Well Street, E9
Ever since Well Street gained fame in 1919 for being the place where Jack Cohen started his trade on the street market, only to open up the first Tesco a few years later, Well Street has been a popular spot for all kinds of traders. As a vibrant area full of creatives, it was no surprise when the council decided in 2016 to re-launch the street market giving artists and makers a platform to showcase their work. Despite a successful summer, the market closed only one year later. What had started with plenty of optimism ended in harsh reality: Well street doesn’t naturally have a lot of footfall. But that hasn’t stopped shop owners following their visions.
Well street is everyone’s wellness hub. Never crowded, it provides cozy restaurants, spiritual shops, concept stores and curated cafes. Here you can meet and greet witches (yes, really), buy rare crystals for each mood, get your chakras aligned, do yoga and attend love healing ceremonies and sound baths. You can buy handmade beauty products, vintage clothing or actual fossils. Even a tiny natural history museum has popped up. You can live your freelance life enjoying roasted coffee with your avocado-salmon breakfast while working on your laptop.
Sitting remotely between the fashionable Hackney Walk and Victoria Park, I decided to talk to the shop owners to find out more about their personal passion projects.
Next to The Grand Howl Café sits Rekindled vintage shop and it has stood its ground for over six years now. Owner Jackie Dacres has a real talent in styling her window displays and they’ve inspired me more than once to go in. Sitting down behind a huge pile of clothes for an impromptu interview, I wonder how she has managed to run a successful business without using any online presence to start out with. “As a shopper, I like to touch and feel”, explains Jackie. “Maybe that’s what’s delaying me in opening up an online shop, even though customers keep asking me about it. But I have discovered that I enjoy photography, using my iPad”, she laughs. “I really enjoy Instagram now and then but I don’t pay for followers”.
Jackie prefers to interact with real people instead. She knows her customers and the atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. “In this area everybody wants to look different, and the best way to look different is to wear vintage. Soon I will offer upcycling and also teach how to sew.” A girl walks in and asks to try on the green dress she has seen in the window. When Jackie is giving advice, she is truly in her element. “I have worked in high end fashion in Knightsbridge for years. I just love talking about clothes. And it’s important to me that customers walk out happy with their purchase. So I prefer to be honest. If an item doesn’t fit or suit your skin tone, I will tell you. I have never had a return.” Probably the reason why Rekindled is still going strong. A.M.
A few doors down I pop into Still Life, a newly opened curated cafe that celebrates natural history millennial style. The first thing I notice is the back side of a stuffed zebra poking out of a wall, directly above a classic bar display with a very instagram-able tilt. I choose to sit opposite a boar and next to a peacock. The vegan mushrooms on toasted sourdough with turmeric yoghurt is surprisingly spicy and full of flavour, and I’m nowhere near being vegan. Aidan, the owner, reveals that this place is his passion project which took him five years to launch. “Growing up in Yorkshire in the countryside I have always been into nature. As a child I would collect sheep skulls, leaves and sea shells and I got a real sense of wonder from them. London used to have lots of private museums that display natural curiosities and I’m trying to bring that back. This is my personal take on it.” And this take on nature is pretty-in-pink.
If you expect an eerie showroom full of stuffed freaky somethings you’re in for a surprise. White original V&A cabinets are set against dusty pink walls and showcase a carefully selected array of skulls, pink sea shells, butterflies and meteorites, next to handwritten captions. “I change the collection and move things around all the time in a passionate amateur fashion,” explains Aidan. “It is important to me that I can create a space that includes everyone. My cheapest hot drink is £1. We also do work shops, life drawing, open mic sessions and I even had elementary school classes coming for a visit. It is an event space for everyone.”
The eclectic mix of concept stores offer so much more than just products or coffee. As Aidan puts it, “you have to do more than just one thing, and you have to do more than one thing well.” What used to be a hidden East London rarity might be on its way to become a destination in its own right.