THE Glasgow branch of a low-cost shop window for artists, designers and craftspeople has distributed more than £1 million to its makers in its first year of trading.

Social enterprise the Scottish Design Exchange opened in Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries last autumn and has 170 artists on its books, including painters, photographers, jewellers, textile designers, fashion designers, ceramic artists and soap makers.

Another 150 artists sell their work through the store’s Edinburgh outlet at Ocean Terminal, which opened almost five years ago. Both stores have waiting lists.

“We had a turnover target of £1m for Glasgow in its first year and we comfortably hit that,” said Scottish Design Exchange founder Lynzi Leroy. “Our most popular tenant sold almost £40,000 at our Glasgow store alone last year and we have many others who are making between £10,000 and £30,000. These are all people who struggled to sell any of their products before.

Leroy said both stores had experienced a 'bumper Christmas'. “The run-up to Christmas is our busiest period and we saw a significant uplift in trade compared with the same time last year,” she added.

Artists pay a nominal monthly rent, from £40 for a shelf, up to £180 for a wall space. This pays for staff, marketing and upkeep at the stores, with the artists retaining 100% of their profits.

Leroy said the business was benefitting from a growing focus on ethical buying, the environment and shopping locally.

“People seem less inclined to buy mass produced items from chain stores because they can’t be certain who’s making them and at what cost to the environment and global poverty,” Leroy said.

“We sell products made direct from artists locally, so it just gives people that opportunity to think a bit more about where their money’s going.”

Scotland’s constitutional debate was also fuelling interest in home-grown products and talent, she believes.

“I think the independence debate has had a part in this,” Leroy said. “There’s a bit more pride in Scotland and people are looking at themselves and the country again.”

Dundee, Aberdeen and other shopping centres in Glasgow are among potential new locations for the Scottish Design Exchange, which has 15 staff. Stores in different formats with more of a social purpose might help address the malaise on the high street, Leroy suggested.

“I definitely think one of the reasons the high street is dying is because it’s the same in every city,” she said. “Anywhere in Europe also has pretty much the same shops. We’ve added something a bit different and we’re bringing artists into high street, so people are getting more of an individual product.”

Artists typically sell their work through weekend craft fares or galleries charging commission, and have found this difficult and sometimes unaffordable, Leroy said.

“What we’ve done is brought that indoors,” she added. “We’re open seven days a week and we’re staffed. Artists can be at home making while we’re selling. We don’t charge a commission on items sold and, as a social enterprise, we’re not there to try and make every penny from the artists. We want to help them build up their business and have an impact on Scotland’s economy.”

While a lot of small businesses fail in the first few years, Leroy said the Scottish Design Exchange was particularly proud that around 40% of its artists had been with the business for five years and were very successful.

“They see us as being their bread and butter,” said Leroy, a former executive assistant at Shell who worked on projects Kazakhstan and Russia. “It’s regular income that allows them to go on and do other things; to grow their business stocking other places – and feeling that they’ve got that financial support behind them.”

Since it launched its online store late last year, Leroy said buyers from the US, Australia and across Europe were buying online from Scottish artists through the site.