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April 29, 2024 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: Lifestory

Bringing a dose of Scandinavian and Japanese design to Edinburgh and online, alongside complementary UK design, Lifestory's considered offering has a beautifully fresh and contemporary aesthetic
Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store
Susan Doherty of Lifestory, Edinburgh in the Scandi-inspired lifestyle store
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,

Photography

Anna Considine
Photographer,
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Hi Susan, how would you describe Lifestory?

Lifestory is a design and lifestyle store that wouldn’t look out of place in Copenhagen. It offers a friendly and welcoming in-store and online experience where you can browse Scandinavian brands amongst local makers across a wide range of departments. From jewellery and fragrances for yourself to colourful jackets for your dog, to kitchen and bathroom accessories for your home, all of which make for the perfect gift too.


Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

What did you do before setting up your business?

My background is a mix of a career in law, digital media and more latterly entrepreneurialism. Before Lifestory, I ran my first business for 11 years before selling it in 2018 – a pioneering healthy cafe/juice bar that was loved by customers and I was very proud of. 

Through these experiences I developed my skills in business, putting the customer experience first and also realised my passion for design and interiors. Specifically, my interest is in the clean, uncomplicated aesthetic which I found in Japanese and Scandinavian design. Running both businesses concurrently for Lifestory’s first four years gave me the opportunity to flex my brand development skills across two sectors until I was ready to sell the first business. I’ve loved having my focus fully on Lifestory since, taking it from strength to strength. 

What inspired the idea of setting up Lifestory?

It was born out of inspiration to create in Edinburgh the kind of shopping experience I encountered in cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and – many years ago – Melbourne when I lived there. Design stores were few and far between in Edinburgh and I wanted to bring some of that to our city. I had a vision to create an immersive and beautiful space that took inspiration from Scandinavia and Japan but also looked closer to home in sourcing its collections, curating a unique aesthetic that sits comfortably under one roof. 

Susan Doherty of Lifestory, Edinburgh in the Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

What is the ethos behind your business?

Authenticity, good design, playfulness and being truly independent. Lifestory is friendly and approachable, and it’s accessible in terms of budget – that’s always been very important to me. Our customers love its relaxed vibe and know they can drop in anytime, whether to have a look around at what’s new or pick up a card, or perhaps consult on a larger piece for their home.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I find inspiration in nature, urban architecture and in the incidental things of daily life. Also from travel and seeing what the latest styles are in interiors as well as leisure, hotel & restaurant design, particularly in Scandinavia and Europe. I keep an active interest in local makers and the creative journeys they’re taking and love that I now count many of our suppliers as friends. 

My brain makes connections between things that may otherwise seem unrelated, so my notebook and phone are full of snaps and screenshots of new finds and makers and eventually I join up the dots and we have a new collection. 

I am lucky and grateful that I have an awesome team who bring their creativity to work every day. Working together brings out the best of all of us, from innovating smart systems to make the business run better to merchandising new creative displays in the store. 

Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

Could you tell us about your curation – how do you source your collections?

The store is a reflection of my style and what I adore, so I source by eye and instinct with each piece being something that I would have in my own home. 

Sourcing focuses on a neutral colour palette that accommodates a surprise of colour, clean lines and considered design. I love ceramics, jewellery and homeware and enjoy working with designer-makers for the long term, moving from season to season together, as well as finding new and interesting products that are not available anywhere else. Travel was what inspired Lifestory in the beginning, and my ongoing travels continue to contribute to the store’s evolution. 

Our curated selection includes Studio Arhoj, Notem, HAY, Stalogy, Toyo, Ferm LIVING and Meraki, all from Scandinavia and Japan. In addition to the Scandinavian brands, I source local and UK makers that share similar aesthetics and values with our Nordic friends.

How did you approach the design of your space?

The Scandinavian aesthetic is what informs our design and using natural light wood as well as various types of display to accentuate the products helps our customers visualise them in their own home. The space itself lends well to the look and feel as it already had high ceilings and arched windows with lots of light, and was left in a beautiful condition by the previous owners. Over the years I’ve extended the space by one third and added lots of new display areas and a coffee bar. The interior is warm and welcoming, with afternoon light flowing in the large back window, reflecting the warm and welcoming service we offer. 

Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

Tell us about your location and community…

Lifestory is located on London Street in the architectural wonder that is the New Town of Edinburgh, a short 5 minute walk from Waverley Station. The area itself is Broughton Street/London Street which has always been an independent neighbourhood featuring cafes, florists, gift shops and bakeries. We even have our own independent grocery, fishmonger and butcher on the street, which is sadly rare now in city centres. We are also only a 10 minute walk away from another great neighbourhood for indies, Stockbridge. All of this makes it a great place to stay when visiting the city, with lots of Airbnbs, hotels and guest houses on our doorstep. 

