Lowell: Norwich Lanes’ very own seventies living room

Owners Cat and Jack on launching a brand during lockdown and doing it for the best reasons

ABOVE: Lowell, 8 Pottergate, Norwich [credit: Maja Anushka]

When you walk into Lowell (and you will walk into Lowell), you’re immediately aware of a sense of cosiness. The brand’s colour palette starts at the forest green store front, and then stretches throughout the shop into deep browns and mossy tones. There’s a steady stream of music playing from the turntable by the till. There are two large vintage rugs on the floorboards, and a sofa and coffee table right in front of the door. Zines, posters, books, and stickers decorate the walls and surfaces. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel inclined to stay, to explore, and to let time tick by.

Lowell’s space is small, but the shop doesn’t feel cramped. Box stands of records are at the front of the shop, lit by the large window. At the back, neat rails of colourful dresses, shirts, jumpers, and skirts invite you to browse. Plants climb up the walls and spread across tables. The welcoming ambience of Lowell is no accident or happy coincidence. It is the result of the co-owners efforts to create a very specific environment.

JACK: We established really early on that it was going to a community space first, and a shop second. I think we both believe that if you create something where people feel safe, and that’s inclusive, then the money will come. But you have to make sure you’re doing it for the best reasons, and that’s been proven in the last month, being here. It’s been really consistent, and people will hang out here constantly, and sit outside on the bench and chat.

CAT: It’s quite prevalent throughout the whole of Norwich, especially with [independent businesses], but I think passion and a real love for what you do is the key to success in any business.

Jack and Cat, three days before opening [credit: Gooding Photo]

“If you create something where people feel safe, and that’s inclusive, then the money will come.”

Jack and Cat met at Norwich University of the Arts, through mutual friends, while Jack studied design for publishing and Cat studied textiles. They had both already honed their passions, and what would become the basis of Lowell, by the time Jack asked to do a collaboration with Cat while she was doing a pop-up shop.

CAT: We spent four days seeing how it all worked together, and putting things up together, and the business seemed to work really well together, and we just felt that there was a good energy. A few months went by, and [Jack] saw that this space was going up for rent, and we were like… shall we just run a shop? And I was like, yeah, let’s do it!

As exciting as it may seem to spontaneously decide to open a shop with an old friend, it was an incredibly stressful experience for the pair, who are only 23 and 24, with little first-hand business experience.

CAT: Although we’ve had a few hard months, and it’s not been the easiest thing to do, especially with our fumbled together business plan which sort of didn’t really exist—

JACK: It still doesn’t exist.

CAT: (laughs) Yeah. We kind of flew by the seat of our pants a bit, but the thing is, we have this quiet, strong drive, and a passion for both sides of the business, and I think that’s what people see and latch onto.

JACK: I realised quite quickly that [Lowell] was, almost, bigger than both of us. We had to be prepared for so much more than just what we were both going to take from it. Like, getting an accountant, and getting insurance, working out shares of the company, starting a limited company, alarms, and things like that. You sit back, and it seems so impossible at the start, to get all of that stuff, and then you just do it, and it’s done.

“We have this quiet, strong drive, and a passion for both sides of the business.”

Lowell offers a range of vintage clothing, from dresses to jumpers [credit: Maja Anushka]

The two young business owners are very literal when they speak about the importance of community to the life and brand of Lowell. There are very few aspects of the shop which haven’t come from a local labourer, close friend, or other independent business. The logo at the top of the window outside the shop was painted by Ed Le May. The woodwork inside the shop was crafted by Steve from Return Home. Even the till is a hand-me-down:

CAT: We just talked to everyone, and got advice from everyone we knew. I worked at Elm, I was one of the first staff they hired, so I know Paige and Alfie relatively well, so they helped us out. We’ve actually got their till!

Cat works on altering clothes while running the shop [credit: Maja Anushka]

Jack is especially passionate about how the shop can have a real effect on the people in and around it.

JACK: I’ve got a bit of an obsession with places where people feel like they can belong. Through my life, I’ve had places like that, that have changed my perception on life and the world. I especially think now, in the world that we live in, it’s really important for people to have that. That was my number one intention going into this, and it was the thing I obsessively thought about. It has to be a place where people feel like they can be safe, and feel inclusive, and people can walk in and they feel like there is absolutely nothing threatening about it. So, to see that starting to happen and starting to work is really exciting, and it’s really beautiful, I think.

