In conversation with the founder James Laffar – ‘My grandfather used to know a few of our clients back when he had bookstalls in the Sixties’
Set in the heart of East London’s creative bustle, Old Spitalfields Market is one of the city’s oldest marketplaces – once a traditional food market, today a shopping hub for the local hipster community.
Open seven days a week and particularly busy at weekends, the Market offers food, fashion, design and crafty objects. From niche indie brands to established names like Diptyque (scented candles), & Other Stories (clothing) and even Chanel (make up).
Ra&Olly, magazine distributors, used to supply a newsagent based in the market. A few years ago the company decided to set up its own stall in Old Spitalfields – We Love Print. Here the creative crowd comes to browse at new publications and old classics, searching for inspiring new projects and breaking news.
From specialized sports to high-end fashion, We Love Print offers timeless publications such as World of Interiors andNational Geographic, sitting alongside rare magazines from all corners of the globe. The assistants, Hugo and Monica, provide useful information on what’s out that month, what cover is a special edition and the sought-after back issues that are worth investing in.
There has been a market on the site since 1638 when King Charles I gave a license for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold on Spittle Fields, which was then a rural area on the eastern outskirts of London. After the rights to a market had seemingly lapsed during the time of the Commonwealth, the market was re-founded in 1682 by King Charles II in order to feed the burgeoning population of a new suburb of London.
The modern version of the market started off in 1991, when the wholesale fruit and vegetable market moved to New Spitalfields Market, Leyton, and the original site became known as Spitalfields Market. The market stalls were redesigned by leading British architects Foster+Partners for Old Spitalfields Market in October 2017.
Being at the center of a revival in the area, the eastern end of Spitalfields retained its old charm in Horner Square and Horner Buildings, which are Grade II listed buildings. These market buildings were designed by George Sherrin for the last private owner of the fruit and vegetable market, Robert Horner, and built between 1885 and 1893. The original Victorian buildings and the market hall and roof have been restored.
Ra&Olly – a friendly, family-run business that has been distributing publications across the UK since 1969, today supplies London’s best magazine stockists including the Tate, MagCulture, Design Museum and Claire de Rouen.
James Laffar decided to open We Love Print drawn to the customer base of Old Spitalfields Market and by its creative atmosphere. “I think people really value a well produced magazine as something they can keep and associate themselves with, something to be kept and collected – says Laffar – When a customer comes along to WeLovePrint, browses through our selection and discovers a magazine, they can almost become part of a club of like minded individuals looking – forward to picking up the next issue.”
This concept of a club of like minded individuals extends also to Ra&Olly’s clients and partners “We deal with a large number of stores and publishers who we have great relationships with. With some of the London retailers we have relationships going back years, my grandfather used to know a few back when he had bookstalls in the Sixties. Recently we have begun working closely with MagCulture where we have started hosting regular social events for the publishers we work with. The idea is for everyone to get together, have a drink and discuss ideas and experiences.”
Laffar still goes out and deliver to the sores a couple of times a week “I think it’s important to maintain relationships and see how things are going.” A typical day at Ra&Olly starts with collecting any time sensitive weekly publication, such as The Economist, from the various printers or fulfillment locations.
Then vans are loaded at the warehouses, ready for deliveries around three or four am. The rest of the morning and afternoon is spent delivering to stores and fitting in meetings. However, there’s much more than that to the job, for example scouting for new titles or helping creative partners developing their project into potentially successful magazines.
“Originally I would look for magazines I liked and felt would sell well in the stores we supplied – says Laffar – Now we are approached by new publishers on a weekly basis. It is great to see how many new magazines are still being produced. We do try to help out most independent publishers, if the magazines isn’t great we try to give them advice on how it could be improved. Sometimes it could take a few issues to get it right and it’s nice when we have been through the process with them to the point when they feel it is a success.” – an interesting blend of cultural work and manual activity, with a big spotlight on relationships.
When it comes to finding great magazines, or even great books, London truly offers a unique setting: the city’s literary culture is met with an outstanding number of independent bookstores, publishers and cultural hubs. Some of which are now closed because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
However, while several people in the industry are scared about the post-pandemic future, and focusing more and more on digital media, Laffar is of a different opinion: “I think the current situation will have an effect on the future of printed magazines, people may have the time to really engage with a magazine and escape from the constant interruptions on digital media platforms. I just hope retailers can hang on over this time and re open after the situation has subsided.”
10 Bishops Square,
Spitalfields, London E1 6EG