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June 14, 2021 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: The Painted Bird

First established in 1991, The Painted Bird in St Ives has always been a family affair. Having taken over the reins, sisters-in-law Chloe Jackson and Hannah Dickson have brought a new direction with their shared passion for beautiful and functional design.
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

How would you describe The Painted Bird, in a nutshell?
Chloe: The Painted Bird has a collection of carefully chosen products for the home, body and living, with an aesthetic that’s pared-back and understated. We celebrate the handmade, the natural and the unique; products which are both beautiful and useful.

What did you do before running The Painted Bird?
Hannah: Having grown up with The Painted Bird – which my parents set up when I was eight – I was often working there on weekends and holidays. After leaving college I spent several months in Asia where I fell in love with India. While in Goa I set up my first clothing and homeware shop, ‘Bunti’, with my future husband. We travelled extensively around the country sourcing artefacts, textiles and clothing for our shop, and also sent some over to The Painted Bird in Cornwall. I developed a passion for fashion, style and colour. As I spent several months a year in Cornwall, I also became a partner in the family business.

Chloe: I took on The Painted Bird at the end of 2017 when my partner Remy’s parents decided to retire. We’d just had our first daughter after a long trip travelling around Asia, prior to which I had been working in advertising at the local newspaper. It was the perfect time for a change of direction and to get involved with the family business. I grew up in an artistic household where creativity was an integral part of family life – my dad was involved in painting and it was my mum who ran the business side, and from who I learnt the business skills which I now use daily.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

How did you first discover your love for what you do?
Chloe: I’d always been interested in interior design and the creative arts, and appreciate beautiful objects for both function and aesthetics. When I was a child, our family home was filled with studio pottery from makers from the local area. Family friends included ceramicists, jewellers, designers, and visual artists, and I think growing up in this environment massively influenced the direction I have taken with the shop.

What’s the story behind the name The Painted Bird?
Hannah: My parents started the business in 1991 with another couple whose father made hanging wooden birds, which were a distinctive part of the shop. At the same time, one of them was reading a famous book called The Painted Bird – the name just seemed to fit!

Chloe: With the rebrand, we chose to keep the name going but with a new logo designed by my father, Kurt Jackson, who is a Cornwall-based contemporary artist.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird
91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

How has your business evolved?
Chloe: The business was already well established when we took over, but we decided to take it in an altogether different direction in terms of the products and the overall aesthetic and feel of the shop.

We closed for about eight weeks to do a full refit of both the interior and exterior. At times this was nerve-wracking as it was hard to predict how people would react to the change as the shop was so well known, but thankfully we were met with huge enthusiasm and support from customers. The whole experience was a massive learning curve for me, as I had never even worked in a shop before, let alone run one!
Hannah: Having grown up with the shop, I wanted to take the business in a new direction with both the style and aesthetics. So it was great to have Chloe onboard, as she had similar ideas to me.

What is the ethos behind your business?
Hannah: We want to offer handmade, sustainable and beautiful items which are affordable. We also want our shop to be different, which is an increasingly challenging issue as the world becomes more and more homogenised. This tasks us with sourcing more and more individual products, both at home and abroad.

What does a typical working day look like?
Chloe: I split my week between working in the shop and working from home. If I’m in the shop, the day usually involves processing web orders, dealing with deliveries from suppliers, tweaking and changing the shelves and displays – and of course serving and chatting with customers. When I work from home I have to fit it around my one-year-old daughter, which can be a bit of a juggling act at times! Her nap time is crucial for being able to catch up on book-keeping, placing orders with suppliers, and all the other admin that comes with running a business.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird
91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

Where do you find creative inspiration?
Hannah: In everything around us!
Chloe: Cornwall is a very inspiring place to live with its rich culture and heritage. Also, the positive feedback that we receive from customers, friends and family is incredibly inspiring in the way it pushes you to keep finding new and exciting pieces.

How do you source items for The Painted Bird?
Chloe: Ordinarily, we would visit trade fairs on a regular basis, but since Covid this obviously hasn’t been possible. Instead, I have been finding inspiration from magazines, suppliers’ catalogues, and a lot of scrolling through Instagram, which is a brilliant place to discover UK-based ceramicists and jewellers. I am always keeping an eye out for Cornish makers and we are keen to develop this area in the business further.

