Shopkeeper Dispatches: Worn

22 Sep 2020

Over lockdown, we asked local shopkeepers to document their daily lives for the Shopkeeper Dispatches. For the fourth dispatch in the series, Bella Buchanan, founder of London luxury rental platform Worn, gives her account of life under lockdown – from fearing her store would never reopen, to launching a second.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

Monday 16th March, a week before lockdown

I only live a few streets away from the Worn store in Brompton Road, so my morning walk with my coffee is my me-time. Today, things were different. Arriving at the coffee shop, I was greeted with shutters. There have been rumours in store about a lockdown – I guess some are starting to take them seriously.

Worn was always going to have a physical store, because real-life retail experiences are so important to me – I think I’m the only person I know who doesn’t shop online! There’s something about the atmosphere that makes the store a real social hub for my regulars. I’m often told that encouraging people to buy less is an odd way of doing business, but it’s clearly one that the locals love. Right now, though, the virus is the hot topic and there are much fewer people in the store than usual. I can’t help but feel the two are connected. I’ve always been quite obsessive about keeping the store immaculate and clean, but I’m getting anxious that it now might not be enough.

Wednesday 18th March, three days before lockdown

Today was undoubtedly the most stressful day for the business so far. My pregnant business partner was helping me in the shop when we were told that there was going to be a full-lockdown in the next few days. We both looked at each other, and instantly knew what we had to do. We spent the rest of the day frantically packing up, not knowing whether we’d set foot back in the store again. It’s funny how things like this never feel real until they’re on your doorstep. I’ve been trying to get in touch with clients all day, but they don’t want to leave the house to pick up their items. And, to top it all off, I have a persistent cough...

Saturday 30th May, two months into lockdown

After spending a whole month self-isolating solo, it’s been an absolute godsend to escape to the countryside to see my family. These past few months came with some insane challenges, but the Worn team really stood up to the mark. I felt it was my responsibility as a business owner to not make any of my wonderful team redundant, so I didn’t. Instead, I reduced their hours so they could still get a paycheck under lockdown. I’ve been working on my skills too, I redesigned the entire website (although I think it looks like a ten-year-old did it) and today, we’re having a socially-distanced ecommerce photoshoot to jazz it up. I’m hoping the website will help Worn to grow without the store open – I can’t tell you how much I miss it.

Monday 15th June, non-essential businesses reopen

When Boris gave non-essential retail the green light last week, the adrenaline really kicked in. Before I knew it, I was on the first train back to London and spent the whole weekend setting the store up. It was shocking to see the streets so empty, to see the city I love going through the pandemic, but it was also so inspiring to see its communities still coming together. The Worn community was no different.

It feels incredible to see regulars I haven’t seen in months. Instead of spending ten minutes in the store, we spend hours catching up and talking about how much they missed the store. There’s more demand for styling now that we’ve all got events to look forward too, as well as Worn-designed masks. There could definitely be something in that. Walking home down Chiltern Street, I see an empty space. Growing up around here, I always dreamed of having a store on this street.

Monday 29th June, launch day on Chiltern Street

Remember the empty space on Chiltern Street? I got it. It’s crazy to think about just how long I wanted a space on this street and how quickly the stars aligned. I wanted it just for a pop-up and it turns out the landlord had a few weeks in between tenants.

After lockdown, there seemed to be this moment where businesses had to make a decision to be really careful for a little while or use the time to take some risks. We are a small company so the latter just made more sense for us.

The landlord gave me the keys on Friday and I’ve been working over the weekend to open today. Sure, it seems like a weird time to be doubling down, but while the market is moving slowly, I feel like now is the time for small businesses to take some risks.

I had butterflies in my stomach as I added the finishing touches this morning – putting up the vinyls and arranging the pre-loved furniture. I find it almost meditative. I know it’s odd to say, but when it’s just me setting up in the store, it feels like it’s day one of my business again.