Issue 203
May/June 2018

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Jun 21, 2018
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    A very fair Exchange…

    'Retail rebel' Lynzi Leroy, with some timely business advice

    WITH MORE shops than ever closing across the country, it's good to know of at least one retailer reversing the downward trend. Lynzi Leroy, known as Scotland's 'retail rebel' is the founder of the Scottish Design Exchange (SDX).

    Lynzi, a Borderer, travelled the world working in the oil and gas industry before growing tired of the corporate world and what she described as "a culture of greed and excess – where profit came before people and planet."

    What she wanted to do was to create a business that shared profits and made real social impacts.

    Her idea? A shop that gave artists and designers a display space for a small rent – then use that rent to cover costs and employ sales staff. Her primary purpose however, was to give each artist full proceeds from the sale of their products. Starting on a shoestring budget, with just ten artists and a dogged determination, the Scottish Design Exchange was born.

    Now almost three years later, the Scottish Design Exchange is in full swing in Leith's Ocean Terminal shopping centre, with over 100 artists and designers displaying their creations and five paid staff who know about the artists and will readily tell the story behind each creation. It works. Who doesn't like a purchase with a human story behind it?

    It's a social business model which benefits shoppers, artists and designers and, boosts the local economy. Based on two floors in Ocean Terminal, the SDX is open seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

    Both collective and commercial, the SDX has a diverse range of Scottish talent – from fashion designers to chocolatiers and furniture makers, all working to share the costs of creating and running a thriving store, where customers can buy locally made items, knowing that the manufacturers will be benefiting directly from their support. The public enjoy not just buying locally, but buying straight from the designers themselves.

    Lynzi has created a model that shares rather than hordes profits and proved that it is possible to give unfettered access to a market with high visibility, zero commission and full payment to those who create, produce and grow.

    "We are so stuck in traditional business approaches," says Lynzi, "that it is difficult to break the mould.

    "I wanted to challenge the arts world by cutting out the commission takers and mark-up agents who will extract up to 80% – forcing artists and designers to forfeit the lion's share of the earnings from their creative work."

    "We have demonstrated that business can be about people and that their resourcefulness, energy and willingness to collaborate is all the capital needed to start a business." The exchange has turned over £ 1.1 million in under three years, and handed over £ 800,000 to hard-working local artists.

    But, there is more to SDX than a healthy balance sheet. Almost two thirds of the 300 artists and designers the shop has supported reported prior episodes of poor mental health. So, not only has a business been created that rewards artists financially – they also join a welcoming and supportive community.

    The stories of people whose lives have been reclaimed and revitalised is truly inspiring. One artist describes it like this:

    "Becoming part of SDX was a new beginning in my life. I was at home, with a big depression – feeling completely isolated from the world and society. SDX helped to get a purpose in my life and I am not being dramatic or over reacting. SDX really did save my life." She is now a best seller at the shop.

    Ninety two year old artist John Donald Cochrane (he likes to be called Donald) describes his need to keep producing works as an obsession. "I just want to paint," he says.

    Donald's paintings were first brought to light by a series of coincidental meetings – a new chapter was born and he now shows his Scottish landscapes and abstract works at the SDX. Although now alone in his small sheltered home, Donald's paintings attract a great deal of attention and each painting or print bought brings a wide smile to his face. His advice to anyone approaching later years is this: "Find your talent and make something of it. Keep your brain active and never be afraid to try something new."

    Lynzi adds, "It's been a great joy to see people whose lives were on a downward spiral picked up and flourishing at SDX. Some sixty per cent of our artists and designers report prior episodes of poor mental health while one hundred per cent spoke of social isolation and loneliness."

    Newly appointed Business Development Manager Mairi Munn says: "This great idea which has taken root in Leith will soon extend into other parts of Scotland. SDX is an example of Scotland challenging the status quo and it has already proven that a retailer that gives the lion's share to those who create and produce can thrive."

    Mike Stevenson, Chair at SDX sums it up: "Not only does SDX give pleasure and unique value to many thousands each year, it also represents the kind of disruption our economy badly needs. As chair, I want to shout about it from the rooftops and promote the model as replicable across a range of market sectors."

    What next is in store? SDX has secured a shop in Glasgow's Buchanan Galleries and hopes to open in June 2018. And other cities may follow.

    Watch this space.

    Frances Anderson

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