7 May 2019
Photograph: Jacob Nicol
We look at the reasons why locally-made products in Scotland may be experiencing a resurgence in popularity
Just down the street from Hampden Park in the southside of Glasgow, there is a small oasis called Sunshine No.1. The independent art, gift, and card shop is owned by Suzi Nicol (no relation!), who herself is a jeweller and candle maker. Sunshine No.1 is unique in that it only sells products created by artists and makers who are based in Scotland.
The shop has an array of different products, that range from homeware to art. Since opening her shop four years ago, Nicol has seen an increase in interest for locally designed products.
“I think the standard has got better,” Nicol said. “There used to be this perception that if you bought a locally made product, then it wasn’t necessarily of great quality. But actually, I think local makers and artists have got much better at creating things of really good standard, which people now recognise.”
She added: “There’s also been an increase of shops around the Glasgow area and around Scotland that showcase locally made products, so the word is getting out there. So, the more the word is out there, the more people who are going out and shopping locally.”
Clare West works as an assistant at Sunshine No. 1 and also runs Clare’s Handmade Delights. She makes the aprons, kitchen linens, bunting, cushions and seasonal gifts which are sold in the shop. She believes that the eco-movement has played a role in the increasing interest in locally made products.
“Before there were only so many people who would buy independent goods,” said West. “You have to pay more and obviously not everyone can, but I think more people are aware of what they’re spending their money on and thinking, ‘Actually, I’m not going to go into Tesco or Debenhams or wherever, I’m going to go to the local shop and support my high street.’
“More and more people are doing it, and I can see this because over the last four years, takings for me, and I believe Sunshine No.1, have gone up. There is a lot of customer loyalty as well. If previous customers need to get a gift, often their immediate thought is ‘I’ll go to Sunshine No.1.’”
Cubby’s Salve creator Margaret Ozgur makes a range of natural skincare products which are sold at Sunshine No. 1. She believes that it is important that people support local artists and makers to prevent big companies from dominating the marketplace.
She explained: “You just need to look around at your average high street and it’s just tragic. We don’t have wee local makers anymore, it’s all huge superstores and personally I don’t like them, I avoid them. I think it’s really important for community spirit as well, it’s something I really believe in personally and I just prefer the whole experience of being local.”
Video: Jacob Nicol
West believes that locally made products have an individuality to them that you do not get with mass-produced products. She said: “You’re getting something that is made by someone from scratch. They’ve put their heart into it. They’ve designed it and made it themselves, rather than it going through a manufacturing process.”
Nicol believes that supporting local makers and artists is also good for the local economy for several reasons. “Many of these big global companies which we see on high street don’t pay their taxes here,” she explained. “A lot of them have tax loopholes, so many of them avoid keeping money in the UK, and obviously it’s important as a country we prosper as much as possible.”
She added: “If you’re buying things from small businesses locally, it keeps our high streets interesting and viable, it gives jobs locally, and it keeps them spending money in the local economy. It’s important we provide low-level personal support and keep that in our local communities.”
However, being an independent artist and maker does come with its own challenges. “Having self-motivation is very important,” said West. “No one is standing telling you what to do, so you have to come up with your own ideas, you’ve then got to get up, do it and keep doing it.”
“There’s also self-belief. You can often struggle, thinking, ‘Why am I doing this, is it good enough?’ Then you’ve got good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months. Once you’ve been doing it for several years you realise that there’s always these peaks and troughs.”
Yet despite these challenges, West is not too concerned about the potential impact of Brexit on her business, “I’ve had little twinges of worry now and then, but nothing’s happened so far. Actually, I think what has happened is there’s been more of a resurgence to buy in these independent shops, and it’s actually the big stores that are going out of business.”
Nicol has similar sentiments about what Brexit could mean for Sunshine No. 1. “The feeling up until recently has been that people are really holding back on their spending, and I’ve been quite aware of that,” she said. “But because nothing is happening with Brexit, I think gradually people have started spending again recently. If we start having trouble importing things from abroad, some of the other shops might have to start buying from British makers, because they’re not been able to import from France or Italy or Spain.
“The problem is it’s completely unknown. That’s the biggest worry, what will the impact be? Hopefully, from my perspective, because I only buy products from Scotland, it’ll be that people will support locally-made stuff even more, but it’s hard to know.”