Revolutionising London Souvenirs

With London one of the most visited cities on the planet – and being home to one of the most creative communities in the world – we thought it was high time that souvenirs reflected the true creativity of this city and supported our homegrown talent at the same time.

The Lightbulb Moment

After 6 years in PR I was itching to finally start a business of my own. To get some hands-on ‘business-side’ experience, I took a pay cut to work with a number of creative start-ups on a freelance basis. During those projects, I kept meeting London artists and designers who were struggling to find new audiences for their work. I could see real potential for a new platform that helped them drive sales and commercial opportunities.
In the same year, London was basking in the glory of the Olympics and had just become the most visited city on the planet with the annual tourist footfall figure at over 16 million. With so many international visitors heading to the West End for creative and cultural experiences, my lightbulb moment was sailing past one of the many souvenir stores in London on the number 19 bus and thinking ‘surely we can do better than that!’

The Vision

In a nutshell, I wanted the business to offer both international visitors and locals the chance to take home a souvenir that really reflected the creativity of London - and at the same time supported the city’s most exciting creatives. On a personal level, I wanted to put my name to revolutionising an outdated and tired industry.
Everyone told me I was mad to even think about launching a physical store and tried to convince me to start online. I wasn’t deterred. Souvenirs for me are an emotional purchase, offering a tangible connection and memory to the place you’re visiting. I wanted WBTC to be as much of a physical experience as any other London attraction on a tourist’s journey through the city.

Making It A Reality

My overriding priority in bringing the concept to life was to find the right location for the store. I really wanted to avoid a scenario where we had the very best creatives on board but didn’t have the footfall to prove it a success.
As such, I was determined it should be established in the West End. I walked the streets every weekend to try and identify the best location but each time got more fearful about the barriers we were going to face with rents and rates. At the end of what seemed like a very long 4 months, I finally tracked down a landlord on Carnaby Street. I created a detailed pitch outlining my vision for the product, interiors and marketing campaign. Within a matter of days, they offered a 2 floor - 3000 sq ft store on Carnaby Street with just one caveat… we only had 3 weeks to bring it all together and would need to launch for Christmas.
The next 3 weeks of my life are a blur. A terrifying but incredibly exhilarating blur! And I learnt one really vital lesson through it all, which is that without any time to overthink or seek advice from others, all you can rely on is your gut instinct and if I look back it’s those decisions that have been the most lasting and successful for us.


I started applying for a government start-up loan but, with the 3 week deadline, I ended up using my own savings and asking family and friends to make up the rest! Luckily, enough of them believed in the project and we had enough to get the doors open.


I had experience in online retail for an arts platform but had never run any physical retail. To open a 3000 sq ft shop in the middle of Carnaby just before the Christmas rush was quite an overwhelming task.
Historically quite a technophobe, I have never been more grateful for the technology that exists to help retail start-ups. From payment apps to a complete point of sale system on an iPad, it was a revelation and was the key to getting us through the craziness of those first 8 weeks.
I also sourced an amazing stylist and visual merchandiser who helped me devise a customer journey plan and refined my interiors ideas into something workable.

Key Challenges

At first, it was finding the right location for the business to strive in. 18 months in, our biggest challenge is now growing commercial viability. Supporting the city’s creative community as effectively as possible whilst sustaining a location in the heart of the West End can be a delicate marriage.

Advice To Other Potential Retailers

Beyond location, location, location(!) - I would highly recommend creating a pitch presentation to set out your vision and to share it with anyone who can help you make it happen. It’s easy to become scared of people stealing your idea, but I found it incredibly helpful to get early stage feedback and access to new contacts - many of whom ended up becoming our artists, advisors, partners and even our shop team!

I think USP for any new retail brand is also critical - especially if you’re joining a competitive market in fashion or food etc. You need to work out the one thing that’ll set you apart and work out how you can tell that to your customer at every part of the brand journey - and even before when selling the concept to a landlord. Then you have to repeat and repeat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written or said “Revolutionising London Souvenirs” - it’s so key to drill home one message loud and clear.

Building Our Network

When we launched the first store we represented around 85 artists and designers - which today has now grown to 250 at any one time. Since launching, I’m really proud to say that we’ve worked with over 650 London creatives.
We are obsessed with finding new work and aim to curate quarterly collections for the store. Our curatorial team go to great lengths to find new talent, scouring London grad shows, markets, galleries and trade shows - as well as using online search tools and blogs. Some of our greatest finds though have been artists walking into the store to show us work - something that we actively encourage.

Art Meets Commerce

I believe our greatest success is building an arts-led retail platform that is accessible for all - and, in turn, to date selling over 85,000 artist-designed London souvenirs that are now in homes across the world. And for me there’s been no greater satisfaction than artists calling us convinced we’ve paid them too much - it really does make the 24/7 nature of retail all worthwhile.

What's Next?

We’re currently working on our full ecommerce offer that is set to launch this autumn. Beyond consolidating our London flagship on Carnaby Street, we’re also now looking at how we can reach our audiences at other parts of their journey through London such as airports and major attractions. Ultimately, I’m keen to see the We Built This City brand reach international shores.