The Tidy Street Store is set amongst a row of brightly coloured fishermen’s cottages in the North Laine area of Brighton. The first time that I read the name it sounded as if it was straight out of a children’s book and, in some ways, it is a shop from a bygone era. Florence Dixon and her mother, Claudia, have created is a modern interpretation of the general store that’s personal both in its character and in its assortment.
‘Everyone who works in the shop loves the products we stock so much. Because of the way we choose brands, and because we are a small team, we get to know the things we sell really well and the stories behind them. Many of our suppliers have become friends and we really want to support them, so we care enormously about the pieces we sell.’
I asked Florence what led her to choose Brighton as a home for their store:
‘There’s something for everyone in Brighton, which is why the shop feels right here. We are so lucky to be part of a real community. Amazingly, the North Laine has managed to keep out large chains and big brand shops, so the area is full of independent, family run businesses of all types- cheesemongers, vintage shops, natural remedies, cafes and vegan restaurants. Brighton is a completely unique place- a seaside town with the only UK Green Party MP; we’re proud of our left-leaning, hippie and eccentric reputation. Here, anything goes and you can walk down the street wearing whatever you like. We have a thriving music and art scene and an amazing month-long culture festival in May.’
I instantly connected with the Tidy Street Store’s profile. Florence, Claudia and the store staff are seen modelling their favourite pieces, eschewing the usual studio shoots with professional models. It’s fresh, personal and full of heart. I asked Florence what it’s like putting so much of herself into the business:
‘It’s a careful balancing act between sharing too much on social media and interacting with our audience. I started modelling the clothes because we couldn’t afford a professional model, but we quickly realised that people much preferred the photos when we wear the clothes than the studio shots. Our audience were engaging more because we were making the items more personal. It also helps to see the clothes on different people who are not all model shapes or heights, and our customers seem to prefer this. I’m naturally quite a shy person so I do worry about putting so much of myself out there: my dogs, our home etc, but I think retail is so competitive that you do need a story and a different angle in order to stand out from the crowd.’
The Tidy Street Store’s assortment is everything but expected. They’ve introduced me to brands that I had never heard of but that I now love. I asked Florence about her talent for ferreting out the unusual:
‘The love of sourcing and finding things comes from my parents, both of whom have backgrounds in interiors and fashion. We used to travel a lot for my dad’s job when I was a child, and I remember my mum getting clothes made at corner shop tailors or scouring souks and markets to find unusual things. Today, I realise that 80% of the job is excel spreadsheets and paperwork, but I still cherish those trips to find new things.’
They certainly don’t shout about it but when you get to know their assortment it’s clear that they only source products from companies who manufacture ethically.
‘We care deeply about the provenance of the items we buy: who made them, where, out of what material… we try to support cooperatives and fairtrade organisations, but we also love to promote small, up and coming brands, to help them get their products to a wider audience. There is so much stuff in the world, we really try to sell things that people are going to treasure and love for a very long time.’
In the spirit of the general store, Florence and Claudia have made sure that there’s a treasure for every income bracket.
‘We’ve always wanted to try to be accessible to everyone and ensured that students from the two universities who come in and spend £5 have the same experience as their lecturers who may come in and spend £200.’
Surprisingly, Florence’s background is in food and cooking. She initially owned a bakery and café in London. Throughout the lockdown she has been sharing her favourite recipes under the Tidy Cooks series.
‘What I loved about having a café was the sense of community and bringing people together and that’s something I hope we have recreated at Tidy Street. Even then I loved sourcing things to sell alongside food: antique teapots and plates from flea markets or enamel mugs from British manufacturers. When I moved away from food, it seemed like a natural progression to open a shop with my mum, where we could use my business experience and her background in fashion to open a shop.’
Another campaign of theirs that I loved was a simple but effective call to clothing manufacturers to reconsider the plastic that their clothing is packaged in, and which is thrown away straight after receiving it in-store. It is courageous to challenge norms as a business. I asked Florence what the result of their protest was:
‘Our campaign to reduce the plastic used in fashion just evolved naturally. We were unpacking all this stock and having to throw away bin bags full of plastic which was all non-recyclable. It felt mad that we were stocking brands that care so much about other aspects of the supply chain but turned a blind eye to the plastic. We live by the sea so we see firsthand the effect of plastic littering our shores. When we started researching, it emerged that reducing the plastic wasn’t as simple as we had thought. Paper, for example, is much heavier than plastic and also bulkier, which means it uses more weight and space to ship and so has its own environmental impact. Biodegradable plastic can take years to decompose so doesn’t solve the issue of causing damage to marine life. We spoke to brands who told us that the big e-commerce and department stores refuse their products unless they are in sealed plastic. We learned that it’s not as simple as we had thought to change the industry. Unfortunately, due to the current situation, it seems plastic will play an important role in hygiene and infection control, so our campaign will have to take a pause. We have, however, found a solution to our own plastic problem, and have teamed up with an amazing local company called Weez and Merl who collect our plastic and melt it down to create beautiful marbled products. So we are starting small and hope to tackle this at a bigger level soon.’
Florence discovered Saint d’Ici perfumes at a Parisian tradeshow.
‘We love all of the Saint d’Ici perfumes, but our favourite is Moussem. It’s sweet without being sickly, feminine and girly and the notes of vetiver and patchouli feel old fashioned and otherworldly. We have never liked artificial or synthetic smells, and are very sensitive to scent. Saint d’Ici’s natural perfumes are perfect for our shop because the smells are long lasting but natural, without the use of harsh chemicals or overpowering fragrances, which means that whenever people test them in the shop it’s a pleasure to smell them.’
I asked Florence what her favourite smells are:
‘My grandparents are French so I spent my summers in the south of France. The smell of Mediterranean pines will always be my favourite smell as they remind me of long summer days eating fougasse in the car with the windows wound down on the way home from the beach. I also love the smell of jasmine- it reminds me of flower garlands in India but we also have a beautiful jasmine plant that grows on one of the walls of the shop, and in spring the smell wafts through the doors and you see people stop as they walk past just to take in the smell.’
The Tidy Street Store is operating under reduced COVID-19 hours. They are open from 10:00-14:00 Thursday to Sunday or by private appointment.