At Work With: Andy & Becky, Colours May Vary
Arts librarian Andy Gray and retail designer Becky Palfery opened their magazine shop Colours May Vary in Leeds eighteen months ago. We meet them as they prepare to open their first events space and launch a range of commissioned screenprints.
Where are you today?
We are in the shop, contemplating getting a coffee from the café next door and waiting for deliveries. Munro House, where our shop is situated, is a lovely late Victorian red brick building, full of creative businesses, a gallery and Café 164, whose cakes are always trying to lure us from the printed page.
What can you see from the window?
If you’d asked us last week we could have said a van in flames! Today we are looking out at our usual view of the bus station, the passing traffic and, if we crane our necks, the top of Leeds Minster poking above the trees. All life seems to pass by – it’s a good spot to people watch from.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Andy: I am most definitely a morning person. I’m up and ready to go early doors (after a coffee from Laynes Espresso if I get the chance) and definitely feel more productive in the morning. Plus there is a nice coolness to the building in the morning and you get to feel the city coming to life (and you get the deliveries first).
Becky: I would love to say I am a morning person, Andy is always up with the lark but I am more attuned to evenings and working into the night, We work well in shifts!
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
We don’t always agree on everything (the pickled onion versus beef Monster Munch debate rages still), but we both love the new issue of Another Escape. From the outset this beautiful magazine has stopped us in our tracks and the latest issue feels like a real step forward. The focus on a theme (this time wood) really works well, and the photography and text never fight for supremacy, the articles are engrossing and well written and the images encapsulate the words perfectly – it feels completely harmonious. We love this balance of style and content.
We have to mention Wrap too. We have been ardent fans since it’s launch and always look forward to the latest release. The new issue demonstrates what we love most about the magazine, not only does it continue to keep us informed about new image makers and run profiles on the current pace-setters, but it constantly evolves keeping the offer fresh and exciting whether it be format or layout. Polly and Chris have an impeccable eye for content.
Tell us about the shop – what led you to open it?
We are just over a year and a half old, but as an idea we have existed for… years! The desire to open a shop was always strong, we’ve both worked in retail, (Our Price/Habitat) and both loved the experience of dealing with customers, opening new releases and launching new collections and the social life that went alongside, it’s busy, but we like life that way.
We are magpies too, always looking for those hidden gems off the high street, walking to the periphery of a city to find an interesting shop, whether it be furniture, books or anything that whets our appetite. A lot of interesting life lies on the borders and in the shadow, away from killer rates and GreggsBucks. We definitely took this into account when finding a premises, the idea of passages through city, of destinations to be discovered.
We also love a challenge. People kept telling us ‘print is dead!’, so we thought we’d test the theory, swim upstream. We are so glad we did; as it seems that the not only is there life in the old dog, but his nose is wet and his coat well glossy!
Do you feel magazine publishers are supportive of independent shops like yours?
We have been delighted at how supportive publishers and distributors have been of what we are trying to do. Often, when we deal with a new publication directly, the publisher will go out of their way to keep minimums low so we can trial the title, see how our customers react and give us time to properly promote it.
When we’ve run pop-ups, of which we’ve done many, publishers have nearly always supplied items to us on a sale-or-return basis, so we don’t have to fret about surplus stock. The best reward though is the relationships we have built up with the people responsible for these beautiful magazines, communicating with the folks who have created what arrives in those exciting cardboard boxes. It feels informal, friendly and meaningful.
Is there a particular type of magazine that sells well?
Some titles, such as The Gentlewoman, Kinfolk, Frankie and Wrap, are always eagerly anticipated and snapped up quickly. They are treasured and collected and it’s not hard to see why. As regards type of magazine which sells well, we’d have to say those publications which present a personal slant to life, that are driven by people’s stories and experiences. Adventuring and the great outdoors, collaborating and making, and of course, eating are intriguing to us all. These magazines seem to breathe more slowly, they aren’t about what happened yesterday, they are about people and stories, they seem to go deeper. It’s like Ferris Bueller said ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Exciting things are afoot. We launch our event space in July and we will be getting out first series of commissioned screenprints (from awesome local printers Dots Printhaus & Tommy Davidson) back for our opening show. We have some really talented artists involved and are ultra keen to see the artwork transferred from digital files to pigment on paper! It is such a thrill to get a window into the creative process, from initial brief to exhibition.
Oh, and on the weekend we will be going to eat chilli and drink beer at the impossibly great Drew Millward’s residence. Good Times!
Portrait by Giles Smith; other images Justin Slee.