CO-DIRECTOR OF RETAIL STORE ‘ENTREPRENEURS’ ANDY COOKE TALKS BOUNCING BACK FROM FAILURE TO SUCCESS.
Andy Cooke is a 28-year-old independent graphic designer from Staffordshire with a BA in graphic design. He is also an associate lecturer at Staffordshire University for the Advertising & Brand Management award, an artist agent for the RareKind Illustration Agency and one of three directors running the Entrepreneurs Store in Stoke–on–Trent, Staffs.
Entrepreneurs is the catalyst for urban culture within Stoke–on–Trent. It exists as a platform to celebrate urban culture on as many levels as possible — from music to art, fashion and more. It sells premium, branded streetwear that’s grounded in skate, graffiti and urban pastures, as well as graffiti paint and other artist supplies. On the first floor of their building they hold exhibitions from artists of all kinds that hail from around the world, and host workshops from screen printing, sign painting, letterpress printing and more.
We caught up with Andy to find out how it all began and the process behind planning and starting up a retail store:
Did you have other career aspirations or did you see yourself doing this all along?
“I never really had any career aspirations until really late on, when I kind of found out who I was as a person. I think it’s the same for a lot of people, even those in careers they’ve chosen still have other aspirations.
Doing something creative was always something I had in mind. I always drew things as a child and was interested in that kind of thing. Being an ‘illustrator’ or an ‘architect’ were things that I banded around at school, but being a ‘designer’ was where it kind of landed when I had to think seriously about it.
The great thing about everything I do is that I get to be a designer. I get to design, organise, talk and be around people who are designers like myself.
“Moving away from home at 18 felt normal for me — I’d always moved around a lot when I was young, including a stint in Australia — so it was just another stepping stone to where I am now. I was still relatively close to my home town so it didn’t feel like I was upholding my life too much! Uni at first felt like a holiday — I was finally free from those parental constraints and for three years, I had a really great time. Probably too much of a great time, as I ended up failing and having to drop out of studying Product Design in 2007… but I’ll come on to that.
I had a great group of friends, a few of which I still see regularly to this day, and it was probably better than I ever anticipated. I didn’t know what to expect after leaving college, but that feeling of liberation is still something I covet and hope to find again someday — maybe upon my next big move, whenever that may be.”
What was the hardest thing about going to university and studying? What did you struggle with the most?
“In terms of living on my own, dealing with being ‘an adult’ and fending for myself, I was fine. For me at first, it was the studying bit. I was never an industrious child with anything in particular, and a very, very average student in all forms of education. University from 2004–07 reflected that same attitude.
In 2007, at the end of my 2nd-second year (because I’d failed it the first time) I received the news I wasn’t to be allowed onto the third year after all. I just wasn’t good enough. That’s when I knew something had to change and that I should actually try at something for once.
It was around that time I met a gentleman named Myles Burgher who was studying graphic design. Him and I became good friends even till this day, and the main reason why I made the switch over to graphic design. I really liked the look of the work he was doing. I’d gotten into writing graffiti by this point, and sub-consciously fallen in love with letter-forms through that, so graphic design appealed to me on quite a few levels.
It was hard to get onto the course initially because the award leader was unconvinced by my weak portfolio at the time, and recommendations from my past lecturers were sure to be unpleasant. But she took a chance on me, which I appreciated massively. Three years later in 2010, and after six years at University, I received a First Class Honours and landed a job in London before graduating.”
How did the idea of starting Entrepreneurs come about?
“Rob Fenton, one of my business partners started the NTRPRNRS collective back in 2008. Then, it was a blog platform to talk about urban culture — graffiti, design, photography, fashion, music — and it remained that way until 18 months ago. It was always Rob’s vision to turn the project into a store at some point, and in late 2013 he enlisted the help of myself and the third business partner, Tom, to make it happen.
It felt much needed within the city — our preferred fashion brands weren’t available here, so we thought what better solution than to do it ourselves? The gallery, workshops and other projects we do all fall under the banner of the store, and act as extensions of the business and the creative culture we advocate.”
What was the process of setting it up like? How did you know your location was ideal for your business?
“We opened our doors on the 29th of August 2014. The process started almost a year before that and there was a lot to go through. We had to lay down foundations, incorporate the company, write a business plan and assess funding options. It’s not something to be taken up lightly, and those days of laying down foundations with a business plan soon indicated for everyone involved whether it was a reality or not. I shan’t go into detail regarding finances too much, but it definitely involves life-changing sums of money.
Once most of the foundations were laid, we sought a property to rent and took it from there. 3 months of complete renovation throughout the summer of 2014 led to the shop, gallery and workshop being ready for the public, as well as the rooms behind the scenes that help move the business along — photography studio, stock room, offices etc
Stoke-on-Trent was the only place we wanted to be. Sure, we could go to Manchester, Birmingham, London even. But this kind of store and these kind of places already exist there, some in abundance. We want to start a culture where we live, where we are from.”
How did you find and partner up with your manufacturers and distributors?
“We work with distributors from all around the UK, who represent brands from all over the world. It took a lot of research, a lot of meetings and correspondence with our distributors to get them to trust in us and work with us — these were relationships we knew needed to last a long time. They needed to know we were serious about being in this industry and that we would sell the brands they represent the best we could.”
What is the hardest thing about being a co-director? How do you overcome it?
“Working with two other directors is essentially like being in a marriage with those people! Sure, those relationships get strained from time-to-time but it’s only because we all have the business in mind and all want the best for it. You have to take your ‘friend’ hat off and put your ‘business’ one on and get down to it sometimes — even if it means arguing and falling out. It’s all for the greater good.
Personally, I work across a few different areas — including being a freelance designer, associate lecturer and artist agent — so doing all my duties for the store does stretch me even thinner. I have to make sure I manage my time perfectly so not one of those areas suffer and they all get the attention they deserve. I’ve committed to these roles with different people, so I have to make sure I deliver.”
When looking at current youth culture, what in your opinion are the main problems affecting the youth in a negative way? And what do you think can be done to change that?
“The youth get a bad rep I think. The media especially focus more on the right wing, press a negative emphasis on young people in society — behaviours, aspirations, ethics and so on. Personally, I think this is a warped view, and those positions of power are exploited with the aim of right wing idealism’s becoming more normal in every day society.
The young people I come into contact with, through work and other areas, all have a lot to contribute to society. They are motivated, passionate and skilled in many areas. It’s just a case of treating these individuals as… individuals. There’s no one way to teach a person something, there’s no one solution. It’s about taking the time and effort to treat people as individuals so that potential can be fully realised. So that individual can fully express themselves and show how they can contribute to society effectively.”
What advice would you give to another young person who has ambitions similar to yours that others around them don’t believe in?
“It’s tough, I get it. We are all products of our own environment. We have this idea, or belief, that we can only achieve what we have in front of us, what our peers have done, and nothing more. I’d say, don’t get caught up in that. If you believe in it, then that’s enough. You don’t need approval from anyone about anything. This is your life and you should live it how you want to live it.
Don’t think, just do! Do your research, do your planning and do your best. Live for today, don’t dwell on yesterday but plan for tomorrow. The key to success is to work hard and be nice to people. If what you wanted to do doesn’t go to plan, at least you gave it your best shot. Is that really worse than it all going wrong for somebody else’s ideas and beliefs?”
For more on Andy Cooke visit his website by clicking here. For any enquiries email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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