My Exhibition isn't your average secondhand store. Founder Sara Bruce has based the ecommerce venture on style and an eye for juxtaposition, creating and selling multi-item "looks" as well as individual artworks, furniture and homewares. She shared her strategy with The Register.
Tell us about the genesis of My Exhibition.
I started My Exhibition after working as a lawyer for many years because of an urge to do something creative and also to champion a more personal and unique kind of home style. It’s not about design trends or having a house that looks identical to all your friends. I love individuality and being around authentic things that have a history or a story attached to them.
You've got an interesting selling technique in the bundled 'looks' which include furniture, art and knick-knacks in one themed package. Where did that idea come from?
Really that came about from my own love of styling objects. If I’m rummaging around in a second-hand shop and see something interesting, I’m always thinking ‘what could I put that with’ and ‘how could I rescue that and make it amazing’. The challenge is half the fun especially if you’re getting a bargain.
I have realised that some people don’t have the time and inclination to do that themselves and that they appreciate a bit of help and inspiration.
How do you choose what to base the looks around?
Usually it’s a piece of furniture and then adding in art, ceramic and other interesting objects. But there’s no formula. I love juxtaposition and the unexpected- the Virgin Mary sitting next to a Maori chief, for example. 1980’s mixed with Art Deco. Anything goes.
Is it tempting to throw in items that haven't been selling independently?
Not really, it’s about what I think looks good and I wouldn’t want to compromise that. I haven’t reached that level of desperation yet!
What's the customer reaction been like? Do you think they really recreate the look just as you've styled it in their own homes?
So far, I don’t think people have recreated exact looks, no. It’s more about providing inspiration and the reaction to My Exhibition has been extremely positive. I do think a lot of people like the idea of being more creative and also being sustainable by buying vintage rather than a cheap design knock-off that will be thrown away before too long. I have noticed a lot of interest in ceramics and original art pieces- these are wonderful for adding colour and personality to a home and special because they’ve been personally created by passionate people. Not mass produced in a factory in Bangladesh.
What's your advice for other retailers who'd like to use their compositional eye for more than just window displays?
I’d say styling is everything, no matter what the product. We live in a highly aesthetic world now with the domination of social media. Everything is carefully curated and even people’s everyday lives are stylised. More retailers could do amazing things with a bit of imagination. And I’m always happy to help any time-poor businesses with some styling input!