By Calvin Berry
The idea for Pretend Store was born out of the specter of a beloved but disused office space–in the wake of a recent relocation, Charleston-based creative agency FuzzCo found they had prime storefront property on their hands and an open question about what to do with it. The obvious answer was, of course, to open a store. However, being a firm accustomed to partnering with clients to create refreshing and innovative brand experiences, the contents of this store would have to defy convention, reflecting a love for collaboration and experimentation, while still producing something sellable.
The result was a pop-up space meant to give artists and designers from around the country a place where they could explore new ways of showcasing their work, rule-free. As Pretend Store hosted these different creators, the space took on widely different forms, ranging from an art gallery to a reading room and even a taxidermy laboratory. At the center of each of these experiential showcases was a product that represented the joint creative efforts of each occupant and the Pretend Store team. These products, from embroidered towels to wooden lanterns, embodied the spirit of curiosity, playfulness and sophistication that characterizes the FuzzCo oeuvre.
Pretend Store has since transitioned from its physical location to the world of online retail, but the essence of the experiment has remained the same. They continue to collaborate with designers and artisans, creating products that are intriguing, imaginative and very real. We had the chance to reach out to the Pretend Store crew and ask them about their process, their experiences and what inspires them to create.
You’ve hosted all different kinds of collaborators in your pop-up space, each of whom has evolved the space in a unique way to fit their needs–what are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had since opening Pretend Store?
The pop-up space was awesome while it lasted. The Workstead pop-up dinners were a highlight. We had some incredible chefs cook for very intimate crowds, it was so special. Really, every collaboration has it’s moments. It’s just so nice to get to work with new people and make cool stuff.
What do you usually look for in a collaborator?
We don’t physically make anything so we seek out collaborators who do. We want our skillset to complement that of our collaborators’. We look for folks with a similar aesthetic who would be excited about working with us. We find that our collaborators get excited about producing something with us that is a departure from their normal product line – maybe we do something together that is more colorful or weirder than they’d normally do on their own. It’s a fun way for us both to express ourselves in different ways.
Can you describe the process that goes into creating an exclusive product?
If we’re the ones initiating the collaboration we’ll likely have a pretty good idea of what we want to make, but we keep aspects of it open-ended and are always up for redirection if our collaborator has a better idea. We’ll plan the collaboration – determine each party’s roles, decide the materials, construction, design, packaging and put together a schedule. We also have to decide how to deal with costs, sales and profits. Our collaborations are usually side projects for both parties so we try to keep up momentum so that the project doesn’t get stuck in the weeds. There are many emails traded.
How has your experience as a creative agency affected the way you’ve approached the creation of Pretend Store?
We work on projects with fairly strict parameters all day long so Pretend Store has been an incredible outlet for us. We try not to define too clearly the types of products that Pretend Store carries as part of why we’re doing this is to allow for creative freedom.
You have offices in both Charleston and Portland–are there ways in which you draw inspiration from the distinct characters of these cities?
Oh for sure. We made an enamel pin that celebrates the Charleston Leaning House which is something we find very charming. We also made a collection of state bird pins and of course our first run included birds for SC and OR.
Are there any upcoming collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?
We’re going to be making some things with a client of ours, Old Whaling Company, and we CANNOT WAIT. It’s going to be so clean in here. We’re also excited about a collaboration with you guys.