It’s a shame there’s not more bars like that.


What is it about that place you particularly like? What role do you think places like The Glory play in the gay scene?

J: I do think it’s really important to have places that don’t necessarily feel like Heaven or G-A-Y. They’ll always rightfully have their place in the gay scene but as an 18 year old gay guy growing up in a small town, I’d’ve been terrified to go to G-A-Y on a Friday night! In my experience, smaller, more local bars tend to be a bit more welcoming and supportive.

As an 18 year old gay guy growing up in a small town, I’d’ve been terrified to go to G-A-Y on a Friday night.

‐ James Borley, The Electrical Shop

Greg, as an electrician working in a traditionally macho industry, has your sexuality ever influenced or impacted your work?

G: I’ve always worked for myself so to be honest, I’ve never really had to deal with it. I’m also naturally quite private so I probably wouldn’t mention it, even if I did work with others. I imagine most people in whatever career they do will work with someone who’s gay though, so I can’t seeing it ever being a problem. It’s pretty much the norm now, right?


What’s next for you guys? What’s 2016 got in store?

J: We’re currently planning to launch another Resident pop-up shop in Spring next year. But until then, we just hope we continue to grow.

G: We’re also hoping to take TES to the Pop Up Flea event in New York too.


Break America?

J: Ha. I’m not sure we’ve got the resources for that just yet!

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