North Laine, the bohemian and cultural landmark of Brighton

North Laine, once a slum area, is a lively, bohemian, cultural independent retailer and residential landmark of Brighton.

North Laine has been Brighton's industrial suburb for over 100 years. Today, it still holds the charm and character from the last 100 years in its narrow Victorian residential streets, historic buildings and the strong community that make up the North Laine.

North Laine is recognised as one of the champion indie high streets across the UK and the location of some of the utmost exclusive stores including; Vegetarian Shoes, Resident, WiDEYE Natural Skin & Body Care and Whirligig Toys.

 

VegetarianVegetarianVegetarian Shoes

Vegetarian Shoes was born in 1990 but the seed for this award-winning vegan footwear store was planted well before that. Robin Webb, from Crawley originally, flourished in Art College taking his passion and drive for crafting and creating to making shoes for the fun of it. Robin has always loved making things and crafting is still a passion close to his heart today.

Robin pursued his shoemaking passion making shoes for himself, friends and family. When a friend of his opened up a shop in Brighton in Kensington Gardens selling second-hand clothes and making hats Robin was given the chance to sell his shoes. This partnership worked well and led to them sharing the shop where Jump the Gun is now.

Making shoes was a puzzle and challenge for Robin, he used to make shoes out of anything and everything, from car tyres to leather bags. Leather is a great material but Robin hated using new leather and so he used to travel and hitchhike around the country on the mere scent or hint of interesting materials. One day he stumbled across the material that is still used today at Vegetarian Shoes, a breathable, synthetic, water-resistant material that looks like leather.

Robin worked over the road for a year or two making shoes to order and shoes to fit the one person. In one week Robin could make six shoes but at some point, the number of shoes he was making started to extend the delivery time and so he rethought his business. Dr Martens were very popular at the time and so he took his newly discovered material to them and got Dr Martens to make shoes with his label on them.

When Robin first opened Vegetarian Shoes it was an empty box, he stripped the floors and opened his box with a varnished floor and pile of shoe boxes in the corner to the public. Vegetarian Shoes grew like any other business, starting off with one shoe and then two and now at any one time, they have 150 styles of shoe and bags and belts.

There is a sort of humour behind Vegetarian Shoes with people asking, can you eat them? What are the made of, carrots? When Robin started thinking of names he went through hundreds before he fell on the name that was right in front of him the whole time, Vegetarian Shoes. The name of his store has gone on to be a great asset for search engines, as it is the name of the brand and describes what they do.

Back then making shoes and building a business from nothing but his first pair of shoes made from a car tire was exciting and Robin still holds that excitement today. He can see what he needs to do just like he could see what he needed to do to start his business all those 28 years ago.

Robin's passion for crafting came through his upbringing, he remembers getting a 50p boat from a store and his dad saying, ‘let's turn it into a £1 boat'. It's that make do and mend mentality that he grew up with, that inspired him to pursue shoemaking, that helped him open Vegetarian Shoes and a philosophy he still lives by today.

 

Resident Resident Resident

Resident came to life as one of the best record stores in Brighton on the 13th of April 2004 when Derry and Natasha (now husband and wife) took their love and drive for music and created what we all know as Resident.

Natasha spent her life growing up in various places including Crawley and Essex, she spent most of her childhood life in Redhill, Surrey and went to Reigate 6th form where her real love for music started to develop. Natasha spent her days at university studying English Literature, her afternoons and weekends browsing record shops and her evenings going to gigs to find new and hidden artists.

Once graduating, she moved to Brighton, her spiritual home and the place where she had spent so many of her best days as a teenager. Natasha got a job at Our Price Crawley where she made great friends and really caught the record shop bug. It's a bug to this day that she hasn't been able to shake.

Natasha worked all the overtime she could muster in order to learn the job and this got her promoted quickly where she found herself managing busy shops. The insane hours she worked were truly gruelling but she worked with some of the best people and learnt so much about how to run a business. When Our Price chain was rebranded as V.Shop she felt detached from the music business that she had fallen in love with. It was then when Natasha and Derry, her then boyfriend now husband, talked about doing their own thing.

They put together a business plan, got a loan and set about finding the perfect location in Brighton. North Laine is one of the most vibrant, interesting, colourful and creative areas that Natasha has come across in any city ever. North Laine for Natasha is what Brighton is all about, it's where her Grandma was born and raised. Natasha's Grandma was one of the most important people in her life and she felt as if she was being drawn there. When 28 Kensington Gardens became available they knew it was their shop.

