Main Image: Courtesy of 50M

Can 50M Challenge Unaffordable Retail?

London’s soaring commercial rent prices are hard to beat, but 50M’s rentable rails could be a solution for emerging designers.

“The fashion industry is extremely difficult to survive in,” says Paul Smyth, co-founder of London’s new experimental retail concept, 50M. “London’s sky-high rents mean the dream of having a shop is disappearing out of reach to everyone but the wealthy, leaving great British talent behind,” he explains.

Dubbed as London’s first affordable retail space of its kind, 50M is located on the cusp of South Belgravia in Eccleston Yards. Co-founders Paul Smyth and Tracey Suen have dedicated the space to supporting emerging designers who often struggle with two major aspects of the business: funding and longevity.

“The traditional wholesale business model only works for emerging designers if they have the resources and capacity,” states Suen, adding, “for small designers who strive to be creative, it’s very tiring, and it means they often don’t receive a majority of the money acquired from sales.”

The pair, who are part of an artist collective called Something & Son, have extensive experience launching low-cost community spaces for various industries; 50M is their first venture into the world of fashion.

Instead of operating a conventional wholesale store format, 50M acts like a hub, featuring co-working areas, events and presentation spaces, a café for buyer interactions and meetings, and a photography studio where designers can shoot their e-commerce projects. On Mondays (when the store is closed) designers can even hold model castings.

“50M exists to radically change the balance of power between shops and designers”

“50M exists to radically change the balance of power between shops and designers,” says Smyth passionately. “We want to create a store where people don’t simply consume, but can meet designers, hang out with friends, and collaborate.”

The store also offers tailored mentorship programmes for its community, featuring one-to-one talks and workshops with industry experts that aim to nurture designers with productive resources: Suen and Smyth have cleary considered every aspect of the designer's business, effectively minimising the impact of any extra costs.

For merchandise and shop positioning, individual rails are rented out directly to designers for £295 a month, roughly working out to £10 a day – an ethos which replicates the affordable concept of market stalls. This way, designers can sell directly to consumers, cutting out any middle costs.

  • Courtesy of 50M
  • Courtesy of 50M

Home to some of the world’s leading fashion universities, London is flooded with thousands of fashion design graduates each year making it the perfect location for 50M. “Countless designers remain at the whim of the fashion industry, often getting priced out of London,” says Smyth, and with little funding and no real means to launch, many never get the opportunity to set up their label in the city. Yet this cost-effective alternative hopes to tackle the issue and offer a foundation where designers can grow their business with less financial pressure.

Currently, 50M’s physical space offers London’s eclectic mix of talents. Lines including womenswear designers Ryan Lo and Minki; menswear designers Ka Wa Key and Danshan; sustainable brand, Bethany Williams, and accessories label, Räthel & Wolf all vy for space. Top sell-throughs include Daniel W. Fletcher, Faustine Steinmetz and Minki, each offering a completely different aesthetic.

“Countless designers remain at the whim of the fashion industry often getting priced out of London”

This varied selection of labels encourages a sense of inclusivity and shows consumers the full breadth of what London has to offer: “We feel there’s a middle market that not many retailers are catering to – either they are very cheap or very expensive – so we are quite interested in that middle sweet spot, and we think our designer selection offers just that,” Suen smiles.

Following on from a successful bricks-and-mortar launch in May 2018, Suen and Smyth plan to launch their online store in September, opening up the support system to more emerging designers across the country - based on a very loose criteria, any young British designer is eligible to apply through an application process.

In addition, all designers from the physical store will be included on the website, but many new designers will strictly be available online.“Obviously with the physical store there is limited capacity, but online we can extend it to even more emerging talents and break down any exclusivity barriers,” Suen explains.

But the focus will not be purely on e-commerce; the duo will continue to push in-store events to generate footfall and consumer engagement. Each designer has the chance to use 50M’s space to its full potential and organise interactive in-store pop-ups and installations promoting their latest collections and creative ideas such as an event on the 23rd of August; 50M will invite the public to immerse themselves in a print project on a giant piece of linen that chosen designers will then innovatively use to create new collections.

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