Liverpool’s retail heart, compact and relatively car-free, takes – what, twenty minutes to walk across? Transplant it into London’s retail core and Bold Street to James Street wouldn’t even cover the distance from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road. That’s not a shopping trip – that’s just a warm up. So you’d think, wouldn’t you, that within its tight precincts, location wouldn’t really be an issue for city centre shoppers.

Yet still, Liverpool ONE exerts such a pull that, for all their proximity, Renshaw Street, London Road and Lime Street might as well be in Macclesfield these days.

Odd, that, isn’t it? That just a few hundred yards can mean the difference between life and death, sink or swim. And, for that matter, a couple of extra zeros on the business rates.

Who’s to blame? Liverpool ONE? Or, whisper it, us? When did walking a couple of extra minutes, like, matter? At this rate, we’ll soon be too lazy to scrub our feet, and pay for a shoal of fish to… oh…

Fortunately, Liverpool’s not short of destination retail and leisure outlets – the Bold Street Coffees, TJ Hughes and Olive Trees of the city show that if you offer something distinctive, know your onions, or treat your customers with care, we’ll somehow summon up the energy to walk those extra 200 yards.

Really, we’re all heart.

We’ll be celebrating some of our outer limits traders over the next few weeks and months – so do let us have your suggestions.

Hope and Winkle anchors the top end of Bold Street with its vintage, retro and handmade accessories – taking ‘make do and mend’ to stylish new heights, and, in doing so, creating a range of affordable accessories with a distinct DNA: heirlooms with a sharp, contemporary aesthetic – always in demand for stylists looking to add a touch of drama, and individuality, to a high street fashion photo shoot.

The brand started two years ago by Liverpool designer, Helen Hope (pic r), a textiles graduate from Liverpool John Moores with an eye for finding the beauty, and potential, in the cameos, brooches and necklaces others have relegated to the big jewellery box in the sky. For Hope, extending an item’s shelf life isn’t about frugality, it’s about eeking out a new life for old gems. There’s probably a sage aphorism there if you’re in the market for one.

Hope’s singular style earned her a Textprint Design Award, and a showcase in Paris, where her first capsule jewellery collection was received with great success – winning contracts for Spanish label, Custo, and childrens wear for retail behemoth Tesco.

“I started by own business here because I was unhappy in London and I felt passionate about wanting job satisfaction and a salary in which I could enjoy a comfortable standard of living. Liverpool just felt right.”

Securing help from the Prince’s Trust, Liverpool Vision and Train 2000 Hope says it was the business advice, more than the hard cash, which really helped her set her stall out to its best advantage. “The Prince’s Trust, especially, were amazing. They taught me how to prioritise and focus on what’s important and try not to stress over the small stuff that can sometime weigh you down.”

“Being your own boss is an amazing feeling, you take the highs on your own but unfortunately the lows too. I made the mistake of being too trusting in the beginning and got my fingers burnt several times. I’m tougher now,” Hope says.

Her confidence is evident in Hope and Winkle’s bold, dramatic forms, striking use of colour, and the fearless way she collides materials and styles, like a giddy child let loose in her mum’s closet.

“Word of mouth was really important in the beginning, I contacted magazines an local newspapers myself to tell them about what I was doing and received quite a bit of press,” says Hope, who’s planning a trip to Asia later this year, to grab inspiration – and materials – for her next range.

“I take ideas from what’s around me,” she says. “With many of our customers based in Liverpool it’s important to know what works within the city. Fortunately Liverpudlians really have their own sense of style…”

But what of town’s shrinking perimeters? Hope and Winkle lies beyond Bold Street’s traffic-calmed, Starbucks colonized lower-half. Here, at the top of the town, chain stores, charity muggers and linen-covered ghost-buskers are hard to find. As, some days, are shoppers too.

“Bold street is a difficult one, it’s got a great vibe to it and some brilliant smaller shops,” Hope says. “There is a really quirky feel that definitely attracts a certain type of customer, but the area tends to get ignored by most people because of the city’s recent developments. It’s hard,” she admits.

“We had to go with what was affordable, but you always have that inner battle, of whether you’d be better off closer to Liverpool ONE, and risking paying the higher rates.

“I have friends who’ve taken the plunge lower down and it’s true, they are much busier. But they tell me that, despite this, they’re still struggling because of the high overheads. It seems to be the same where ever you go. Everyone’s fighting for their customers these days.”

It’s why Hope and Winkle is developing its strong on-line presence, why their next collection will be geared strongly towards the wholesale market, and why Hope’s creating an online sister clothing brand, Heirloom Apparel. The view from the top of Bold Street has at least one advantage: from up here, you can spot the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm and do what you can to prepare.

“I’d much rather be in the position I’m in – working hard and loving what I’m doing than working for someone else and worrying about redundancies, and overheads, or the fact that your high street competitors will always be able to source something just as good that’s manufactured for half the price in China.”

There is another variable to all this, of course, and it goes back to the point we were making at the top of the feature. Us.

“I feel customers in Liverpool don’t seem to have the same loyalties in supporting local markets similar to the kind I’ve experienced in London, or in Leeds and Manchester,” Hope admits with a shrug.

“Maybe what Liverpool really needs is its own version of Camden or Portobello market,” Hope says. SevenStreets suggests Manchester’s excellent Craft and Design Centre is another model we could look to.

“Yes,” Hope agrees, “I’ve never understood why this has never been addressed by the Council.”

While we wait, Hope and Winkle’s baubles continue to make like a beacon, summoning the faithful up the hill for the thrill of finding something you’re just never going to unearth in a month of rummaging down town.

“The important thing is for a business to provide what its customer wants,” Hope says. “With us, it’s that every one of our pieces tells its own story and can make you stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons…”

Not something you’re ever likely to get from H&M, really, is it?

Hope and Winkle,
Petticoat Lane, Bold Street

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