An Art Deco monument hosts an exciting hub of makers
By Sujata Burman
A creative community has occupied this Thames-side landmark since the 1930s. Oxo Tower Wharf hosts an array of craftspeople, making everything from hand-sewn shoes to furniture, leatherwork and ceramics. “It’s still secret and hidden,” says Sophie Cain, design curator of Coin Street, the social enterprise that supports the community at Oxo Tower.
The iconic Art Deco building has seen a few makeovers over the years. It was first built as a power station in the 1900s, before becoming derelict in the 1970s, and then being resurrected about 30 years ago, when its identity as a designer and maker hub was born.
Now, you can buy, commission and visit makers here – often in studios that face the river, enhancing the experience for craftspeople and visitors alike. While South Bank is a tourist hotspot, the area has long been a draw for makers, too. “Working in Oxo Tower has been a dream of mine,” says jewellery designer Loveness Lee, whose workshop is based within her store, so visitors can see her process firsthand.
For Doreen Gittens, who has been handweaving in Oxo Tower for 25 years, it’s the ideal setting in which to create her unique products. She says “the environment and the ambience of the area” is what’s kept her here, producing textiles for fashion and interior clients using bespoke techniques. The vibrant energy found along the river offers particular inspiration.
“We're trying to attract a design audience, but also people that might be a bit curious,” Cain says of the workshops and maker studios, which provide an approachable way to discover craft. There‘s a circularity created between the tenants in Oxo, too. Cain mentions shoemakers who recently used old vinyl floor tiles to make gladiator sandals, and also sourced offcuts from leather makers elsewhere in the building. This type of collaboration is key to how the community thrives; and it’s these stories that Cain brought to the fore for LDF22.