A west coast native, Laila greeted us after hours one Friday in June. She had recently been back for Bergen Fest where she saw a long time favourite, Nick Cave, perform after missing him in Oslo last year. ‘It was like magic’ she says in awe, ‘I was almost crying, what an artist’…
Back in Oslo Laila and her partner Andreas operate their boutique in what is arguably one of the best blocks in city. With the bustling small business atmosphere very present, Lush Dive is situated in the cool little hub in upper Grunerløkka. The spot was originally to be a place where Andreas and Laila could work their respective freelance careers while operating a small stationary and supplies boutique on the side. Priorities quickly shifted as they witnessed the marketplace for the niche products they sell to be quite large. They now find themselves more and more involved in Lush Dive duties with an ever expanding range of goods.
‘The phone never worked for me, I have always been using books’.
Norway does however pose some challenges for small businesses and importing of goods can cost a lot. The high import tax rates do bring a large amount of risk, especially selling products with expiring sale points (Such as calendars and planners). The things they don't sell, however, they are able to find other uses for…’Nothing is wasted’ and she confesses the thing that is actually making her more frustrated is the amount of products. ‘I think it is a bit too much,' she says. ‘I ask the customers what they think of the store and they say they love it and can spend hours in here, always finding something. But, I feel it is too much'. The plan is do some more rearranging and move the office space to add in more store space. 'We have so much nice products and it needs to be displayed properly’.
Being a lover of the arts, it is not strange that the space they operate attracts a range of people from different creative fields. Spending most of my work hours on the computer it was refreshing to listen to Laila explain the various products; Which pens/pencils are good for writing, which are good for drawing, the things they have from Japan, USA, France and the various products they have to write on rather than the specifications of the latest apple product. As we walk around the store becoming familiar with all of the items on display, Laila points out that both her and Andreas are long time aficionados of the products they sell. ‘Andreas was loving Field Notes, for example, and has been ordering everything from when they started 10 years ago. All the limited editions and whatever he could get his hands on for writing. Me, I am more into sketching. I like to draw, these Pigma pens (points to pens) are excellent. I don't get to do this so much anymore though because I don't have the time’.
The concept for Lush Dive was the product of Laila and Andreas’s many trips together, especially to Paris. The couple found the papeterie shops to be very beautiful and thought often that it was a shame Oslo did not have anything like it. With a background in visual merchandising Laila found herself one day needing a new office space and Andreas a photo studio / workspace which prompted the idea that maybe they should try to have a work space together, while running a little shop on the side. ‘At the start I think you don't know what you are doing. We now have plans to run Lush Dive for a long time, but it has also taken us a long time to get to where we are and we had talked about having something together some time before that’. Looking back at pictures from the beginning, she says the space was very clean, minimal and somewhere they thought they could work out of as well. But, like them, they found many others loved the products they were bringing in and they now spend most of their time on Lush Dive related tasks.
After three years, she feels like they have landed, but smiles subtly as she highlights the complications of starting a business with a loved one. ‘We had never done anything like this before and the first two years were tough, being a couple who lives and works together. There are so many decisions to be made and you are just two people, it is a big challenge’. With the lines between personal life and business being constantly blurred Laila laughs as she says, ‘I think my daughter wants to try something else…She has seen us running the shop for three years and in the beginning she hated it, because we spend all our time here. Now I think she is coming around’. Despite the challenges of running a business with your partner, Laila has a strong appreciation for what they have achieved together and continues, ‘We are both interested and inspired by the same things; Photography, music and the arts. We talk a lot together, not just about the business, but the whole thing about what we want to make and how we want to make it together’.
We talk a bit more about the location of their store and she feels very lucky that they ended up in Grunerløkka, in the spot that they are in. ‘The area is very nice, I just love it. When I moved to Oslo in 1996 there was nothing here. There was a place where I done my laundry and it was a dark area, nothing happened here’. Twenty odd years later and the area if full of life with places such as Supreme Roastworks, Bass, Kuratert and Gevir all in the immediate vicinity. As she puts it this place is home to ‘Nice people doing nice things’. With a strong neighbourhood feel to it, it is important that the small business owners have a good relationship with each other as they add a lot more to the culture and diversity of the area compared to the rapid gentrification happening two blocks south. ‘We don't do this to get rich’ she says, ‘It is not why we are doing it. What is important for us is that the place where we use all of our day, with limited holidays, is a good place with good people around to inspire us’.
‘I am very happy to sit in the store when it is quiet and use the time. People hang around and I can just sit here and work, I don't get tired of being here, I like it here. Sometimes they come over from Bass with a glass of Chablis, or a plate of something beautiful, when they see me walking around late some nights… Very good neighbours to have’.
Being a small business owner is very important to them and I always like to know why people choose this line of work and their advice for others trying to manoeuvre their way through the various entrepreneurship obstacles. ‘Just go for it’ she says, ‘This ended up as an adventure for both of us and now we can’t even see our own lives without Lush Dive. The store became this very large and good thing in our lives and I would recommend just going for it... even though it is pretty hard’. After years of hard work Laila says they have also been approached to take the business into a more commercial, shopping mall environment, however, that is not what they want. ‘It is nice to get the recognition that we are doing something right, but this is us and we are still free here’.
All photography by Ronja Penzo