Londonist Interviews … Unchained

By tikichris Last edited 189 months ago
Londonist Interviews … Unchained
The Best Value in the British Isles

We’ve just recently come across Unchained, a super cool and incredibly handy lil London-based website 'designed to help people find the very best Unchained shops’ in the London. By 'unchained' they mean businesses owned and run 'by real people with a passion for what they sell,' and let’s face it: those types of businesses are sadly becoming fewer and farther between at too rapid a rate. Here’s our interview with Dave Birss and Lea Simpson, two of Unchained’s three founders. We applaud their vision and look forward to any future tips they might provide us on living a more chain-free life in London.

What's Unchained all about? How long has your site been around and how did the idea of Unchained come to you?

We think great independent shops are sexy. And just sticking to the same old, big brand, multi-national chain stores is dull, dull, dull. Like eating an English breakfast on holiday in Spain. It’s predictable and something you could have anywhere.

Same goes for big retail chains. They’re just not special enough. We love quirk, originality and experiences that come from meeting interesting people. We started Unchained because we know we’re not alone. Everyone we know is bored of Clone Town High Streets.

What we didn’t understand is why, if this was the case, chainstores continue to report increasing profits every year, while more and more of the wonderful, independent shopping gems in the city – the Unchained stores – have to shut up shop.

We wanted to change that. So six months ago, our guide to the city’s best independent shops went live.

How is Unchained different from other London websites with shop and business listings?

We’re the only ones focusing on independent shops. No restaurants, cafes, or anything else, just shops that are independent and great. Also, we don’t do reviews. That’s because all the shops on there are awesome. In the next few months we’ll be launching our e-shopping site so you can buy from Unchained shops online. No one else is doing that either.

Why is it important to patronize local and independently owned businesses in London?

Because they rock. Seriously. If you’re buying cheese, you should want to buy it from someone who is so passionate about cheese that they set up a shop to only sell cheese. It makes sense.

And of course, Unchained shops play a massive part in their community too. We wouldn’t want to wake up in ten years time in a world where big brand retailers line our streets and grumble about it. But by then, it will be too late.

How does London's independent shops scene compare to other global cities as well as to the rest of the UK?

That’s an interesting question because there are so many different aspects to it. To start with, independent shops in London aren’t protected by law. In Paris, for instance, there are planning laws in place to make sure independent shops exist. In London, shops are there because people go to them. Simple as that.

London is also particularly vibrant because of the range of Unchained shops in different parts of the city. There’s something for yummy mummies, bohemian misfits and foodies. There is endless quirk.

Any tips for readers who want to support local and independently owned businesses but can't seem to find them for all the Starbucks and Tescos standing in the way?

Visit our site before you go shopping – you can create a shopping trip on the site with a bespoke map and everything.

Aside from that we’d suggest you get off the main drag. Independent shops can’t pay the rent on the massive streets in this city. Take a little stroll down the side streets and be sure to tell us if you find any gems that aren’t part of the guide already.

What's in store for Unchained in the future?

Well there’s the e-shopping that we mentioned. We’re also going to publish a couple of books, create special Unchained maps to the city, walks, talks and hopefully a whole bunch of stuff that we haven’t already thought of.

Is there anything else we should know about Unchained?

Yes. We do loads of stuff for independent shops behind the scenes. We give them access to a community of shops and everything that goes with being part of a big group – things like increased buying power for services and events. For them, we’ve built an Unchained package that replicates everything the big guys have in a special, Unchained way.

Visit Unchained online at

Photography by hedgiecc via the Londonist pool on Flickr.

Last Updated 09 July 2008