Wattitude showcases 100% Walloon creative talents

11.11.2015 - Dries Tack

The Watt(itude)

Emmanuelle Wegria exudes the energy of a former communications manager and embodies the creativity of the world of the theatre that she knows so well. All of which is reflected in a 100% Walloon store right in the heart of Liège. The store is called Wattitude and showcases the creative talent of our regions. An interview with a woman bursting with enthusiasm and passion.

Why prompted you to open a store after working for a theatre company?

Well to start with, Arsenic, the company I was working for, was coming apart at the seams, most of the people were leaving and I decided to do the same, to avoid the risk of burn out. That’s when I asked myself the question of what I wanted to do with my life. Then, parallel to my part time job at the company, I started a sideline of textile design for children.

And then you decided to continue along this creative path?

Yes. I told myself, why not get into a creative activity full time? Set up my own shop cum workshop. The problem was that I was used to working with people around me; I couldn’t see myself left to my own devices, just me, my sewing machine and my sketches. I really liked the idea of surrounding myself with other designers. That was when the idea of Wattitude came to me.

More specifically, how did you envisage the collaborations?

As I was working with textiles, it was only logical that this aspect should be represented. My other half encouraged me to include food and drink. He liked – and still does in fact, - discovering regional beers with fabulously designed labels. In fact, the existing 'concept stores' - even if I’m not a fan of the term, which I find much used and abused- only rarely offered this type of product. So it was a way of standing out from the crowd. Then I wanted to play with the idea of a local identity. We are in Liège, in Wallonia. I wanted the store to be a hub for Walloon designers. Not at all in opposition to Flanders, but to make a stand for the wealth of talent we have here in Wallonia.

How do you select the designers showcased at Wattitude among this wealth of talent?

At the beginning, I would go out to meet designers I liked to tell them about the project. In a way I embody Wattitude. It stocks whatever appeals to me. As a matter of fact, some designers like Louise Kopij or Delphine Quirin, have been there from the outset - with specific collections for the store, so as not to compete with other stores selling these designers in the town. Then, as time went by, the designers themselves started coming to me. Customers talk to me about people they know, word gets around very quickly.

Do you sometimes have to say no to designers?

Yes often, and increasingly so. Because it is essential to continue to present the products of the designers I represent in decent conditions, with enough space. This means I can’t just go on accepting everyone without a limit. Sometimes it's heart breaking, I have to wait for one designer to leave the selection before I can take on another. What’s more, some designers don’t necessarily fit in with the identity that I want for the store. An identity that is a reflection of myself, warm but refined.

How do you work with these designers? Do you buy their creations?

Half purchase half deposit. With the deposit, I take less of a risk, so the margin is smaller on the articles than if I’d bought them. It is about getting the right balance between purchasing methods to make economic sense.

You say that it has to make economic sense. You opened your shop three years ago, the economic climate isn’t that favourable. How did you do it?

Clearly, I would not have been able to do it without subsidies. Without the enterprise agency Job'in in particular, which allowed me to put together a pre-activity grant application*. This gave me the budget I needed to develop a website and communicate around a pop-up set up at the end of year 2012. In fact, I came to an agreement with an uncle who has an antique shop. I presented my designers in his shop, which was not in a shopping area. This gave me the premises I needed, and greater visibility for him and his 1950s furniture. Then in December 2012, I responded to a call for tender from the city of Liege, which made it possible to acquire a retail space in the rue Souverain Pont that it wanted to rehabilitate. So, since then, I have a low-rent retail space. Maybe once I get to the fourth year, when I have to start paying the full rent, it will be more difficult. But I hope that by then the store will be up to cruising speed and that it won’t be a problem.

* To support the establishment of economic activities on its territory, the Walloon Region provides subsidies to people who come to it with a project to set up a business, trade or self-employed activity based on an original and realistic idea.

For more information, please visit wattitude.be