Debbie Bryan's Got Nottingham's Best Independent Business

12 July 17 words: Alex Kuster

Last year, lace lover Debbie Bryan was awarded Nottingham’s Best Independent Business as part of It’s In Nottingham’s Independents Festival. In her quaint, Lace Market shop, she does Crafternoons, supper clubs, and keeps her trinket-adorned tea room stocked with the tastiest of cakes. We sat down with the woman herself to talk all things textiles, and to see how things have been going since her commendation…

When did your passion for fashion and textiles start?
I’ve always had an interest in heritage textiles. It was one of the reasons I applied to study at Nottingham Trent; because of the city’s textile history. Plus, they’re known for their fantastic design courses. Something I loved about Nottingham was that it had a reputation for being the heart of the country’s textile industry.

My tutor, Cathy Chandler, also had this amazing interest in textile heritage. She introduced me to Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington – where I had an exhibition as an undergrad – and also G.H.Hurt & Son, who turned out to be my sponsors for many years. I found myself making friendships with so many people who shared the same interest in local history.

I always wanted to have a studio in the Lace Market. When we made the decision to become a “proper shop”, I was bowled over with the amount of people who came through the door and were excited to see something happening in the Lace Market. My motives for being here were all about the love of the area.

You have so much going on with your Crafternoons...
When we first opened, I had a chat with a friend of mine, Caroline Aiken, about getting people through the door and about experience-led activities and creative classes.

It was all about focusing on wellbeing; when you’re being creative, you’re in the moment and doing it for yourself. What we focus on is looking after you, and providing the tea and cake. In the early days, we had quite low numbers, sometimes only one person turned up. We wouldn’t cancel on them. We’d always try and make sure that they were looked after, and it became part of what we were doing. We use really good materials in our Crafternoons. Because we’re all creative, we know good textiles.

How’s everything going with the tearoom?
One of the most amazing things is that our demographic has really broadened. We get families and children, because everyone understands tea and cake. We get lots more young people, too, which is lovely. We wanted the values of the shop to come across in the tearoom; catering for everyone, and offering something different to the high street. We researched gluten-free and vegan alternatives, and worked with our vegan goddess Rebecca, from Willow and Dove. We also worked really hard to find vegan champagne.

You’re in the Lace Market, delving into its heritage through various projects, and have turned so much material into really special pieces of art. Where did you find the old lace designs and drawings?
I always collect stuff for inspiration and I’ve collected lace over the years. I’m a real hoarder. When we first opened, the Nottingham Post did an article on us featuring a lace motif that I’d hand-dyed and embellished, then I’d cast it in one of my resin brooches. At the time, I was doing a lot of trade in America; they really loved this British heritage brand.

Unbelievably, Nick Povey had a factory at Mapperley Top and when he read this article, he came into the shop, said “I designed and made that lace”, and he came to sell me some. We’d only been open a couple of months, so I was blown away. I didn’t realise that there were any lace manufacturers still producing lace embroidery. We went up to see him; he was amazing and so enthusiastic about what he was doing. Nick knew that I was just starting out, and I was really interested in the design process. He showed me these draftsman drawings, and I had never seen anything like them before, so I bought them.

It took me a while to know what to do with them. I had a chat with my boyfriend Phil and thought about the values of my business; it has to be local, authentic and handmade. Those drawings do all of that. They fit all the criteria. In that second, I started looking at them as a piece of artwork and they put us on a path that we’re really happy to be on. You have to remember we were opening our business in a recession, down a back alley where lots of places were closing, and this made us unique.

You were crowned Nottingham’s Best Independent Business last year. A belated congratulations!
We’re feeling so proud, last year was amazing. This year, all that happiness and enthusiasm has come back tenfold. What’s so exciting about the awards and the festival is that it puts the spotlight on all areas of independent businesses, and that’s what needed to happen. It really encourages people to have a voice, and to shout about the places they’re proud to go to and help grow their success. Plus, the business support network is great; both universities, the councils and The Creative Quarter have been absolutely fantastic.

What was the selection process like?
The voting starts with the customers, and then it goes to a panel. They then come along to your business to check you out, which is really scary. It’s pretty thorough. We were really pleased that we made it all the way to the final, never mind winning it. The whole thing created an amazing atmosphere among the independents; it was a massive celebration.

In Nottingham, small businesses have a really good peer-to-peer support network. We’re quite unique in that we work together and celebrate each other’s success to build the brand of the city. We really are a team. What we want is people seeing independents as a real competitor to the high street.

Which of Nottingham’s independent businesses is your favourite?
I love Ideas on Paper [magazine shop in Cobden Chambers]. We met Alex when he was talking about what he was going to do, and what’s been exciting is seeing him actually do it. We always recommend Alex and, of course, it sends people to Cobden Chambers. We always get our staff Christmas presents from there; it’s so unique.

What can we look forward to during this year’s Nottingham Independents Festival?
On Saturday 8 July we’re running a free Crafternoon where people can come and make their own shopper bag out of a T-shirt. Then on Tuesday 18 July, it’s our eighth birthday so we’re having a little party. You know; a bit of craft, and a bit of a tipple.

Debbie Bryan, 18 St Mary’s Gate, The Lace Market, NG1 1PF. 0115 950 7776

Debbie Bryan website

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