#Your Pound: Meet the Trader – The Turpentine

Brixton Pound is a currency which encourages social connections, and so it is our pleasure to be introducing you to B£ traders as well as B£ users on our blog. This week, we’re featuring the creative hub The Turpentine, home to our shiny B£ t-shirts and B£ pay-by-tap pioneers!

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“People really like them, especially the purple one!” says Amber, one of The Turpentine‘s co-founders. “They are also really good quality, the design is durable and doesn’t come out in the wash. We’ve had so many happy customers.”

The beginnings of The Turpentine go way back, and start with friends connecting friends. Co-founder Alice, who was living in Berlin at the time, introduced Amber and Jude at a friend’s dinner: “I knew Jude always dreamed of opening a coffee shop, and Amber wanted to set up something of her own, too, so I thought I’d connect them. Some time later I moved back, and they were already working on a project together!” They started will selling artwork at street markets, to then find a temporary home at Effra Social. Jude: “We would do markets there: have 20 tables with the stuff from our artists, workshops, music and dancing. It was such a great way to get to know people, find out what they wanted, what worked well – to get an idea of what our market was, and if what we were doing was falling on good ground.” Then one day Alice walked past the unit where to shop is today on Coldharbour Lane, and noticed it was available: “I called them up there and then, and couldn’t believe our luck when we got it! We never thought we could afford to open a permanent space in Brixton, we expected our offer to be rejected.. so when we actually got it we needed to do some frantic planning, fast!”

The name is a result of three nights’ worth of brainstorming. Jude: “We wanted something that combined a shop space with our workshops, something accessible, catchy, gender-neutral, art-based… and what had a domain name still up for grabs!”, she laughs. “Since then it’s been a constant learning process: the planning was easy, but then actually doing it! At one stage we just had to open, and realised we didn’t really think what was going to happen past that point. Amber had a lot of retail experience, but we didn’t yet have all the little systems you’ve got to have in place to make it all running smoothly.” Alice adds: “It was also a learning experience to work from home, with only one team meeting in the week – we don’t have any office space. But a year after opening, we’ve doubled the number of artists whose work we showcase, from 50 to over a hundred. We’ve seen people wearing our t-shirts at Brixton Academy gigs. Walking around Brixton there’s so much greeting and waving, because so many local people have been to our workshops.  And we just hired our first employee! It’s a big milestone. But the best feeling is probably the realisation that it’s actually happening: no more office jobs, this is our life now, and we’re loving every bit of it! We’re building something that’s ours, and since we’re best friends, we’re working with people we love and trust, and that’s amazing.”

“It’s been really great having all the positive feedback from customers. And that Guardian article has helped us a lot! We’re finally at the stage when we can start planning a bit more from the future, not just living from month from month and figuring out. And it never gets old: getting packages with new artwork delivered is like Christmas every day! It’s so exciting to see any new thing or design for the first time.”

The Turpentine's first own collection of lasercut wood jewellery

The Turpentine’s first own collection of lasercut wood jewellery

Amber is The Turpentine‘s curator, and works to maintain the shop’s distinctive feel: fun, accessible, bright, affordable – and finds new artists who fit into these themes: “We’re always looking for more artists, particularly locals. We’re into nice handmade things for not loads of money – something different to what you can find on the high street.” “But we’re on a high street!”, interjects Alice, “We’re literally bringing handmade to the high street, that’s our motto.”

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Three new sets of notebooks available at The Turpentine: feminists, anti-capitalists, and existentialists

Amazing artwork is not all that The Turpentine has to offer: they also specialise in workshops. Jude’s a jewellery designer and teacher, and also “a collector of weird craft techniques, which I like passing on. Lots of people are reluctant to try crafting because it can seem daunting, but most really enjoy it when they try – and it’s not that hard! We’re here to help break that barrier, enable people to use their creativity, give them some key principles they can then take away to do at home.”

Their most popular workshop is called Drink & Draw, and is currently booked out months in advance. Alice: “That was the one featured in the Guardian so it became even more popular. It also slotted well into the New Years Resolutions feel around the time the article was published. But we have lots more! A really awesome one is Wax Casting – you make a ring by carving it in wax, then casting in silver. You can make really unusual shapes, it’s very simple and you come out with an amazing one-off piece. You can also easily do it at home, the tools aren’t expensive which is not a common thing in jewellery design. It’s a really easy access to jewellery making, you should try it!” Watch this space, maybe we’ll expand our B£ collection from t-shirts to rings! 😉

The next big workshops The Turpentine is preparing will be a more in-depth, four week long painting course. “We’ve had lots of interest for life drawing, particularly from local people, so we thought we’d expand into painting too. It’s just great to see these ideas that started in our heads and see them work out! Also to meet customers, hear stories, have all these interactions you wouldn’t otherwise have. Some people do come from afar, even Essex, usually for Drink & Draw of the Guardian fame, but it’s the local connections that matter, and those are the people we’ll recognise and greet when walking around Brixton.”

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The Turpentine started accepting B£s pretty soon after opening: “The charming Tom came in one day and offered to sign us up, and we were glad to get involved. We were very flattered when he then approached us for a collaboration. We met with him and the note designer, Charlie, and the ideas for the t-shirts were born. Jude, our in-house designer did the designs, and the rest is history! People love those shirts, some have no idea about the currency so we tell them all about it, and more often then not they leave with a t-shirt in tow. People do B£ pay-by-text a lot, and now we also have the contactless terminal, so we’re excited to have pay-by-tap too!”

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The three best friends live in a triangle around the shop: in Brixton, Herne Hill, and just by the Jamm. Jude and Alice first moved South together as flatmates in 2003: to Elephant & Castle, and then to Stockwell. Amber worked in Photofusion at the time. Jude did jewellery design at St Martins, and then taught architecture and 3D design for five years. Making jewellery was her hobby, and now that it’s also her work she finds it hard not to do things that are Turpentine related… “I did just start singing lessons! And I love mooching about in Brixton. I live near Brockwell Park so always go there. And I love Las Americas, a Colombian caf with street food on top of Brixton Station Road. Their shredded beef is incredible.” Amber and Alice: “And why have you not taken us there yet? Sounds like the next Turpentine dinner!” Alice is an avid cyclist, and likes that she can take her bike into the market when she’s buying fruit and veg. “I mainly shop in the outdoor market but Nour Cash & Carry is great too. I like Casa Morita for Mexican food. I finally went to Mama Lan the other day after years of going past it – I just hate queues, and it’s always busy!” Amber had her wedding reception at the Trinity Arms: “It’s an amazing old pub, I love the place, and it never gets so busy you can’t have a conversation. I like the Ritzy too – I’m about to have a baby so it’s less pubs and more cinema. I like Brixton because there’s always something new, like graffiti. Did you see the new one on the back of the library, with the Jurassic Park computer guy?”

“We’re really lucky, it’s rare to have best friends working together, and it’s great that there’s three of us, cause it’s a lot of work to share! The shop is open every day, and we do workshops three evenings each week and they’re usually sold out.. But it never gets overwhelming, we support each other, it’s not like either of us has to do it all by herself, and that’s great. As Brixton residents and business owners we have mixed feelings about the fast pace of some changes. Of course it’s good for our business that Brixton is now a destination and more people come here, but some changes are happening too fast and there’s a danger they will erode the community. For us personally it means that if we have to move, we’ll have to move further away, which is sad – Brixton was so welcoming when we were setting up, people here are so supportive and curious, that sets it apart from the rest of London. Of course we’re part of that change, but we came to Brixton because it was vibrant and different – it’s sad we might lose that. We worry about the spirit of Brixton, but we hope it endures.”