CAT: Loads of people have come in and said it feels like a little seventies living room, and that was sort of what we were going for. From the out, we were like, we need a good sofa, a nice coffee table, somewhere that people can sit and feel like they can sink, and just be.  

“It has to be a place where people feel like they can be safe, and feel inclusive, and people can walk in and they feel like there is absolutely nothing threatening about it.”

But it’s not been relaxed and easy all the time. Starting a business comes with its own challenges, but doing so in the midst of a National Lockdown is unthinkable for most people. However, Jack and Cat say that the unusual circumstances were strangely helpful.

JACK: It was easier because it was quieter, because there was less demand for us to be ready at a certain time. It was cheaper because of the lockdown.

CAT: When Ed painted our sign, around March time, we were like, “thank god there’s not a million people here sticking their heads in the door while we’re painting and doing things.” As [Jack says], we didn’t have as much pressure to open, which we already felt anyway on ourselves.

As if they hadn’t already taken on enough, Jack tells me that both he and Cat were also still working part-time jobs when they were getting the shop ready to open. They relied on their friends to help them pull everything together.

JACK: We had the stress of the pandemic, but then we also took on this project where we had a responsibility to make it work. That added to the pressure in general was quite worrying and quite scary. We were both working part-time jobs. I was working at Strangers pretty much full-time through the last lockdown, so I was finishing at Strangers and then coming straight here afterwards. We were staying here into the night getting things done, especially in the last two weeks of us getting ready to open.

CAT: Frantically stamping things. (laughs)

JACK: Yeah! All the labels here are hand stamped and hand written, so the last day before we opened, we had a production line of people, stamping labels and writing band names and band albums—

CAT: And pricing things.

JACK: And then we all had some food and stood outside and stress-smoked cigarettes, like, “fuck, that was a long night.” It was really cool. I tend to think about that night more than about the whole lead up to the production— I don’t really remember any of it, except for that night, specifically.

‘DEATH TO FASCISM’ sticker on the shop’s fuse box [credit: Maja Anushka]

The shop, both physically and metaphorically, is split in two, because Jack and Cat each take control over one part of the business. For Cat, fashion is something that has to be physical.

CAT: When I envisaged [Worthless Vintage] as a business, I always had the end goal of having a shop. It’s about the tangibility, especially of vintage, because there’s so much history in pieces. I’m always the one who looks at the labels, seeing what things are made of, where they come from, what brand they are… that’s so much more physical than online. There’s just something in seeing someone pick something out, try it on, and it [fit perfectly], and then be like “aw, that’s where that’s going to go now, and that’s going to live with that person.” It surpasses the whole style thing— that connecting people with stuff that they love.

Cat already ran Worthless Vintage before she started Lowell [credit: Maja Anushka]

For Jack, there is no better time to be opening a shop with the intention of selling vinyl.

JACK: It tends to move in a circle, with music. We’ve spent so long now being obsessed with the digital age of music, and this concept of having so much on your phone, and so much option, and there being no real connection to it, but its all there if you want it. Kids are finally craving something to be attached to and hold onto. [They] are able to buy a Harry Styles album and open it, and look at all these things, and feel like something actually belongs to them. A record is like a piece of artwork, right? You can put it on your wall, they usually come with a poster, you can look at the lyrics, you can spend time with it, and then on top of that you have the most obvious thing, which is that you can play the vinyl. There’s something about vinyl sound that is very different and that people really connect to.

“Kids are finally craving something to be attached to and hold onto.”

Cat and Jack’s enthusiasm and genuine love of what they’re doing makes you eager to see Lowell develop and grow. The shop is hardly even a few months old, but I asked about their future plans anyway.

CAT: We want to, when things open up again, have gigs here, and have people come in, and do readings, and just make it sort of a venue as well as a shop. Like we said, it’s a community first thing. We want it to be somewhere that things are happening, and people can go and sit and be and experience things. 

JACK: A long term plan for me is I’d really like to have a pressing plant, a vinyl pressing plant, in the city. Vinyl is so expensive to make and it feels like it’s unachievable for so many young bands. I think it’d be cool to have somewhere that made affordable, sustainable vinyl, but that’s a way off yet. We’re just gonna work on this and get this going. Maybe I’ll think about that when I’m a millionaire.

Lowell can be found at 8 Pottergate in the Norwich Lanes [credit: Maja Anushka]

In a time when many beloved shops are seemingly vanishing from the high street, Lowell’s newfound success feels like a win for the entire city, rather than just for two individuals. Next time you’re in the Lanes, pop into Jack and Cat’s shop. Even if you just stop by for a look around and a chat, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s