Secret London: Labour and Wait

Ok, so this shop is hardly a secret anymore, in fact it’s one of the most successful independent stores in London.
Labour and Wait was founded in 2000 by two former menswear designers, Rachel Wythe-Moran and Simon Watkins. Disillusioned with the constant desire for newness and over-designed clothes, they decided to leave their jobs in fashion, and create a business that had nothing to do with trends.
Their shop celebrates the simple and honest, featuring products that have been designed firmly with function in mind, rather than fashion. It focuses on sustainable goods made in enamel, stainless steel and wood, rather than plastic, throw-away alternatives.
Think a wooden toilet brush and steel bucket, Japanese enamel kettle, Welsh blankets and Cornwall-made candles.
Labour and Wait
Albeit some of the ideas behind the store have become cliché or hipster – you might question just how necessary an ostrich feather duster really is – however, there is definitely something to be said for the nostalgia of another time when buying items meant supporting independent businesses and investing in quality.
There is also a lot to be said for the retail experience offered by the shop. It has a retro, post-war atmosphere – it’s like a camping supplies shop, only for people who camp at home. The items are beautifully presented, even the common Carmex lip pot has an air of desirability in this context. There’s a pleasure to watching your gifts get carefully wrapped into a perfectly considered parcel – real thought and attention is put into all aspects of the experience.
Labour and Wait
What, to me, is particularly interesting about the shop is its garment offering. The brands stocked in the store include Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, Armour Lux and Filson, as well as fishermen’s smocks made in Great Yarmouth.
Being retailed in this kind of space, the clothes utilitarian nature is really emphasized – which encourages people to buy them for a particular purpose, rather than just because they’re fashionable.
Labour and Wait is not a traditional clothes shop and certainly not a fashion shop, but I think it’s a forward thinking example of how clothes could be sold in the future.
Labour and Wait
I remember meeting Blackhorse Lane Ateliers and PICO, and both said they saw their future market being more grocery stores, rather than standard clothes shops. They want to attract the same people that care about the origins of their food, the quality of design, utility over fashion, and supporting British industry.
In this sense, it seems wise for ethical clothing companies to place their garments in shops that share their ‘ethos’ rather than just their product-type.
Perhaps in the future we will buy our pants from the grocery shop, our jeans from the homeware shop and shoes from hardware shops?

For me it challenges how I see clothes sold, and in an age where ethics, utility and quality are being emphasised I think shops like Labour and Wait are an interesting possibility for independent clothing brands trying to reach their target market.
However, if you go to Labour and Wait for the clothes, there’s a large chance you’ll instead come out with an enamel colander, Japanese tongs, linen dishcloth or any number of items you didn’t know you really needed, but quickly decide you simply can’t live without.
I often go in here just for a browse, to walk into the shop and feel transported to a bygone age – an uplifting and inspiring experience.