Wandering up to Joy Fantastic on Highland Road, I realised there was a new independent that had opened a couple of doors down and decided to pop in. I instantly loved the choice of products on display. Aimed at all ages, you think that this shop is for your kids on the way home from school where they can spend their pocket money but actually this place has a Brighton Lanes feel about it. You can spend quite a while looking at everything in there from the plushies to rainbow socks and perfect pins to cool journals. I caught up with Natalie the founder and curator for this cute, colourful shop and asked her about setting up an independent here in Southsea.
Hi Natalie, thanks for taking the time to talk about Sparkle Rocket.
1. What made you want to set up a shop like Sparkle Rocket?
It’s a long story! My husband and I met at University here in Portsmouth and loved living in Southsea. Whilst I was studying for my Master’s Degree, I worked full-time managing an independent gift shop called Passionfish. It was a sister shop of a larger shop in Southampton and it was full of things you couldn’t buy on the High Street and was packed full of colourful, bright things. I absolutely loved working there and was really envious of the owners!
After I completed my Masters Degree I returned to my hometown of Newbury and started a career in policy, research and strategy for a housing association. I’m fiercely passionate about tackling homelessness and my job involved lobbying the Government on housing and welfare policy. I really loved my job but would often find myself saying that I wished I could just go and work in a shop again. In 2018 I adopted my youngest son and unfortunately balancing my career and my son’s additional needs wasn’t possible. I stepped away from my career. I was struggling with post-adoption depression and anxiety and felt very lost.
One day on a whim I booked myself onto a polymer clay course and that day honestly changed my life. Something about working with the clay and creating an end product calmed my mind and I started to feel like me again. I started making lots of bright and colourful jewellery, most of which had little smiley faces on them – it brought me joy. I started selling my jewellery and my customers said my creations were bringing them joy and happiness, which in turn gave me more joy! I’ve always loved discovering new independent makers. Not only do you find the most amazing products that you can’t find anywhere else but you know that your purchase is feeding back into local communities and you get that personal touch that you don’t find on the highstreet.
Lockdown really honed that passion for scouring the internet looking for new independent makers and I started to daydream about opening a shop where I could sell my jewellery alongside all sorts of things made by other small businesses. I always thought it was a bit of a silly pipe-dream so pushed it to the back of my mind. During lockdown, my husband and I realised how much we missed living in Southsea and made the scary decision to relocate here. Quite soon after moving, a shop round the corner from our new house became vacant – I saw it as a sign and signed the lease that week!
I think my shop confuses people as they assume it’s a toy shop or just full of pink stuff because of the sparkly pink shop frontage – but that’s not the case. I sell all sorts of things including cards, magnets, pins, keyrings, toys, stationery, stickers, jewellery, candles, bags, cushions, plushies, bath products, art prints, postcards, mugs, games and more. A customer came in and asked what the theme or genre of my shop was and to be honest I don’t think it fits a genre or a mould. The whole idea of my shop is about the feeling it gives you. I love watching people discover things they haven’t seen before. I want everything I sell to evoke a positive emotion whether that be a bolt of dopamine, a warm fuzzy feeling, or a bolt of nostalgia. I want people to walk out of Sparkle Rocket feeling better than when they came in. Seeing people’s reactions to the shop and the products is one of my favourite things, it really fills me with joy.
2. Your products appeal to both children and adults, is it fun sourcing and curating products for the shop?
Sourcing products for the shop is my absolute favourite element of my business. I have a rule that everything I pick to stock in my shop either makes me squeal at how cute, laugh at how funny it is, feel nostalgic or marvel at how cool it is. I have such a long list of independent brands whose products I want to stock in the future, including lots of local brands. The excitement I feel when I discover a new maker is really hard to explain. I’m also passionate about sourcing my products from the UK and supporting women-owned businesses. At the moment I stock products from 44 small businesses and 80% of those businesses are woman-owned.
I also love dressing the shop and trying to make the products look as good as they can. A lot of people have said that the shop somehow reminds them of a traditional sweet shop when they come in because of the layout of the shop and the smell of all the bath bombs and candles. I deliberately don’t have a shop window as such as I kind of want my customers to ‘discover’ the shop and I get such lovely feedback when people come in for a look around. If sourcing and curating is my favourite part of my job, seeing people’s positive reactions when they come into the shop is definitely my second favourite thing. Seeing people happy makes me happy.
3. What item would you think we all need in our lives that you sell?
That’s a hard question as it depends on each person’s preference but I would say something that they can see every day that makes them feel good, whether that’s through laughter, nostalgia or joy. For some people that could be a pin for their jacket or a mug for their morning coffee or a magnet on their fridge – but something that gives their day a little boost. I think we all need to grab as much joy as we can at the moment. Life is too short and definitely too short for beige!
4. What can people expect from the website that they can’t get in-store?
It’s probably more the other way round as there as some things that will be in store only like particularly breakable or heavy things, but the majority of things in the shop are now available online. The one benefit of the website for those who live locally is that I offer a pick-up option. My opening hours can be a bit restrictive because I’m a one-woman band trying to juggle the shop and a young family but local customers can order online and then arrange to pick up their order at a time convenient for them. I only live around the corner so if any customers want to arrange a private appointment at the shop that is easily doable. I would also welcome any individuals or their children who would prefer a closed shop appointment due to any additional needs to contact me as I know from experience that shops can be very overwhelming when they are busy for some people.
5. Can you explain what Sparkle Club is?
I’ve recently started the Sparkle Club which is an opt-in opt-out group which I run through a close friends group on Instagram. This basically means I share information and offers to that group on their own Instagram stories. One element I’m really enjoying and I think will be really useful is that I ask club members about potential stock I’m thinking of purchasing for the shop and ask their opinions and get their feedback. It means my most loyal customers get a say in the future of Sparkle Club which I think is really exciting. Club members also get a lifetime 10% discount on all purchases online and in-store. To join, customers just need to send me a message on Instagram and I’ll add them to the club automatically.
If you browse the new website you will see the delightful things for sale that could be for lots of people in your life or just for you as let’s face it we all need to treat ourselves. There shouldn’t be an age when you have to stop wearing gummy bear rings or do an Ice Lolly mini cross stitch! My favourite things to buy so far are Seaside and Shells Bracelet Kit and the Vertigo Bright Patterned Notebook! Have a look at the website and see how delightful and cheery the products are.
See below for socials and to browse the website.