OPINION: United80 – Style with a Statement

Photo courtesy of Urban75

From the outset, United80 might look like just another trendy shop for young, hip urbanites. Dig a little deeper, one finds that this little space is home to a lot of soul.

A small shop with a loud voice in South London’s Brixton Village, United80 is one of several new independent shops and restaurants in the rejuvenated Granville Arcade, that has breathed new life into a deteriorating market space.

Built in the 1930s, Granville Arcade was a buzzing market place for Afro-Caribbean goods for decades – a commercial and social hub for West Indian culture since the 1950s. But by 2009, around 20 units stood empty and an organization called the Space Makers sought to regenerate the space by filling the units with creative, community-based businesses.

Now re-branded as Brixton Village, the market pulls a young, cosmopolitan and loyal clientele who enjoy the new mix of independent traders – arts and crafts, chic cafes, vintage clothing and affordable restaurants offering quality world cuisine – all trading alongside the traditional butchers, fishmongers and textile shops.

United80 was formed by four friends – Nneka with her N’Damus label of handcrafted leather bags and accessories; Samantha Jane and her African-inspired clothing line Geometric Designs, and Hands On Music’s independent music retail and merchandise run by Cyndi and Chris.

In the past, these four traders had individual stalls in weekend markets all over London, including Brick Lane in the East and Portobello Market in the West. By joining forces, they’ve found a more stable base for their wares, and are thus able to develop their clientele and business.

United80 has been pivotal in creating a fun and vibrant atmosphere at Brixton Village, leaving people coming back for more. It does this by adding a party atmosphere in the evenings – featuring emerging musicians and DJs. On any given weekend, you are likely to find musical talents such as Basement Jaxx, Homeboy Sandman, Havana Cultura Band, United Vibrations or Soundspecies performing in front of the shop.

Chris & Cyndi are a seasoned, dynamic DJ duo, often spotted carrying speakers and CDJs out of United80 to create an impromptu party for the Brixton villagers. As soon as the music starts – a mix of jazz, funk, soul, house and world music – it isn’t long until people start dancing in front of the sound system. Even the waiters and proprietors of neighboring businesses join the frivolities.

A few weeks ago, United80 celebrated its second birthday – a milestone for any new enterprise, especially during a double-dip recession. But with sheer determination and self-belief, United80 along with the other independent retailers, have shown that opportunities can be found and profits can be made at the grassroots level, despite the fear mongering of politicians and the media.

Creativity, collaboration, community and enterprise – that is what United80 stands for. Despite all their good intentions, they have found resistance to their business ethos and philosophy. At one point the market landlords, without providing a breakdown of costs, tried to disproportionately increase the rent just for the traders to stay open slightly later during the weekends.

This caused a massive uproar with the traders, workers and customers of Brixton Village, who circulated petitions, and sent numerous messages of complaint. Surprisingly, even the local government, Lambeth Borough Council, stepped in and fought to ensure that the market remains a haven for independent traders to express their individualism.

Community at its best.

Visit the United80 website here. The shop now stocks the new collection of Bu jewellery by Bianca Thelmo.

Photo courtesy of Urban 75