Jessica Chapman | Gathershop
Nestled between the many shops that line the busy Van Woustraat in De Pijp is the oasis of calm,
by multidisciplinary artist with an eye for detail, Jessica Chapman, the shop hosts a unique collection of objects including homewares, jewelry, artworks and stationary, handmade
by individual and undiscovered designers and labels from near and far. A true delight and a welcomed addition to the Amsterdam maker scene. We talked to Jessica about taking the step to
realizing her dream and what that meant to her. -
Text and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from a tiny village between Sheffield and Manchester in the north of England. Before I left for Amsterdam I was doing an MA at Chelsea Art College in London in interior and spatial design. Having previously been at an ‘academic university’ studying architecture it was wonderful to finally be in an art school environment, people from all different disciplines came together to do the MA spatial design course, from architecture to fine art, industrial design to fashion. We were encouraged to make with our hands as much as possible, to work with materials and whatever idea you had, the technicians in the various wood, metal, ceramic and casting workshops would always help to make your ideas a reality. I think this is where my love of handmade was really cemented - although I have always been into handmade, ever since I was little. Growing up I had three giant boxes in the house nicknamed the ‘make-it-boxes’ they were full of old yoghurt pots and cereal boxes, glue, colored paper and paint; I would always have some making project on the go and a big mess surrounding me! When I was 11 I made jewelry and sold it at markets and at university, I made some extra money reworking secondhand clothes also selling them at markets - I think I somehow always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
How did the shop come to be?
I moved to Amsterdam three and half years ago for an internship. It was working for an artist who does a lot of spatial construction-type installations. I then fell in love with a Dutch boy and ended up staying. And then I worked as an interior designer for a while but felt I couldn’t settle even though, on paper, I had my dream job. I guess I have always had this project in the back of my head. I then made the decision to stop working and concentrate on trying to put together this shop. It was my dream to sell really beautiful objects, to sit in a space surrounded by beautiful things.
What did you need to do in order to get this up and running?
I first needed a small collection of things, so looked on blogs, on Pinterest and followed several makers on Instagram. When I would see something I liked, I would write to the maker and say, I want to sell your stuff! That’s how I put together a small collection and started doing markets two to three times a month. I also set up a web shop at first. People seemed to respond really well to the beautiful objects, so I slowly started writing my business plan and working out the more technical side of it all. And then eventually I found this space. We refurbished the shop in just two weeks with a budget of one thousand Euros. Part of what I want to do with the shop is to make design a little more accessible to people. You notice when you walk around the shop that things aren’t super expensive – there are a few things that you might want to save up for but the prices are quite reasonable. I wanted to do the same with the interior, to show that with limited budget, you can still make things that are very beautiful.
And how do you select the products?
It’s difficult to explain exactly how I choose something. I’ll see something and it’ll just kind of jump out at me. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it tends to be that when I write to the maker and we end up having a nice conversation, it usually feels like there’s a good fit. With the things that they make themselves, it tends to be that I choose for the material and for the form.
How has it been going since the opening?
It has gone better than I could have ever imagined, I feel so lucky. People in the neighborhood seem really happy to have another shop on the Van Woustraat. And people seem to like the concept, they like the idea of buying handmade. They know that not everyone in Amsterdam is walking around with the same stuff since I only get things in a very small quantity. I’ve noticed that after the crisis, people are more careful with how and where they’re spending their money. I’m sure your other Makers will have had the same experience but people are happy to spend a little more on things that have a value, things that have been made with a little more love and care.
It’s not been all plain sailing of course, setting up a business is really hard work, you have no time and no money! Being at the shop 6 days a week (although I love to be here!) can at times get a little tiring and I miss doing things like just spending the day sitting in the park and spending free days with my boyfriend and my friends, but it all feels worth it, being at work doesn't really feel like working, there are always such lovely people to chat to, and for that I feel incredibly grateful! It was also at times a real challenge to set up a business not in your own language, there have been moments I have misunderstood things that have resulted in a bit of a mess, but slowly I understand more and more and Jeroen is always on hand to help out with the scary blue letters!
Do people ask a lot of questions about the products – where they’re from or how they’re made?
Yes, they do. And I try to tell a little story or give a little information about each product or the maker. This jewelry, for example, is made by a girl in Japan, Minami Sato [points to the table in from of us]. I’ve been working with her from the very beginning. In the last parcel that I got from her there was a little letter saying that she was going to visit Amsterdam in June. Now we’re finally going to meet! Now every time someone looks at the jewelry I tell the story about her, and you can kind of picture the person in your mind. I also have a little sign with each product with the person who’s made it, whether the product is handmade, fair-trade or organic, which country it’s come from and the material it’s made from. It feels really special to sell the work of designers from all over the world, Amsterdam is such an international city, I really wanted the shop to reflect that - I have jewelry from Hart + Stone and prints from A Little Talks in Canada, Herbivore Botanicals natural skincare and wall hangings from Sonadora in the USA, Tina Sosna photography from Germany, Jars Ceramics from France, and of course, some designers from closer to home, All Things by Femme prints and NITMOI leather goods from Amsterdam and Utrecht.
What was it like taking the step from a full-time job to working for yourself?
It definitely felt like it was the right moment although it was absolutely terrifying. I just had the feeling that if I don’t do it now, I’ll never know. But I think that if I had never moved to Amsterdam I would have never done it. Amsterdam is just that kind of environment – there are so many creative people doing so many creative projects. It’s really normal to say, I just quit a really good job to pursue my dreams. No one looks at you like you’re crazy. They say, oh that’s really nice! What are you doing? At the Stadskantine across the street I always see groups of four or five young people sitting around a computer and I think to myself, what are they dreaming up? You see this happening in other cities as well, but I think Amsterdam really supports people to pursue their dreams. At the same time, it was really scary. I feel very lucky that I have such supportive people around me, that after two and a half years of planning, they told me to go for it. And I did.
Do you have big plans for the future?
We’ve started doing workshops in the evenings. I think it’s very interesting to get different makers and designers to come in the evenings to teach others new skills. Outside the back of the shop there’s a little garden so I’m hoping next summer we can do something outside. And I want to continue to find new designers to work with. But for now it’s time to let it go a little bit, to let things happen. Everyday I think of something else I could do, it might be something very small but everyday something new happens. I think the shop will develop very naturally. It’ll grow with me. I really hope that when I’m 60 the shop will have grown up with me, and I’m sure I’ll sell completely different things then but I hope it’ll still be around!
Thanks Jessica for this interview! Follow Gathershop on Facebook , Instagram and Pinterest . Be sure to stop by the shop on the Van Woustraat 99 from 11am to 7pm during the week (Tuesdays open from 1pm and Thursdays open until 9pm) and Saturday from 12 to 6pm.