Green Street: Eastern promise

Joyalukkas, one of the biggest jewellery retailers in the world, has its only European store on Green Street.

A report on the east London street generating 1% of UK jewellery sales

A single grubby street in one of London’s poorest boroughs is generating enough sales to account for 1 percent of the total UK jewellery market. Rachael Taylor heads east to this secret luxury hub and discovers that the jewellers of Green Street are planning to become the next Hatton Garden.

With an east London postcode you would think that it’s all about the Olympics in 2012 for Green Street; but the plans afoot to transform the street famed for its South Asian jewellery into a recognised jewellery quarter extend much further than catering for an extra few million potential shoppers.

For Green Street, the goal is to become officially recognised as a London jewellery quarter in the same way as Birmingham Jewellery Quarter or Hatton Garden. While the area is suffering from a lack of recognition, it’s certainly not suffering from a lack of shoppers and the East London fine and fashion jewellery hub is thriving.

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The street, which measures less than a mile from end to end, is thought to account for an enormous 1 percent of total UK jewellery sales. As well as 40 costume jewellers specialising in South Asian styles, there are 19 fine jewellers on Green Street with average turnovers in the range of £1 million each.

At the end of last year eight fine jewellery retailers on the street took a combined £1 million in just four weeks. The trading spike was the result of a competition run by the Green Street Jewellers’ Association (GSJA), which was set up in 2007 to help unify and promote jewellers on the street. Entry to a prize draw for £3,000 was offered to all shoppers spending £250 or more within the four-week period in November and December, and the money rolled in.

With cheap chicken eateries, shady boozers, West Ham’s rowdy football ground and a serious litter problem, Green Street is no Bond Street. But the figures speak for themselves; hidden within this dilapidated-looking East London borough with one of the highest rates of unemployment in London is a luxury hub.

And it’s not just South Asian jewellery that is setting the tills alight. While Asian sales, particularly Asain bridal sales, are the bread and butter of most fine jewellers on Green Street, non-Asian jewellery sales are the fastest growing market segment.

Green Street retailer Joyalukkas has a basic 750 sq ft store on Green Street, but in spite of its humble London presence it is one of the foremost jewellery retailers in the world with 83 stores and a domineering market share in India and the Middle East. The global chain proudly lays claim to the world’s biggest jewellery shop, measuring 70,000 sq ft and spanning several floors in Chennai, India, and is the world’s biggest retailer of 22ct gold.

The Green Street shop is Joyalukkas’s only European store and while the shop itself is nothing to shout about, the merchandise is decidedly high end with necklaces worth tens of thousands of pounds casually on display. The selection is mainly of a South Asian style but Joyalukkas key account executive John Jacob has noticed a distinct shift towards sales of non-Asian styles.

“The non-Asian market is growing,” says Jacob. “In the three years we have been on Green Street we have seen a steady growth.”

A few doors along the street, PureJewels, which has been trading on Green Street for 35 years, echoes the sentiment at Joyalukkas. The retailer estimates that as much as 50 percent of its sales are of non-Asian jewellery.

Pure Jewels brand director Jayant Raniga, who is also a director of London Jewellery Week and the founder of the GSJA, believes that convincing more retailers on Green Street to stock non-Asian styles will open the street up to the wider market. “At the moment it seems very exclusive, but it ’s about fusion,” he says.

Platinum Guild-recommended retailer PureJewels has been working hard to offer such fusion at its store and stocks traditional Asian designs and Asian bridalwear side by side with Rado watches and contemporary western jewellery designs.

Pure Jewels has also run a competition to seek out British designers to produce platinum designs for the store. The search was successful and attracted entries from the likes of Katie Rowland, Paul Draper and Zoe Youngman; non-Asian designers that would most likely never have considered teaming up with a Green Street jeweller.

The quality of jewellery on Green Street and the breadth of styles available are beyond reproach, but getting shoppers to make the trip out to East London is holding the street back from future growth.

This year Green Street jewellers are teaming up with London Jewellery Week sponsor Jaguar to host an exhibition at the Jaguar Boutique within the Berkley Hotel in the Knightsbridge area of the city, but there will be no event held at Green Street. “It breaks my heart not to have it in Green Street, but we have to do it,” says Raniga.

Green Street is hoping to host a street festival during London Jewellery Week 2011 but Raniga believes that until Newham Council take Green Street seriously as a jewellery hub and make some gargantuan efforts to clean the area up, it is unlikely that the London jewellery crowd will make the trip to east London.

