Shopkeeper Profile-Kobi and Teal

This year we’re opening the door on some of Frome’s independent businesses, and we’re starting with one a firm favourite for many of you – Kobi & Teal.

Kobi & Teal is the brainchild of designers Nick Fraser and Polly Bell. It opened its doors at the top of Catherine Hill in March 2017, with “a mission to bring together a diverse group of small design brands, individual makers, and contemporary artists”. 

Ahead of the first market of 2019, and Kobi & Teal’s 2nd birthday, we catch up with Nick Fraser to talk about life as an independent retailer.

Hi Nick! Tell us a bit about Kobi and Teal…

Our main source of inspiration is the amazing work produced by all of the independent designers, makers and artists that we represent (and many who we don’t). Our motivation is to build a community of creatives, and in turn, an audience who share our values and appreciation for the collection of things that we sell. Our aim is to provide a platform that presents this work in a unique way, combining high quality work from a diverse range of disciplines.

Why Frome?

Soon after moving here, me and Polly took a stand at The Frome Independent and did so for two years prior to Kobi & Teal. It was a really positive experience for us and this gave us confidence that the people coming to Frome were interested in our work. The shop was offered to us on the basis that we were designer-makers ourselves. We weren’t planning on this, the opportunity just sort of made sense and seemed to be an exciting path to take. We love Frome and we are so grateful that there are plenty of people in and coming through the town that like what we are doing.

How does your own background in design inform your work as a curator at Kobi and Teal?
When designing, you consider various aspects of an object…colour, form, texture, proportion, scale etc. I guess I see curation in the same way, whether it’s setting out the shop or hanging an exhibition. I’d like to think I have an eye for presentation and it’s so important to present great work correctly for people to really appreciate it.

Tell us about your gallery space; why was it important for Kobi & Teal to operate as an art gallery as well as a shop?
It was certainly a daunting prospect to include a gallery space in our plan but in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions we made. For us the exhibitions not only enhance the content of Kobi & Teal but also brings together two creative areas that are crossing paths more and more. Essentially the shop and the gallery feed into each other in all sorts of ways and our visitors seem to enjoy the balance. The gallery is an equal part of the business now which we couldn’t have predicted but are so happy about…the challenge is to maintain the tempo!

You showcase a distinctive selection that covers both of traditional and contemporary craft, which always seems complimentary and seamless – despite being from a diverse range of makers and artists.

Thanks! We love things that are unique, that have personality and that celebrate the materials and processes that make them. We try not to be too specific with our aesthetic but instead when introducing new work, try to make sure it’s from a different angle in some way. We only show work from UK based independents so we at least have some restriction on our selection process!

Can you tell us about how you choose the work of the designers you exhibit?

We work hard at keeping an eye on what people are doing and things that are going on. I wish we had more time to travel around and see more in person but we try our best. I spend a lot of time in conversation with designers and makers discussing specific pieces or ideas and things go from there really. We try really hard to have items to suit a variety of budgets…the last thing we want to be is exclusive.

It feels that we are seeing more reports about the face of retail changing, with customers turning away from large corporations, and chain stores scaling back from the high street. How do you feel this is affecting small creative businesses and designer-makers?

I’m not convinced there’s a direct feed from one to the other as they are two very different markets. Saying that, I’d like to think people are being more considerate with what they are buying and where they are buying from. There are so many fantastic independent retailers that are offering something far more than the commercial high street but believe me, this does not come without lots of hard work and perseverance! Let’s hope that we are moving towards buying less but buying better.
For designer-makers, the scale of audience and interest is certainly there and growing but there are many challenges still to face. A shift in expectation of price and a better appreciation for materials, skill and creativity is starting to build but we have a long way to go yet. I’m hesitantly optimistic!

Finally – what does the future hold for Kobi & Teal?

Well first off, it’s our second Birthday this weekend and on Friday we will celebrate at the opening of our first solo exhibition of the year, Stumps / Future Meteorites by Christopher Jarratt. All are welcome to join us 6-8pm and see our contribution to the fantastic community event, Frome Window Wanderland.

As for the rest of the year, there are lots of exciting things in the pipeline. We are particularly excited about our exhibition taking place during Somerset Art Weeks in September which will showcase a collection of functional and sculptural objects from a diverse group of top ceramicists. We are also working on a number of new products for the shop in collaboration with some great designers and makers. Watch this space!

Thanks Nick! You can find Kobi & Teal on Catherine Street (top of Catherine Hill), where Market Makers can show their membership cards for a 10% discount on market days AND all year round!