Popping up at The Oxford Covered Market

Small businesses with a purpose

Marketing Manager – Feng, shares her thoughts on the Oxford Covered Market.

I have been an Oxford local most my life and I am only now rediscovering the Covered Market. Every Wednesday, my parents would do their weekly grocery shopping in the market, buying unusual cuts of meat from the butchers, shellfish from the fishmongers, and fruit cake from Nash’s bakery. They looked forward to having their weekly catch-up with the business owners, who would often throw in a few extras for free. My Dad only ever owned one pair of smart shoes during his lifetime, which had been re-soled countless of times at the Oxford Cobbler. As a teenager, I used to love Bow Bangles (which changed to East Meets West, and now home to pop-up shop – Fairtrade in the Market) where I bought my tie-dyed clothing, black nail polish, and got my ears pierced several times without my telling my parents.

Since moving to Abingdon 8 years ago, shopping at the Covered Market has completely dropped off my radar, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has lost touch. Ironically, whilst the main aim of the Westgate shopping center redevelopment in 2017 was to boost the local economy, the retailers who benefited were the large high street chains, taking away footfall and customers from the small independents. However determined I am to ‘shop small’ and ‘support local’ it is very dependent on time and money. Large online retailers have tapped into this, making shopping so cheap and convenient – but at what cost?

I’m not perfect but I try my best when I can, and I know that I will almost always find what I’m looking for in the Covered Market – plastic-free cucumbers, loose leaf tea and skate board stickers (for my daughters). With the news of four pop-up shops opening in the Oxford Covered Market from November 2021 until the end of February 2022, I was on a mission to connect with these businesses. Last Friday, I went on a little adventure.

Read on to find out what I discovered.

The Woolhound

My first stop was at the The Wool Hound – a colourful and cosy space filled with super-soft yarn in rainbow colours. I just wanted to touch and feel everything! Business owner, Jess, was very warm & friendly and busy dealing with customers at the time. As an Abingdon resident, I am lucky to have Masons Haberdashery as my local craft shop, but Oxford locals are not so spoilt for choice. For crafty-curious to expert knitters, there is something for everyone. There is a great range of knitting & crochet accessories and books. In my opinion, every town should have an art & craft shop. Not only is crafts a good outlet for creativity, but is really important for mental health.

Later on I discovered that The Wool Hound offer free same day & next day deliveries within the Oxford ring road, courtesy of Pedal & Post and the Oxford Covered Market So you can get your yarn delivered to your doorstep by bike!

Y.O.U. Underwear

Y.O.U Underwear business owner – Sarah, wasn’t in today, so I had a chat with Harriet instead. I first stumbled across Y.O.U a few years ago, and I am so proud to see how they have grown! Y.O.U. Underwear was awarded their B Corp certification in December, and were the highest scoring B Corp in the UK, and the top fashion brand in the world – that’s an incredible achievement! Fairtrade & Vegan underwear by Y.O.U. Underwear is ‘good for the world as it is for your wardrobe.’

They have a wide range of underwear for all genders in different colours & patterns. Being a mum of two daughters, I was particularly drawn to their range of underwear for girls. Their buy-one give-two model means that every time you buy a pair of Y.O.U underwear from the core women’s, men’s and girls’ collections, they donate two pairs of underwear to Smalls for All.

Right next doors to Y.O.U Underwear is Ducky Zebra. This retail space was filled with Colourful children’s clothing (age 0-6 years) that has so much to smile about. Ethically made in India, designed to last, and made from organic cotton. But what makes Ducky Zebra really stand out is that their designs are free from gender stereotype. Ducky Zebra’s mission ‘allowing all children, whatever their gender, to celebrate kindness and confidence.’

Sally from Ducky Zebra shared the story of her business journey with me with so much passion and honesty. I loved the fact that children had an input to the design process, and that there were clothing with deep pockets! The retail space was large and welcoming, and even had a children’s play area with a tent, toys, books & colouring sheets. Ducky Zebra are proud partners of Chance UK, and every time you buy an item of Ducky Zebra clothing they donate £1 to their charity, inclusive of tax.

Fairtrade in the Market

A shop that I’ve been involved with through working at Fairtrade at St Michaels, is Fairtrade in the Market. We’ve teamed up with our friends at Headington Fairtrade and it’s been a great few months (thanks everyone!) Fairtrade in the Market is a friendly space with a wide range of fairly traded home ware, accessories, food & gifts. I particularly like the patterned bamboo socks and colourful ceramics. Our aim was to investigate the benefits of having a presence in the Covered Market, and to see if it would help widen our reach.

Visit these pop-up shops before the end of February!

Headington Fairtrade was one of four independent businesses who were matched by Makespace Oxford to the empty retail spaces in the Market, as part of a wider regeneration program. ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ (MiO) was developed by Oxford City Council on behalf of Oxfordshire’s district councils, alongside Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) who secured the £1.9m in funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

The main aim of MiO is to breath life back into the Oxfordshire’s urban areas by filling up boarded up buildings & empty shops with purpose driven businesses. These property spaces are affordable short-term leases that makes having a pop-up shop just before Christmas logistically & financially viable. Makespace Oxford received over 300 applicants from business owners, and Headington Fairtrade was matched with the former ‘East meets West’ shop in the Covered Market. Headington Fairtrade invited us to collaborate with them, we said ‘yes please!’ and the rest is history. We are extremely thankful to Makespace Oxford for giving us this opportunity!

These pop-up shops will be trading until the end of February. Why not take a wander through the Covered Market and see what you discover. Click here for Google Maps Normal opening hours to the public are from 8 am – 5.30 pm Monday to Saturday and 10 am – 4 pm on Sundays. Each business has its own opening times and days, so please check when individual shops are open.

Final Thoughts

With my Fairtrade at St Michael’s hat on, I’m now thinking up marketing ideas and ways in which small independent shops in Oxford can work together to promote each other. We will certainly be directing customers who are looking for ethical underwear, childrenswear and craft materials to the Covered Market, and spreading the word about these businesses.

On a personal level, I would love to see the Covered Market return to it’s former glory, but that isn’t going to happen on it’s own. We need to see beyond ‘convenience’ and start valuing ‘shopping experience’. We have lost the connection between customer and retailer, but it is not too late to rebuild relationship. I often think about my parents and how shopping brought home more than products, it brought home a sense of belonging to the wider community.

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