Watch this space

We Are Pop Up is a person-to-person marketplace that offers an alternative to commercial property agents, where users can list, browse and book pop-up spaces across Europe. CEO and founder Nicholas Russell and director of projects and partnerships Abigail Freeman tell Antonia Wilson how everyone from big brands to start-up fashion businesses are joining the cult of temporary space

(Above: Cole and Sons, a beautiful old butcher’s beside Regent’s Canal in Kings Cross, London, is now a multi-purpose space available for hire)

CR: How and why was We Are Pop Up started?Need a temporary retail or gallery space? Or got some space standing empty? We Are Pop Up is a person-to-person marketplace that aims to put those with spaces to fill in touch with those looking for short-term venues. We spoke to their founder and marketing manager…

Nicholas Russell: I started seeing these mash-ups everywhere – private pizza restaurants in back gardens, bars in car parks, artist studios in old schools.  In 2011, I started working with artist Mike Salter on a Kickstarter campaign – a gallery running for two months in an empty shop front on Earlham Street in London. We wanted to raise £10k by pre-selling shows to 20 London artists. However, the landlord would only let the shop for a year or longer, and rent, deposit, legal costs, and agency fees ballooned the budget to over £100k.

Few people in the UK had run Kickstarter campaigns at that point: computer scientist Alastair Moore told me he wanted to be one of the first. “I want to build an Airbnb for retail shops,” I said. Moore, Salter, and I founded We Are Pop Up in early 2012, and by November, 274 brands applied for our first pop-up space, a shop for Christmas at Boxpark in Shoreditch.

CR: And how does it work?

NR: We Are Pop Up is the world’s first social market place for commercial property. People sign up and start conversations. When a brand and a space make a match, they make a deal. The current record for a brand signing up, finding a space, and booking is seven minutes. The original idea was to make renting retail space easy – we’ve gone far beyond that now. Our customer community makes hundreds of new connections every day. People from small brands and big brands, from small spaces and big spaces. They’re all meeting online and getting super creative.

 Glassworks multi-brand womenswear shop in Shoreditch, London is available to concessions from accessories brands to chocolatiers
Glassworks multi-brand womenswear shop in Shoreditch, London is available to concessions from accessories brands to chocolatiers

CR: What types of brands and projects are coming to you for space?

NR: Our brand customers come from fashion, food, homewares and media. We also see artists, agencies, events companies, and tech companies. Our customers are big on remixes – food brands in retail space, and retail brands in restaurants.

Since November 2012, 18,000 brands from 101 countries have signed up, with over 1,000 deals in London, Brighton, and Berlin, and in the last 12 months we’ve done deals across 13 countries. Most importantly, we’re seeing big brands start to collaborate with emerging and independent brands. That’s going to really rewrite the rules.

CR: How much does it cost?

NR: It is free to get started, then when people match and book, we take 10% of the deal – 5% from each party. That structure is essential because it reinforces trust, transparency, and fairness.

CR: What types of space are you offering, and are there any rules?

Abigail Freeman: We offer full spaces and ShopShare space – a new form of pop-up that allows brands to rent an area within a shop, as opposed to the entire space. We support spaces of any size – from shelves and rails, a display cabinet, or just a window, to whole warehouses – any space that boutiques or major retailers have available.

We don’t see too many rules, other than ‘leave it as you found it’. The online part of the process is highly collaborative. It’s very intuitive, and people treat each other well. Overall everyone wins, and the collaborations are amazing. We see juice bars in fashion boutiques, designer-makers in coffee shops, ice cream shops in flower stores, laser-cutting jewellery in tea bars.

 The Dandy Lab
The Dandy Lab

CR: How has the relationship between designers, the fashion industry and pop-ups changed since the concept emerged?

AF: Fashion designers use pop-ups as a new route to market. It’s now seen as a viable – if not preferred – option to reach new customers, launch seasonal collections, or test new markets. ShopShare in particular enables fashion labels to cut out the middlemen – distributors – and meet customers directly on the high street.

CR: What are some of We Are Pop Up’s success stories?

AF: Glassworks is a multi-brand womenswear boutique in Shoreditch. In the last nine months, they’ve brought in 17 new brands including Cru, Fashion Luxx, Suite Hazen, and Be-Snazzy, and seen new products from over 300.

Malaysian fashion brand Pearly Wong booked a space at Boulevard Berlin, to sell, and also run fashion shows and press launches. A few weeks after opening, she was the buzz of Berlin, and selected to launch Mercedes Benz Berlin Fashion Week.

Lifestyle concept store The Dandy Lab launched in Spitalfields this August. It is a multi-brand menswear emporium championing British craftsmanship and personalised shopping, fusing fashion, lifestyle and technology. They have sourced menswear brands including Alfie Douglas, Stallard, The Gentle-Man Range, Rubber Killer and Sloane Stationery, and will source 50+ more brands.

 The Artworks
The Artworks

CR: How do you differ from your main competitors in pop-up space?

NR: We enable brands to find great space no matter what their budget. We want people focused on doing cool things in spaces and making money, not distracted by property deals. That’s why we’re completely transparent and focus on creating relationships.

Agents generally take the biggest brands to the best spaces. If you’re a smaller brand, entrepreneur, or emerging designer, the feedback we’ve heard has not been good.

CR: What are your thoughts on how the pop-up scene has developed and what might the future hold? Is it still a growing trend?

NR: Pop-up retail has barely gotten started! This is the beginning of a trend that will reshape how we use property in cities around the world: 20% of shopping centres will be let on short-term contracts. Most restaurants will start as pop-up restaurants. We’ll see huge cross-border movement with brands entering new markets at extremely low costs. The biggest winners are consumers.

 The Tree House
The Tree House

CR: Does pop-up offer a long-term solution to the problems of the high street?

NR: Pop-up retail is ultimately not about retail – it’s about the communities in which we live. It may have come into vogue during the crisis because of the extreme volume of empty space, but in reality, this is the way people want property to work. Retail is a local business, and today’s consumer looks for shops that offer global products and reflect local values –pop-up retail is ideally positioned for that.

CR: What’s next for We Are Pop Up?

NR: The platform works around Europe, and we’ve recently launched in New York. We’re also helping people design the next generation of pop-up space, incorporating everything we’ve seen.

 Studio 74
Studio 74

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