Curatorial Retail: Labour and Wait

  • Rachel Wythe-Moran and Simon Watkins explain the philosophy and concept behind their functional and timeless East End design store
    labour and wait ceramic mugs and pots
    Words Chris Chasseaud
    Photography Liz Seabrook

    Hidden away within your memory I’m sure you have images of household products that your parents used during your childhood. You might have marvelled at the kitchen utensils your mum used and wondered at the practicality of your dad’s tool kit. East End store Labour and Wait offers a chance to resurface those memories to find familiar, if not similar, products of the same ilk, whether it’s clothes, tools or domestic decorations. Their Redchurch store sells traditional craft and utility items all sourced to fit a practical function with an appealing aesthetic.

    Rachel Wythe-Moran and Simon Watkins set up the store 13 years ago as a result of their love for these artisan products and gadgets. Both share a background in menswear design and discovered, while working together, that they harboured similar dreams of having their own shops, respectively. They decided that the natural thing to do was to join forces, leading them to launch their curated collection of goods within a peaceful and comfortable environment. “We like the physical aspect of going to a shop and experiencing the atmosphere. We wanted that for our shop. We wanted to have an environment where we could put any product and it would look and feel good,” says Watkins.

  • labour and wait paintbrushesThat physical experience is not only for the customers to enjoy. Like any passionate shop owner, the joy of interaction goes both ways: ”One example we find is with our navy work-wear overcoats; we once had an older woman and young trendy guy trying on the same coat. And we’d just think, how amazing is that! We find it amusing… where else could you see two so different customers with the same product, particularly clothing?”

    Their belief in a simple and honest approach to design is reflected in the products they sell. They are purposefully chosen, each fitting the description of being functional and timeless. “We really like craft products. But not the sort of craft in the sense that you put it on a shelf and admire it, but rather that it fulfils a function and can be used,” Watkins continues. That balance of form and function is prevalent throughout the shop, although you’d be forgiven if you stopped and spent time appreciating the products, as the majority of the shop’s goods are not only well crafted but also aesthetically beautiful.

    “We wanted to offer a friendly environment similar to a village shop where people can come in and we can talk to them about the products. We also want the shop to be relevant to the community. We want to offer familiarity to our customers. We think it’s quite key to be able to touch and feel the product so you can also imagine it in your own surroundings,” Watkins says about the reasoning behind Labour and Wait.

  • labourandwait display case

  • Keeping all of this in mind, the duo went about researching the products they liked and wanted in the shop. They started by sitting together in a cafe and wrote a long list. From that initial catalyst, they’ve amassed a collection of over 450 products ranging from soap dishes to gardening trowels, and enamel milk jugs to hurricane lamps.

    You get a slight sense of Labour and Wait being like a vintage shop or museum, but the fact that so many of the products are familiar to their customers keep them returning for more. With goods that have a timeless appeal paired with function and practicality, it’s an assured winning combination. Rachel and Simon seem to find a genuine satisfaction in bringing these products together, which enable their customers to embrace them into their own environments. “We think that a true Labour and Wait product is something that can be appreciated by all sorts of people,” Wythe-Moran says.

    Labour and Wait also produce a number of their own products in partnership with a handful of manufacturers such as the aprons and enamel lampshades. Incidentally, the aprons were initially made for themselves but have become so popular that they now supply them to numerous cafes and restaurants. labourandwait shop interior

  • labourandwait counter top with pans and ceramic potsMore products are constantly being added to the list, as well as ideas for collaborations. Their passion for finding gadgets still keep them going, well over a decade after launching. Although they confess they need keep that enthusiasm in check otherwise they’d end up with no space to showcase them. Some items, however, remain steadfast and regular products: “The big dustpans are favourites. As is the toilet brush and bucket. We knew we wanted that quite early on, but took us a little while to source it. It’s a combination we’ve put together but it’s turned into a customer favourite,” Wythe-Moran explains.
    Taking a well-paced approach in amassing their collection has paid off dividends. The fact that they’ve done the hard work in bringing beautiful and practical products together is an attraction in its own right. Labour and Wait is worth a visit if just to reminisce of the familiar products, as well as potentially discover some new ones.

    Labour and Wait, 85 Redchurch Street, London, E8 7DJ