Sisterhood is a social enterprise, co-founded by Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson, both Central Saint Martins alumni. They run creative design programmes in schools across the UK, with a focus on building confidence in young girls through social-action projects. Their big mission? To help girls with a dream become women with a vision.
As winners of our brand-new Space for Ideas category – Space for Change – they got to appear across 2,224 square feet in Covent Garden. A high-ceilinged, light-filled space in Slingsby Place was home for two weeks to Strong Lead, a bookshop and storytelling lab aimed at getting diverse voices on the shelf. Their hero product? A self-published anthology, Find Me Among Them, written by eleven teenage girls who took part in the Sisterhood programme this past year. Through prose and poetry, they explore issues of identity, equality, and justice.
For the shop design, it was only fitting that we paired such an inspiring enterprise with Marble Ldn, an award-winning live experience comms agency and a frequent partner of Appear Here.
“Working with Marble gave us so much understanding into how retail works. They helped us turn our vision into a reality, and amplified the possibility of the space,” says Rebecca. “[We learned about] how people engage with a shop… that eye-catching walls will encourage people to come in from off the street. And it’s not just about catching people’s eyes, but people’s hearts as well. And [the shop] has captured such a diverse group of people”.
Bella Gent is an account director at Marble and the design brains behind this project. We caught up with Bella in Mumbai, where she’s currently based, working on a new venture within Marble.
Strong Lead, the bookshop and storytelling lab created by Sisterhood, just launched in Covent Garden. It looks amazing!
It’s been a magical project, and really inspiring to work with [Sisterhood founders] Rachita and Rebecca. They had a very clear vision to create a space that nurtures a community that celebrates underrepresented voices. It was great to bring this to life.
What were the initial conversations with Sisterhood like? Walk us through the design process.
From the beginning, they had a very detailed brief and clear vision. The idea they approached us with was a ‘storytelling lab and bookshop’, with an aim to sell their Find Me Among Them anthology comprising ten stories from girls aged 14-15 in London. This book amplifies the diverse voices, experiences and narratives of young people – in particular females – whilst exploring issues of race, inequality, prejudice and justice. The idea of the lab was twofold; first to promote the Sisterhood book, and also to act as an aspirational space for other young people, and be an environment where diversity, creativity and equality are actively encouraged and nurtured. The audience group are young readers and adults (12-25) and parents, or people of influence, such as Creative Directors, Heads of, CEO’s, Founders, Creative Entrepreneurs, so the space needed to attract this range.
The feeling needed to be welcoming and tactile, to represent the book in a physical space, to generate creative thinking in the workshops and for community building. They needed the ability to fill in the blanks with the books and other creations by the girls: a space they could make their own. The environment needed to be warm and friendly, so the girls could feel comfortable in their surroundings and unleash their creativity. We included a mixture of raw woods, greenery, and pops of colour creating a bright, light, and inviting space.
We developed various designs with Rebecca and Rachita, and then refined them once Appear Here were able to confirm the Covent Garden space, which was perfect. We had a very clear vision for the bookshop to be downstairs and visible from street level, with a seating area upstairs to host workshops and events. We wanted to create a space that was flexible, so we chose furniture that could be easily moved around.
It’s crazy to think about how much has changed since your first conversations happened. Was this all done remotely?
We started working together around a year ago, so the early days of Covid, not anticipating we'd still be in the same situation a year later. Whilst it feels like we've met, we’ve only ever met via Zoom and did the whole thing remotely. It’s just been amazing how it all came together and how we've adapted with the situation.
Luckily the space is large and very open. Good for social distancing.
Storytelling and social media are pretty inseparable these days. How did that play into the design of the space?
That was thought about throughout the design process. We knew it needed to be a space that was photogenic and could be published on social media.
Its purpose led our designs all the way through; a space to promote and sell their book and act as an aspirational space for the girls, and be an environment where diversity, creativity and equality are actively encouraged and nurtured to develop their unique voices. With this in mind, we wanted to ensure it was energising, vibrant, welcoming, and eye-catching. On the main wall, there are ten illustrations of the girls who wrote the book. We wanted to pull what was inside the book outside into the space, creating a blend between the two.
We added a projector so they could stream video content and worked closely with Rebecca on the signage, which built on the book illustrations, tying in the bold colours of the Sisterhood brand. A flower wall was upstairs in the workshop space, to work as a creative backdrop and add vibrancy to the space.
By creating a welcoming environment, we also reflected the purpose of the space, which focuses on storytelling from a diverse range of authors and characters.
It’s a massive space. Any general guidance about designing for a big space on a budget?
It’s a large space, but it’s light-filled and beautiful, with great features such as wooden floor boards and a winding staircase. The size and layout was beneficial for what they were trying to achieve, so whilst it was big it was great to work with.
This is why we brought in strong colour elements. Adding visual interest through varying heights – which we achieved with different plinths placed around the space – it’s really important to have these different levels to keep your eye engaged and elevate the space.
Greenery of course always enlivens an environment too. That mix of different textures – woods, fabrics, greenery, different painted colours – is important.
So you can do a lot with a space, even with very little.
Rachita and Rebecca were inspired to launch Sisterhood after graduating from Central St Martins and noting that there weren’t as many women going on from higher education to pursue creative careers. How did this project speak to you, as a woman in design?
I think it’s very important - I can really relate to this. I read History of Art and have always been into the arts and design. Leaving university, I didn’t have the confidence to pursue it as a career because I just felt that I wouldn’t be able to succeed. Choosing event design was a perfect mix of my skill set to build confidence in design.
I think [Sisterhood’s mission] is really important and very relevant, and it’s not spoken about enough. People naturally presume they should shy away from the creative industries, but it just takes confidence.