Another key element holding Green Street back from joining the ranks of Hatton Garden and the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter is that the area has virtually no manufacturing business.

While a few Green Street jewellers will do small pieces of manufacture within their stores, jewellers on the street rely heavily on Hatton Garden for bespoke services such as stone setting, which is seven miles across a heavily congested metropolis.

The GSJA are pushing for Newham Council to recognise Green Street as a jewellery hub and to incorporate it within its strategy. Rather than hounding the council for assistance that will improve retailers’ immediate bottom lines, the GSJA is hoping to persuade the council to fund low-cost workshops to entice skilled workers and craftspeople into the area.

The introduction of such workshops would mean that Green Street can stand on its own two feet as a jewellery quarter. It will also help to tackle the dangerously high unemployment in the area, which was measured at 11.4 percent in the 2001 census, and provide an attractive trade for local young people through local apprenticeships.

“We’re encouraging Newham council to make GSJA part of its strategy,” says Raniga. “They’re interested in getting people into work and we can help with that.”

The GSJA has also suggested to the council that the name of the local London Underground station should be changed from Upton Park to Green Street. It feels this will make the jewellery district easier to find and more prominent in the minds of tourists and shoppers from outside of the local area.

At present the tube station is named after Green Street’s most famous resident: West Ham football stadium Boleyn Ground, more commonly referred to as Upton Park. But there has been speculation of a possible move from the grounds’ current position to another location in the area or the grounds created for the Olympics after 2012.

Raniga says that if Upton Park were to move from Green Street he wouldn’t be too disappointed. Firstly, West Ham football club might call for the renaming of the tube station, not wanting to cause confusion for football fans after a potential move, and so freeing up the station to be called Green Street. Secondly, the removal of a stadium that can house more than 35,000 football fans would free up lots of space for the low-cost workshops he believes are crucial to Green Street establishing itself as a jewellery quarter.

The GSJA’s lobbying of Newham Council is not entirely falling on deaf ears. The organisation says that the council has been supportive of it to date and its cause took an unexpected turn for the better in 2009 when Clive Dutton was appointed executive director for regeneration, planning and property at Newham Council.

Dutton could prove useful to the GSJA’s cause because before joining Newham Council, he worked at Birmingham City Council for more than 30 years, most latterly as director of planning and regeneration, and was part of the team behind the regeneration of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. He understands what the group is trying to do and has seen the success of such an ambition in Birmingham, but whether or not this will be enough to extend the council’s tunnel vision from the Olympics to the wider picture remains to be seen.

“After the Olympics people won’t stay in east London,” says Raniga. “There has to be something in east London that people want to travel out to; there has to be year-round activity.”

While Raniga is dismissive of the lasting impact that the Olympics will have on Green Street, the plain fact is that millions of international visitors will be arriving on its doorstep in two years’ time and though he may have his eye on the long game, on behalf of the GSJA he is going to make absolutely certain that the retail jewellers under its care maximise what Joyalukkas’s Jabob describes as “a once in a lifetime opportunity”.

In the run-up to 2012, the area is planning to launch a Green Street shopping festival, which should start next year. The concept is to close the street and invite the local community to take part in a family-friendly festival of the ilk run in global shopping capitals such as Dubai.

Another scheme to raise the profile of Green Street – and to quash myths about Indian jewellery being poorly made – is to launch a consumer magazine run by the GSJA called Discover. The magazine, which will promote Green Street jewellers and their products, will have a print run of 60,000 copies and will be distributed in the area for free.

During the Olympics, the GSJA will step up distribution of the magazine to try and lure Olympic visitors to Green Street. The group already has an agreement with one major local hotel to have the magazine placed in all its rooms and intends to place Discover in other key tourist hotspots including London airports.

But all this fuss surrounding the Olympics is, according to Raniga, just “pre-publicity” for Green Street’s birth as a jewellery quarter and a shopping destination.

“We want to bring Green Street to a level corresponding to Bond Street or Oxford Street,” says PureJewels managing partner Harish Raniga. “It has a little way to go but we are equal with Bond Street on product and we are going to make sure we achieve it; we achieve most goals we set out to.”

While the council may need a bit more persuading to throw its weight behind the project, the tight-knit community of jewellers on Green Street are fully on board and most importantly, Green Street has something viable to offer and is getting ready to shout about it.

“Green Street has a lot more to offer than just imports,” says Raniga. “And we’re leading this process by shouting about our importance and our worth.” And with the ever-proactive Raniga driving Green Street forward, London’s secret luxury hub might not be such a secret for long.

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