A Social Entrepreneur Story on Collaborative Shops | Collaboration Ideas for Social Entrepreneur Shop Owners
A Social Entrepreneur Story on Collaborative Shops | Collaboration Ideas for Social Entrepreneur Shop Owners | How to Start a Collaborative Shop

As magical as the internet is, with thousands of brands at our fingertips with the click of a button, there is still nothing quite like being able to touch a product in real life — to smell the leather or feel the softness of the T-shirt fabric. It’s a sensory experience that remains important for creators and consumers.

When I launched a recycled denim accessories line last year, I was divided on whether to focus solely on e-commerce or try to work with boutiques as well. My margins for wholesale were tight: I was committed to U.S. manufacturing, and my manufacturer was committed to a living wage for her employees. That made for not-terribly-low product costs, which in turn made the boutique route complicated.

I fantasized about my own branded space (and about a clean, all-white studio, which could never actually be a reality, because I’d end up bringing my dog, and he sheds terribly).

Opening your own shop is a fuzzy dream that all new brands may entertain, while simultaneously acknowledging the financial impossibility of it. I eventually put my fantasy to rest and decided to focus on e-commerce. But then I was invited into a collaboration I had never considered.

The Good Shop, a collaborative retail space in New Orleans, was two years old when I was invited to join the other three brands there. The shop itself is the brainchild of Tippy Tippens, founder of Louisiana’s first B-Corp business, Goods That Matter. Though her social good products had homes in retail shops around the country, she was eager to push into a local brick-and-mortar space for herself. She was also energized by the idea of a collaborative shop, where social and environmental missions were shared.

A Social Entrepreneur Story on Collaborative Shops | Collaboration Ideas for Social Entrepreneur Shop Owners

“The essentials,” Tippy says, “were for each business to have an ethical, social or environmental aspect as part of their mission and for it to be collaborative. As small businesses, it’s difficult to take on a whole new business location solo. I thought that sharing space and overhead would make it more fun, manageable and affordable to do with a group of similar businesses.”

As Tippy brainstormed with her studio mate about the idea, they kept meeting at a certain coffee shop. Back then, Church Alley Coffee was already a shared space — coffee shop in the front by day, movie theater in the back by night. Tippy then noticed there was an upstairs loft-like space that seemed perfect for their dream.

Renee Blanchard, owner of Church Alley Coffee, was a fan of the idea almost immediately. “I thought it would be a great idea to have other businesses that have a similar mindset. We were on a strip of neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of traffic, and adding more businesses that do different things would help bring in more people.”

Bernie January and Natasha Noordhoff of Heartsleeve, which makes screenprinted T-shirts that donates a portion of proceeds to local nonprofits, was one of the first brands in The Good Shop collaboration. “None of us could afford to open up a store solo, so by splitting rent and work days, we were able to make it affordable,” explains Natasha. “As a new business owner, collaboration with others was essential for troubleshooting. Our collective knowledge accelerated the growth of Heartsleeve. From finding trustworthy CPAs to sharing tables for events to marketing strategies, I now had the experience of four makers in similar fields to draw upon.”

A Social Entrepreneur Story on Collaborative Shops | Collaboration Ideas for Social Entrepreneur Shop Owners

Like all collaborations, experimenting has been key — from hours to pop-up events to sales. “We thought we might be getting in early [in a neighborhood with redevelopment happening], but our foot traffic remained pretty low and we had to rely on special events to bring folks in. We were also on the second floor, which was a real challenge to get people to come upstairs,” Tippy explains.

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Hope Mills - Contributor Rank & File Magazine Issue SevenAbout Hope

Hope is the creator of Hem + Haw, an accessories brand that makes use of old denim. She’s passionate about U.S. manufacturing, building up local communities and marching bands. She also enjoys car karaoke with her four-year-old.

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The Good Shop
Hem + Haw
© All photos courtesy of Hope Mills.
This contributor article is a copyright of Rank & File, Inc. in partnership with Hope Mills.