Poppy Woods chats to one of Brixton’s most up and coming young artists about her residency at the Department Store Studios, new business, creativity and the importance of community
By the time I press play on the recording app on my phone Coco and I are already deep in conversation about the unspoken aspects of female exercise. How much hormonal cycles can affect performance in athletes in the Olympics, and ourselves in everyday life. We have just sat down at Max snack bar, a Portuguese cafe under an arch on Brixton station road. Coco is at ease, greeting and making conversation with a women as we cross to the table, casually dispensing recommendations for the best local cafes to me. One sip of coffee in and I’m hooked, having lived just a minute away from The Department Store for most of her life, her residency at the Department store as one of two Lambeth based entrepreneurs awarded free membership for the next year suits her and the space both, in equal measure.
Coco’s concept is both beautifully delicate and entirely utilitarian, filling a space left in a market dominated by masculinity. She plans to combine predominantly natural yarns with high visibility to make a completely new type of cycling attire for a new emerging female driven commuter market. One where wearability is as much about the destination as the journey, as she explains it:
‘The dual kind of clothing idea…; it’s a more stylish idea of cycling and obviously the clothes can still be worn even if you aren’t on your bicycle…but if you wanted to go to the club.’
The concept began during the third Covid lockdown when Coco got seriously into cycling, having like many others gained confidence during the period when the city became still.
‘And then I was cycling around more and more and it was like one of those ones where I’m like: the reflective clothing is just so disgusting.’
Initially for personal use, Coco began playing with the idea of incorporating reflective materials into more natural ones and says she felt as though the universe was ahead of her when one of her favourite yarn stockists announced a new type of reflective yarn. It was at this point in her experimentations that she found out about The Department Store residency opportunity, via the Brixton project who she had been selected by to participate in the Electric Avenue shutter project the previous year. With only a few days left until the deadline set about writing her application. She says it all suddenly became real when found out she had reached the interview stage.
Day to night: images of Coco’s current prototypes under different lighting conditions.
Images courtesy of artist @cococripps
For Coco, the residency is as much about the mentorship as the space. Recipients receive mentorship from professionals in a range of different disciplines, from creative to business and financial. As a creative she says that this side comes easily to her but that the residency provides her with space and support for the other aspects of running a business and that it is this distinction which she really benefits from.
Coco is currently working on prototypes, a lot of which she has done on a rental machine with an aim to buy her own once she has more investment and then a digital one further down the line. When I ask her if more investment and her own industrial machine means she will be able to make everything in-house she tells me this is not ethically how she would want her brand to work, that
‘if it was to be something people could buy and afford I don’t think I could make them myself. Otherwise people would be having to pay too much money.’
For now, she hopes that she can at least provide this financial accessibility through creating smaller pieces like wristbands and long gloves, we both stop for a moment to take in the image of a cyclists arm glowing as they indicate through the London night.
Coco has lived in Brixton most of her life and still uses her childhood bedroom, a minutes walk away from The Department Store to house her textiles and current machines; her creative studio space. She tells me she is heading over there this afternoon to ‘do the shading on a jacket for like 150 drawings’, we bond over the inter-disciplinarianism with which our generation must approach career and, indeed, life. How it is so far removed from that of our grandparents. As well as animation, Coco teaches piano and helps run an under 5’s playgroup. She tells me she has already cut down since receiving the residency and that she hopes as she gains more investment she will be able to devote yet more time to her new business. But, she says, however much investment the business gets she never wants to completely stop doing everything else, saying:
‘I think it’s really helpful, to see different perspectives…It’s really easy when you’re creative to get into a one mode of being…like any creative thing, it can be easier to communicate a creative thing with another creative person, but really you should be able to communicate to anybody, even if they have no concept of the creative world.’
She tells me it’s all about: ‘being connected to where we are’. She is, both literally and metaphorically, the Department Store, and Brixton’s: girl next door.