Resident, the name, was born because of its association to the permanence, the locality and being part of a community.

Although Natasha loves the fact that she works in and around music all day every day, it's the people that inspire her. The record shop industry attracts some of the most brilliant, creative, driven, inspiring and fun people. One of the best memories for Natasha is when Low, one of her all-time favourite bands, recently came and played at Resident. Low didn't do this to promote an album, they did it to show their appreciation for Resident and its customers. It was one of Natasha's most special days, having Low, a band that still understands the importance of the ground level nurturing of their fan base, a band that has always stayed true to themselves and committed to their fans, play for them.

Natasha and Derry are very driven, motivated and determined workaholics. They are each other's inspiration for Resident.

 

WiDEYEWiDEYEWiDEYE Natural Skin & Body Care

WiDEYE Natural Skin & Body Care became the store that it is today through a friendship that flourished when neighbours Annabelle and Lawrence met through Lawrence's wife Georgie. Georgie introduced herself to Annabelle one day over the fence and brought together two determined and unique individuals to create WiDEYE.

Lawrence and his family have always loved sports, especially water sports and growing up around the sea in Tarifa has given them a deep understanding and connection to the environment and nature. Lawrence took his background in business and design and set about creating a brand of natural products that embodied the environment he had fallen in love with in Tarifa.

5 years ago Annabelle and Lawrence opened a little store in Rye.

6-months later they opened a larger store and last year they opened a store in Bournemouth quickly following on with a store in Brighton. Georgie has been with Annabelle and Lawrence from the get-go, supporting everyone from behind the scenes as the business flourished and grew.

Open your eyes to the power of nature, it's the inspiration and vision behind the name of the brand of WiDEYE.

For Annabelle and Lawrence WiDEYE brings them so much excitement from always looking to develop new products to using traditional products as a skeleton and making them natural and cleaner.

WiDEYE for them is based on customer trends, the products and business growth is dictated by their customers.

Annabelle's favourite memory that speaks to what Lawrence and she have created is when a lady walked into their store in Brighton picked up an air freshener and walked up to the counter, she had come into the Rye store the first day it had opened and loved the products.

North Laine is the right space for WiDEYE in Brighton, it is where everyone has a place within the family that makes up the North Laine.

WiDEYE Natural Skin & Body Care has grown to become a niche sports and travel inspired fresh, natural skin and body unisex beauty brand.

 

WhirligigWhirligigWhirligig Toys

Brighton boy, Peter has been around the block and back working as a primary school teacher for years before exploring the new media industry, opening a café in the North Laine and retraining as a chef. The epiphany behind Whirligig Toys was sparked through felt seagulls Peter started crafting to sell in the café attracting the eyes of many customers who loved the homemade traditional approach.

All the toy shops that he had loved going to as a child only catered for very young children and has his kids grew older it became more apparent that there was a gap in the toy market for creative and stimulating toys for older children. It was then when Peter took the success of the felt seagulls from his café and decided to build a, make and do toyshop for older children.

Whirligig Toys was named after Peter's dad, back in the 1950s there was a structure on the Brighton seafront called the Brighton Sputnik that lit up and moved but Peter and his dad always called it Whirligig.
In 2012, Whirligig Toys opened its first store at the heart of the vibrant North Laine. Now seven years later Peter still loves discovering new products and bringing them into his stores to share his excitement and joy with his customers.

As a toy researcher, Peter plays with all the toys before they are brought into the store, working with smaller and individual providers for unique and challenging toys for children. The response and gratitude he receives from all his customers as their kids' test out the newest toys in his shop is why he is still here today.

Whirligig Toys takes part in many local community events across the year and even holds it very own ‘I Made This...' enjoyable competition giving children the chance to send in photos of themselves with something they have created, crafted or built from the shop. Peter loves receiving all the photos and meeting the children when they come into the store to collect their prizes.

Whirligig Toys is much more than just an independent toy shop, it's a space for children to go to find their passion in creating and crafting, to challenge themselves and share their talents.


The community that has been the North Laine for the last 100 years is still present and reflected today through the bohemian, cultural and historical location that holds so many incredible, niche, one of a kind indie stores.