Lizzie! For those of us that haven’t heard of you or your beautiful store, SMUG, before- can you introduce yourself…
Hi there! I’m Lizzie Evans and I own a lifestyle store in Islington called SMUG. I set up the shop over 7 years ago now in Camden Passage – one of Islington’s best kept secrets. We’re spread out over 3 floors, selling stationery, homewares, plants and pots, accessories, magazines and lots more. I collaborate with up-and-coming, as well as more established designers, to create products that are completely exclusive to SMUG to keep things fresh and exciting. We also have a cafe in our lower ground space at the weekends – CAFE SMUG, and run workshops upstairs at SMUG too.
How did the story of SMUG begin? How does one go about starting their own shop and brand?
Well, around 9 or 10 years ago now I first started wondering about/working on SMUG, which at that stage was just a twinkle in my eye. I wasn’t long out of uni and I was trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life. My background was interior and graphic design and I knew that was my passion, but I worked out quite quickly that I wasn’t going to be happy in an office setting – however trendy, stylish or cool the office might be. What I really wanted was to build something of my own. I found an old scrap book from my primary school days saying that, when I grew up, I wanted to be a shop keeper. Something sort of clicked. So I found a site on Camden Passage, I’m an Islington girl born and bread so it seemed like the perfect spot, started travelling to research the sort of products I’d like to sell, spent some time in Australia working on the brand and designing the building and then came home to a big fat building project that took ages but was totally worth it. And voila! The first incarnation of SMUG was born.
What is it you love about SMUG? I know I can never leave without discovering a new designer or beautiful brand…
The idea behind SMUG was always to make it feel like a home. I wanted to create a space that design loving people from all walks of life would feel drawn to and welcome in. I love having the opportunity to shop and style for a living. Curating all three floors to pull together my own favourite things of the moment is such a joy. Colour is really important to me, as is form and pattern, so layering those things up, giving them just the right amount of space to breathe, curating them so they shine and ending up with something fresh and exciting never gets old.
You’ve got a hugely designed based background, including beginning Islington Design District- what started your love for it?
I think it was chairs! I’m very lucky that my dad has a love of mid century modern chairs and, at a very young age, I fell in love with them too. I went to various design store with him as a kid (I was obviously starting my research for SMUG early) and have been hugely inspired by designers like Ray and Charles Eames, Alvar Aalto and ever since. I went on to study Interior Architecture and learnt about the likes of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and have had a huge connection to the designed and built environment ever since. Starting the Islington Design District for London Design Festival has been both an honour and a no-brainer. Islington is full of great design and has been celebrating it for years, long before I was ever involved. It’s exciting to part of a newer generation of design lovers and celebrators pushing the envelope in North London.
What is it about Islington (and it being home to SMUG and the London Design festival), and this gorgeous area of London that you you love so much?
It’s my home. It’s a village. It has great food, beautiful architecture, stunning fashion and design. It’s so close to the centre of London but has it’s own distinct identity. The canal, the parks the people. Home to so many different cultures. I feel very blessed to have grown up in such a diverse and inspiring place.
You’re launching your own beautiful pattern collection which is so exciting! How did that process work and come about?
As SMUG has grown and I’ve grown up with it, I’ve learnt that people are interested in the story. I wasn’t expecting such a spotlight on me as the face of the brand but it makes sense to me now that a big part of being an independent business supporting independent designers is telling our stories. It’s about people and relationships and I love that. I launched my blog a couple of years ago to try to tell a little more of my story and it’s allowed me to be more and more engaged with like-minded design loving people. It’s also allowed me to be more than SMUG. My love of food, fashion, travel, art, plants has been able to come through and tell a fuller story of who I am which ultimately is what a lifestlye brand like SMUG should be doing. So it seemed only fitting to start work on my own collection – Lizzie for SMUG. It’s a pattern collection coming to life on stationery, homeware, kitchen dining, all exclusive to SMUG, so watch this space.
What advice would you give for girls looking to begin their own business? What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt throughout your career?
The most important thing I think, is to know yourself. Really know yourself. Know your strengths and trust in them. Be confident in your abilities and say yes to things that excite you – even if you’re not really sure yet how to do them yet. It’s the best way to learn and to push yourself.
You have a free Sunday in London- how do you spend it and where do you go?
Well, brunch. Obviously! The combination of delicious food and a beautiful setting is my happy place. I love Sunday on Hemmingford Road and any of the Granger & Co’s. I could also go for a Dishoom bacon naan roll any day of the week or an Ottolenghi Shakshuka. So, depending on what my tummy is rumbling for, I like to go for brunch, do a little walking/shopping in the area – Redchurch Street if it’s Dishoom, Upper Street if it’s Ottolenghi, Westbourne Grove if it’s Granger and Co. Then a walk in the park, or even better, along the canal all with my husband Daniel who shares my love for design, shopping and food.
Finally! What’s next for Lizzie? You’re such a busy bee!
I do like to keep busy! My next project is actually a book. This is a bit of an exclusive as I’m still working on the book proposal but the working title is ‘How to Curate Your Life – The SMUG Guide to Living Intentionally’. It’s all about making little choices to allow your life, home, self to be better curated, organised, beautiful and happy. It focusses on being kind to yourself and loving what you already have rather than throwing everything away or spending tonnes of money to fit into a stereotype.