Innovating within an institution that is over one hundred years old is no easy feat, but that’s what Innovation Partnerships Manager, Claire Selby has achieved with Studio KT1, a new venture coming from Kingston University in South London, England.
The idea is simple; redress the imbalance that students face when they leave university, as they try to find work in an industry desperate for experience while they don’t yet have any. Selby created the studio to imbue students of the Art School at Kingston University with the skills and real-world experience of working with corporate organisations and in mixed discipline teams.
The clients the students work with are world-renowned brands and corporate organisations who are looking for the best of the best. Think Unilever, Mozilla and Deloitte, along with local councils and areas like Canary Wharf. The team have completed over 50 projects and have created branding, photography, animations, artworks, events, exhibition stands and filming—most of which during lockdown.
Selby believes in empowering students:
“I’ve always shunned the limelight myself to let young people claim their place and be recognised for their talent. I’m purely the enabler. So many brands fail to trust young people when ultimately they know the drill, they grew up on digital and mobile. It’s us who have to catch up.”
Part of this project is Not My Beautiful House (NMBH), a pop-up concept that was born during COVID-19 by a team of over 40 students as part of their course. Selling artworks, prints, jewellery, ceramics—all products are from students, graduates alumni and anyone who wants to sell—around 180 vendors are represented through the project to date. The space regularly hosts workshops and exhibitions, giving the students an opportunity to showcase their skills and work with the community.
The business model is simple: 80% goes to the students, 20% goes back into developing future phases of NMBH, which Selby works on with Grace Richards, Business Development Manager at Union of Kingston Students. Originally backed by the Mayor of London “Make London” Fund and supported by Royal Borough of Kingston, NMBH is profitable after just 12 months, a testament to the power of the team to create and curate experiences that inspire and raise great interest.
NMBH isn’t just a retail environment, it’s a full business, as students from the design, cultural and creative industries, fine arts and graphics schools were all brought together to make the project a reality. “From the layout of the store to the design of shelves…and curating exhibitions and the shop layout, students have gained real-world experience, knowledge and hands-on experience of running a real live project.”
Currently, NMBH is now in its move-on location after an incredibly successful beta phase in a converted PC World store, which saw over 25,000 visitors and an average spend of £22. However, Selby notes that profit is not the primary driver for NMBH: “We wanted to create a space for students and people to try things out: creating a brand, selling a product, setting up an exhibition, manning a market stall, putting on an event—something beyond the average lecture”.
NMBH has attracted huge installations from the likes of X Collab, Storybox Collective, All Seeing RA, and hosted events for the likes of Black Pepper Creative, Creative Youth, Gabriela Pitanga, Jeru Draws and Fear Collective. NMBH is generating revenue from both the in-person store and the accompanying online store, which was also designed and run by Kingston students. Currently, the online store is operating at a 150% higher than average conversion rate compared to other arts and crafts websites.
The future for NMBH is unwritten according to Selby: “We don’t want to prescribe what happens—we have a team in place who can take this to the next level—it’s a legacy that is in their hands.”
Claire Selby, Innovation Partnerships Manager
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