The Student
Lifestyle
‘Supporting the little guy’: a call to action for supporting Edinburgh businesses
by Harin Wijayathunga, 15/08/20

The stylish face mask: a rather unexpected innovation that has surfaced over the lockdown period. From Billie Eilish’s Gucci number to a Leodensian lady fashioning a unique piece from a KFC bucket, the tabloids are ablaze with 2020’s must-have accessory – I mean, by law, it is literally a “must have”.

Disappointed by Vogue’s uncharacteristically dull recommendations (which included something that I can only describe as a plaster from the side of a swimming pool with some string sewn on), I took matters into my own hands and visited a retailer that I love checking in on in person but have never ordered from online – The Edinburgh Bow Tie Company, Rose Street. To my immense delight, I discovered that they were producing handmade face masks, and in glorious Scottish tartans and tweeds no less! However, as chuffed as I am by my purchase, that is not all this article is about.

Along with the receipt, the Company sent me a lovely message subjected “Thank You For Supporting The Little Guy!”. In this, Matthew, Hannah, Hazel and the few-month-old Eve wrote about how much they appreciated the custom of all their buyers, especially through this tough time. I was quite moved. The Edinburgh Bow Tie Company is a small, family-owned business that share their Rose Street shop with fellow retailers “Diedododa” (art) and “get etch’d” (personalised gifts). The company started five years ago when Hannah made Matthew a bow tie that he needed for the bar he was working at. These two would go on to be the owners of the company, employing Hazel along the way.

Finding out more about the company, it occurred to me that these small, Edinburgh-based businesses make up as much a part of the eclectic cultural landscape of our city as the Fringe or the diverse architectural icons that are so well known. The sheer variety and esotericism of these kinds of retailers are a testament to Edinburgh’s diverse and eccentric population. Something that I, heralding from the friendly but characteristically bland North of England, can tell you is dearly missed across the nation.

However, as I’m sure most people are aware, we find ourselves in real danger of losing these wonderful companies. University of Edinburgh Business School research indicates that almost 70 per cent of firms are seeing cashflow concerns and 60 per cent are seeing a significant fall in turnover. In all this, it will be the small businesses that suffer the most. A Simply Business survey (of 3,700 businesses) found that, across the UK, 41 per cent of small business owners said their firms were at risk of closure in light of the pandemic. 4 per cent of owners said they have already closed down; this has yielded an estimation of 234,400 closures across the UK. McKinsey and PwC report that government intervention has brought about some salvation, resulting in a slight recovery in GDP in May. However, economic stagnation or regression seems inevitable.

I got in contact with The Edinburgh Bow Tie Company, to discuss the impact that coronavirus has had on their business. They told me that, just before the pandemic struck, they had stock of thousands of bow ties made ready for the summer festivals and the Christmas market, but the arrival of COVID-19 resulted in sales taking a “nosedive” and the likely cancellation of those events. They had closed their doors a week before the advice came, due to road works hitting them on Rose Street.

However, Leith Walk sustainable-foods store “Weigh to Go” stocked their face masks for people to help themselves. They only asked for a donation to a charity – Edinburgh Food Social. Lucy, from Weigh to Go, matched all donations from her own pocket and, together, they were able to raise £600 for the worthwhile cause. Then, at the height of the pandemic, they had to stop face mask production as Eve was born! Fast forward to today and Matthew and Hannah are taking online orders and with “sporadic working hours” (given the baby) are greatly appreciating their community of customers who have supported them through this time. They still donate 30 per cent of their profits: homelessness charity “Social Bite” is the recipient this time.

The magnanimity of the guys at the Edinburgh Bow Tie Company, and their community of retailers and customers alike, goes a long way in inspiring faith in the raw worth and social contribution that small businesses have. They play a vital role in the rich cultural tapestry of this city and without them we would lose a part of what makes it so great.

The maladies of the giants like John Lewis and EasyJet are significant and well known, and it is essential to acknowledge that the wide-scale loss of jobs across the country is nothing short of a tragedy. Yet, to lose the small clothing retailers, the independent food stores, the drink mongers, the bakeries, the butchers, the coffee shops and the restaurants would be to see the soul of the city drained away.

This may all sound a bit dramatic, but the bottom line is that we can play a part in supporting these causes. As lockdown restrictions are relaxed, checking out genuinely cool businesses like the Edinburgh Bow Tie Company, or any of numerous Edinburgh-based businesses that we have on our doorsteps, will benefit them immensely. Obviously, students typically aren’t the ones to have the spare cash to splurge on I.J. Mellis cheese, but the gratification that should be felt from supporting local business, as well as the undeniable personal touch that is characteristic of these retailers, may be worth the few extra quid if you have it. Thus, if you value niche backstreet stores and little-known haunts, then let them know it and together we can preserve the eclectic diversity of this city. As was said right at the start of all this, there will be casualties, but with a bit of luck we can make them as few as possible.

Image Credit: The Edinburgh Bow Tie Company