We are so blessed with our community here and being around like-minded independent businesses makes us feel very at home.  Collectively as shopkeepers, we look out for each other and promote the area with shopping events throughout the year.

Has your business evolved since you began?

Lifestory is ever changing and always will be. We evolve with our customers needs, the economic climate and with my vision as a business owner. For the first 4 years I was also still running my other business, so selling that in 2018 to focus on Lifestory full time and build a great team was definitely a key milestone for the business. 

Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

Is the online community important to your work?

It is. Being an early adopter (I was working in the online space as early as 2000, before most of our clients even had websites). I feel like I have seen the full curve. What I love about it is the ability to connect with people who are interested in your story, and vice versa. To make friends, build connections, to help and be helped – I love that side of it. Lifestory benefits from social media, I love that I can talk to customers directly and showcase what we do. I’m fascinated about how quickly social media changes but also how it’s another reflection of the school playground in many ways. 

We’ve had an e-commerce website since the beginning and completely redesigned it during the pandemic. It continues to evolve since and for us it’s been a goal to have our full collection on the website with same/next day dispatch. The shop doesn’t operate through just one sales channel, people browse in-store and shop online or vice versa. The direction of the website is evolving to provide more engaging content for our online community which is something I enjoy. I get help in this area from my partner Tom as well as my team and it’s a fun project to share.

Working as an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

For me the joys are around the freedom it gives me to design the business how I envision it, the customers and team I spend my time with, and in no two days being the same. Working in a beautiful calm space that gives me peace is a dream come true. 

As a founder wearing many hats, the challenges or risks are in taking on too much, and in the last few years the economic and global issues have meant I have really had to hone my business skills and be resilient. We have to be more adaptable than ever to change and stay ahead of the curve.

Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store

How do you approach marketing and PR?

I think I mainly approach it like a person who wishes they had more time for marketing and PR! I’m sure a lot of other business owners will relate. Promotion for me is telling the story of our business and brands, and at the moment it’s mainly through our social accounts, which I run. Word of mouth is very important to us, in real life as well as online, and our customers frequently tag us in content which I’m so grateful for as it helps us reach a wider audience.

Favourite makers or products that you sell

It’s hard to have favourites as everything I stock is something special to me, but as I adore ceramics I’ll draw attention to two local potters, Borja Moronta and Emporium Julium, who amaze me with their craft. Also, to jewellers Behind Bracken and new to Lifestory, Hannah Bourn whose nature inspired jewellery we can’t get enough of. I’ve loved taking the journey with our Scandinavian brands like Moebe, HAY and Ferm LIVING and can’t quite believe we are approaching 10 years of proudly stocking these brands in Edinburgh.

What have been your business highlights so far?

Our customers are an absolute highlight for me. Their loyalty and the joy they get from choosing things at Lifestory makes me smile every day. 

Doing something I love with a team that I respect and admire is a daily highlight and growing the business in an extremely challenging environment over the last few years is definitely another triumph. 

We’ve enjoyed some memorable milestones along the way, including being chosen to feature in publications like Elle Decoration, Cereal Guide, Condé Nast Traveller, Places To Shop (thank you 91 magazine!), and in Hidden Scotland’s upcoming book are all highlights.

Inside Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store
What does your ideal day off look like?

A day off for me gives head space to be creative. We live by the sea so taking our dog for a long walk on the beach is often how the day starts. Regardless of weather, I’ve always been drawn to the ocean and love the days when we make it there for daybreak. 

I’ve always been into coffee/cafe culture and for daytime, local cafes like Argyle Place, Fortitude and Ante are fond favourites. In my spare time I enjoy baking which I find meditative and I’m playing around with pottery now, too. 

Tom and I are very into food and the people behind the businesses, and we love a good dining experience. I really enjoy a cinema trip so if there’s a good film, we’ll do that and have dinner in a local eatery. Edinburgh has so many wonderful restaurants to offer – The Little Chartroom, Montrose and Heron are all great spots for dinner as is Edinburgh Street Food, Aemelia and our next-door neighbours, The Ox, for something more casual.

Lifestory, Edinburgh a Scandi-inspired lifestyle store
Any good advice for aspiring store owners?

It’s easy to underestimate what’s involved in running a store/business, so do plenty of research where you can, understand your customer and the economics of the business well. Have fun with it and be sure to enjoy the journey.

What does the next year hold for you?

We are growing our team which will allow me more time to spend on the parts I love most. Early 2024 is a time for reflection as well as working on new exciting collaborations and introducing new brands. Lifestory will soon be celebrating its 10year anniversary, so this is an exciting year ahead. 

@lifestoryedin
Lifestoryshop.com

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