Our core range of products are our cushions, throws and rugs, which we source directly from the makers in India. These pieces are a big part of The Painted Bird’s identity, and the fact that they are all individually handmade and completely unique is really special to us. This is another aspect that we are currently working on bringing more to the forefront.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

How did you approach the design of your store?
Chloe: All of the fixtures and displays are designed and made by my partner, Remy (Remy Dickson Designs), from either reclaimed or sustainably-sourced timber. They provide a neutral backdrop to enhance and highlight the products which are displayed on them. It was very important to us to create a relaxed and welcoming shopping environment.

How would you describe your location and neighbourhood?
Hannah: We feel so lucky to be situated where we are, in the beautiful old town of St Ives. Its history is all about fishing, and the influx of artists who relished the beauty and the light of the area, and who used old net lofts as their workshops. This artistic strain culminated in the opening of Tate St Ives in the early 1990’s. St Ives is now a fantastically popular tourist destination with wonderful beaches, independent shops and eateries, and a labyrinth of little cobbled lanes with old fisherman’s cottages.

How valuable is the online community to your work?
Chloe: Over this past year it has been absolutely crucial. We are so grateful for all the orders that we have received, they kept us going through what could’ve been an even more worrying time to be an independent business.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

In working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
Chloe: Recently, it has felt like there have been endless challenges to overcome due to both Covid and Brexit. When we reopened at the beginning of April, I realised just how much I had missed working in the shop and it was such a relief to be interacting with customers again. It’s a really lovely feeling, and so satisfying to see people get excited over something they have found in the shop or a new range that has just arrived.

How do you approach marketing and PR?
Chloe: To be honest, up until now we have never really engaged with it beyond sporadically posting on Instagram! I am trying to dedicate more time and be more consistent with our social media presence.

Favourite makers, products or bestsellers?
Hannah: I really like all of our pottery, especially our new range of rustic stoneware mugs from the east coast of India. Our current bestsellers are our handwoven cushions and hand block printed rugs. People love the earthy, natural tones and the fact that they are unique and made using traditional techniques.

Chloe: I absolutely love Clare Kilgour’s jewellery, and usually end up taking home at least one piece from every delivery! Also, Ankor Cornwall’s beautiful ceramics are really special – particularly as they are made so close to us. I’m always on the lookout for locally sourced Cornish pieces.

What have been your business highlights so far?
Chloe: I think coming out of the first lockdown and seeing so many familiar faces return to the shop was amazing. After such a worrying time it was such a boost to see the town busy again and for people to be so supportive of independent businesses.

Do you have any creative pastimes or other passions?
Hannah: In the little spare time that I have, I love designing clothing and textiles for my side-line business.
Chloe: I love cooking, visiting galleries, walking and sea swimming to name but a few.

91 Magazine's Shopkeeper Spotlight - The Painted Bird

What does your ideal day off look like?
Hannah: For me, an early yoga class or run followed by a day on any of the beautiful beaches we have around us.
Chloe: Exploring all that Cornwall has to offer – a coastal walk and picnic with my partner Remy and our two girls. Despite having lived here for my whole life there are still huge areas which I am yet to discover.

Any good advice for aspiring store owners?
Chloe: Find your niche or passion and expand on it – and be prepared to put the hours in! It is also really important to find a good team, we wouldn’t be able to do all that we do without our incredible staff.
Hannah: Start small and build up gradually. Don’t over expose yourself financially!

What does the next year hold for you?
Hannah: Looking further ahead, we are working on creating and expanding our own branded product line.
Chloe: The business is constantly evolving and adapting. We’ve always had a strong vision and sense of identity, but I think you have to be open to change to survive. Our current project is to expand the web side of the business, and we are in the process of having a new website created. In-store we’ve got a beautiful new range of handmade lamp shades coming soon which I’m really excited about. We’re always working on expansion and have lots of projects in the pipeline, so watch this space!

Find The Painted Bird at 3 Fore Street, St Ives, Cornwall, via their website and Instagram.

Photography by Ali Green

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