When Central London–based concept shop 50m opened its doors in 2018, it had a singular, if not far-reaching, goal: to create a sustainable community of emerging designers in a luxury retail setting. Since its inception, the store has given a platform to independent labels like Kepler, ELLISS, Daniel Fletcher, and Isosceles—and though it started as a brick-and-mortar concept, 50m has also begun to fill the Totokaelo-sized hole in many New Yorkers’ closets with its international e-comm component too.

Founded by Paul Smyth and Andy Merritt of artist collective Something & Son, 50m is another extension of their social practice within the art and design space. “We do public art, so anything from sculptures through to creating communities and spaces which bring people together,” says Smyth, who notes that 50m was the pair’s first venture into retail. Though Makerversity, one of Something & Son’s projects that provides tools like prototyping facilities and technical support for independent artists looking to start their own businesses, they already had a space where “people can come and make things,” as Smyth explains it.

But Smyth didn’t just want to stop there. “We thought, but how do they sell, and how do we make that process more fair, and how do we build a community around it? That was very much the ethos and the drive to create 50m. Can you apply the ideas of collectivism and community to a luxury shop? That’s where we started.” 50m’s success doesn’t lie just in its ability to spot talent, but in the success of its designers: By eschewing the traditional wholesale model to produce and stock collections, which Smyth calls downright unfair to small labels, it puts the creative control back in the hands of the designers themselves.

“Wholesale is often what leads businesses to have to raise money and get into debt quicker than they have to,” he says. “That pulls them into the conveyor belt of having to produce certain amounts of work, often without getting paid up front for it,” he says. “We don’t have any minimum orders. For the designer, it’s a freeing experience, because they don’t have to front-load tons of cash to create work, which is a powerful dynamic.”

So what does his team look for in new talent? A distinct point of view and a willingness to learn and grow in a way that’s sustainable. Because designers aren’t burdened with traditional fulfillment requests, like producing entire collections on shoestring budgets, they’re able to dedicate as much or as little time as they can.

Can you apply the ideas of collectivism and community to a luxury shop? That’s where we started.

“We’re absolutely obsessed [with] working with people out of university, who are absolutely at the most radical and creative stages of their work. They’re really still figuring out who they are as designers, and by the nature of when we work with them, are small but with big ideas and creating beautiful work and signifying to us that they have great chance to grow as designers.”

Right now, Smyth is crazy about designer Ilana Blumberg, whose line of homey knitwear he calls fascinating. “Her pieces are stunning, and she has some really interesting processes. She’s one of those people, like many of our designers, who moves between the fields of art and fashion.” Another standout for Smyth is Siphiwe Mnguni, a British-Zimbabwean painter who produces original works for 50m that explore different forms of femininity. Mnguni uses crayon to “explore the black female nude … through abstract figuration,” according to her website. “We work a lot with designers of color who are exploring their own identity through their work,” says Smyth.

There’s also Caitlin Yates, a contemporary designer who uses Google Maps as her main source of imagery. “She browses through Google Street View and finds shots and moments that she then frames and turns into garments, which is an interesting commentary on the use of free information and surveillance.” Other designers who have been popular on the platform of late include DaddyBears, a hilariously named soft-sculpture brand, and CONGREGATION, an anonymous collective of designers who have an almost religious commitment to upcycling and reinterpretation of objects, as Smyth puts it.

“There’s no one curator or buyer, and I don’t like using the word find, because it has colonial and imperialistic connotations,” Smyth says of the recruitment process, noting that his team is always looking for new brands to invite into the community. “Designers are beating their own path and putting themselves out there; they’re constantly sharing and having to give huge amounts of themselves to be seen online.”

Ideally, he sees the future of 50m to be a network of scouts in each city, like New York, Lagos, and even Melbourne. Until then, don’t be afraid to use 50m’s submission tool, he says, urging designers to get in touch no matter where they are in their processes. “We’re an open book.”

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