To the Letter: Choosing Keeping

  • The proprietor of the magical East London stationery shop explains her ethos
    Hand crafted blue leather card holder by Choosing Keeping
    Words Tom Jenkins
    Photography Liz Seabrook
    Above: Handcrafted blue leather card holder by Choosing Keeping

    In our spring issue, nestled amongst the pages of The Porter in between a profile of furniture and lighting designer Brodie Neill and an essay from Jonny Keyworth, is a desk scene. On that desk lie a number of items of stationery: a weighty looking fountain pen perfectly poised, an inkpad and stamp, a neat circular pencil sharpener. They were lifted – I should make it clear here that they were returned – from the shelves of Choosing Keeping, the tiny, spellbinding stationery shop on London’s famous Columbia Road. Decorated in light tones, the shop’s selection of rare, handcrafted products has been thrilling convenience-seeking locals, fastidious creatives, zealous collectors and curious tourists for over 18 months. Here, proprietor Julia makes the case for handmade over mass produced and emphasises the importance of responsible consumption.

    Stationery is so amazing because it has the ability, a bit like perfume, to re-ignite old memories. A lot of the products in the shop are things that I recognise from my childhood in Japan, though I wouldn’t describe them as nostalgic in nature because that description isn’t very constructive. I’m really into 19th century history and many of the companies we stock have their roots in that period – primarily because of the industrial revolution – though I do fetishise early 20th century musty offices full of clerks! Interestingly, a lot of the first eraser companies in Japan were also car tyre makers – industrial history, in this sense, is about the development of new materials, more than new products.
  • 30° Black carbon blades and cast aluminium cutter by NT Japan
    Above: 30° Black carbon blades and cast aluminium cutter by NT Japan

  • Choosing Keeping
  • Choosing KeepingWe sell a lot of handmade products. It’s not really an aesthetic decision – the materials have to have integrity as does the design and the company. The most important thing is that there’s passion behind it, or it’s been somewhere or there’s an interesting story. There are ethical considerations too. We want to highlight companies that still manufacture in their countries of origin but are struggling, even though what they make is of a high quality. It’s about saying ‘I really like that little Italian factory and I’m going to support it. I’m not going to buy rubbish where people might be being exploited.’ It’s about taking some responsibility for your capitalism and your consumerism. The idea is that the money isn’t going on something that’s fluff, or a story manufactured by an advertising company – you’re giving your money to honest sectors of retail.

    We’re a bit clumsy: our customers like that. We have a lot of visitors from out of town on market days, as well as locals who make good use of our shop (to pop in and grab a stick of glue for instance). Then we have people who are involved in the creative process and need us to provide niche things in a professional sense. These products are tools to make things and we’re in a creative area, so it’s wonderful to be able to offer usable products, rather than giftware, that could inspire someone to be creative.

    Stationery is emotional for me: when I’m choosing a product it has to be love.