“You can’t escape the fact that the world is becoming more visual”, says Katie Wightman, 30, owner of Edinburgh-based merchandising and styling business, Peace in the Neighbourhood. “Everything can become a snapshot these days. That’s something that’s being considered more regularly. It’s a really exciting evolution and is another way for companies to show their personality”.
You may recognise Wightman’s work from Edinburgh’s hippest food venues, including bakery and cafe The Pastry Section in Stockbridge and Pan-Asian restaurant Ooh Mami in Leith, as well as shops such as new jewellery boutique, Aetla, Good Vibes Neighbourhood Store and candle shop, Druid.
Her displays are designed to draw customers in, with sculptural and over-sized swags of dried flowers, giant wooden daisies, autumnal-hued wisteria-inspired chains, as well as birch fans, dyed with ink and liquid gold leaf, and single sprigs, suspended as if floating.
These are like a contemporary version of the sandwich board, and are far removed from the Sellotaped-to-the-window menu, bowl of potpourri or mannequin from days of yore. If passers-by take pictures of Wightman’s fancy installations, then post them to the increasingly popular social media marketing tool that is Instagram (or even TikTok), that’s even better.
“You’d easily assume the customer journey begins when they step inside your space, however you really have to consider it from the moment they step onto the street outside”, says this creative, who studied Jewellery and Metal Design at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee.
“It’s so easy to order online these days that the curb appeal of a business is key, now more than ever. What Peace in the Neighbourhood does is help businesses offer something to the customer that makes a visit an interesting and unique experience, fostering that sense of community and connection”.
Wightman initially started out by working in the events industry, before getting a job as a display assistant with the capital’s branch of fashion and homeware shop, Anthropologie, who, along with Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols, are known for their impactful window installations.
Before long, she was promoted to visual merchandiser and co-ordinator. However, lockdown meant reassessing her plans.
“Being on furlough over the pandemic gave me time to reflect on what I wanted”, she says. “The business was a side hustle, but I am a big believer in energy flowing easily when it’s channeled in the right direction. When it began to pick up momentum it felt like a sign there was an opportunity to build something I really believed in. You can feel the power of independent businesses in Edinburgh and, while Peace in the Neighbourhood creates installations for events too, supporting those indie businesses will always be at its heart”.
Currently, Wightman is working on some autumn-themed windows, as well as ones for Christmas, when independent businesses will be trying to make up for what was lost during lockdown.
Her creative process involves brand research and a face-to-face briefing from the client - “it’s important to get a feel for what they like and what’s already in their space” - before she puts the designs together in her home/studio near Portobello. (Next year, as the business grows, she hopes to spare her kitchen table and get a bigger space to work in). Although dried flowers are having a moment, and it’s currently almost a prerequisite for shops, from The Bear’s Larder in Edinburgh to Dunkeld’s Aran, to have a huge swag inside or above their door, anything goes when it comes to materials.
“The options are pretty endless”, she says. “ Over the years I’ve worked with metal, wood, dried and fresh flowers, papers, plastics and everything in between. I’m lucky to have access to machines in a larger workshop and my background at art school and Anthropologie has taught me to experiment and think outside of the box. Events are slightly easier but for businesses there are limitations. Longevity and sustainability is really important, and being aware of the heat generated from windows or kitchens. There are some materials such as dried flowers or birch ply which are quite expensive from the outset, especially post Brexit and Covid. However, I like to be as transparent as possible with clients so we can tailor their design accordingly”.
Wightman knows an installation has been a success when whatever she’s created accentuates the space.
They always generate comments from regular customers, and maybe pull in a few who might have otherwise walked past.
Personally, she’s most happy with a couple of her recent jobs.
“The piece I created for The Pastry Section was inspired by the turning of trees in autumn. It consisted of nearly 2000 paper discs and I feel it really transformed their cafe”, she says. “Druid’s mossy woodland, which is currently in events venue Space at Seventeen in Stockbridge, has definitely attracted a lot of attention and drawn people into the store so you could say that has been a big success”.
Wightman also has a few things in the pipeline. She’s just launched her new website, is raising funds for refugee charity, Choose Love, through auctioning off a dried flower piece (see Instagram @peace_inthe_neighbourhood), and there are wreath and garland making workshops coming up. She’ll also be adding weddings to her jobs list - “for those who want something other than fresh flowers” and then there’s that new studio.
As she says; “Making has always been a huge part of who I am, it was just finding the right way to carve that into a life for myself”.