You?ve probably seen them around town, the t-shirts with ?Digbeth? or ?BHX? printed on them or maybe a scarf with the word ?BIRMINGHAM? proudly woven into the fabric, and wondered where can I get one of those?
The answer is Provide. Started by Matt Nation in 2012, Provide has been championing all things Midlands over the last 8 years, drawing inspiration from the people, industries, architecture and history that surrounds us in Brum.
Collaborating with some of the finest creatives from across them Midlands to create original, high-quality and locally made products, Matt has been crafting a collection of clothing, products and impactful artwork. We caught up with Matt in December to find out more about the brand showing the world what the Midlands is all about.
‘It?s been a challenging year, but we?ve just had to roll with the punches, adapt and make things up as we go along! As we?re already an established online business it has meant that we are in a much better position than if we were just a physical shop.’
‘It?s still tough as we sell non-essential products and a lot of people?s finances have been affected which means not everyone has spare cash to spend on the things that they like to.’
‘The main thing is that we?ve managed to keep going and had a lot of support from customers old and new which I?m incredibly grateful for!’
‘I initially started thinking about Provide in 2011. I wanted to open a boutique where people could discover brands that were relatively unknown. The Provide shop opened in the Custard Factory in 2012. We sold products from different brands but to be honest the best sellers were the tee-shirts with the word ?Digbeth? and the Provide logo on them.’
‘People were really interested in the fact that they were made locally in Birmingham, so I started to use Birmingham as the inspiration for the shops products and the focus shifted to selling more solely Provide products.’
‘I then left the Custard Factory in 2015 and did two pop ups in the Great Western Arcade in 2015 and 2016.’
‘At the start of 2017 I decided to go online only. It was a difficult decision as having a physical presence was a core principle of the brand because I?m very interested in the concept of connection, whether it?s people, food, or the planet. We?re becoming increasingly disconnected, and having the store allowed me to create those relationships in person.’
‘It became apparent that the responsibilities of managing a store meant that I wasn?t as free to focus on the community building that I wanted to do. By closing the shop, it freed me up to do a lot more in terms of collaboration on products and events, so after making the switch, Provide evolved into a better version of itself.’
‘The benefit of being an online business you can reach a much wider community rather than just in store, and I feel that the stories that I?m telling about the area and it?s people through products deserve to be heard by a wider audience.’
‘I often answer questions in a similar kind of way, I don?t have specific events but it’s more the more I study the city and its people and its history, the more I am inspired by the collective identity and achievements of Birmingham.’
‘I think what really stands out to me is throughout history there has always been incredibly talented and successful businesses based here, but they have this hallmark of quietly grafting away. Other cities have reputations for quite forward self-promotion but with Brum there is so much great stuff going on underneath our noses that we don?t really know about. I?m no historian but I feel a lot of it comes from the industrial revolution.’
‘Manufacturing played a huge part in making the city of what it is along with a history of immigration, people coming from all over the world. With industry and communities of immigrants, you tend to get people who simply have to work hard to get by with no generational wealth to fall back on. I think the reason a lot of Brum?s success stories aren?t told as loudly as they should be is because the people behind them have been too busy grafting!’
‘That?s where I see Provide playing its part, I believe it exists as a platform to discover and share those stories.’
‘There is no end goal as Provide is an ongoing project, in the same way I?ve pivoted and adapted in the past I think that it will continue to happen.’
‘What I hope is that people recognise the integrity in what I?m doing and that I?m not trying to make a quick buck off the local trend. And that it?s about celebrating the city and the region.’
‘In the immediate future I hope to create more local artisan projects as it?s been really fun and one day it would be nice to have a publicly accessible space, but I would approach it slightly differently.’
‘I don?t think a shop can just be a shop anymore. We can buy what we want online, so you have to give people more of a reason to leave their house. I think I would focus on hosting events, lectures, film screenings or workshops and make it a space for the community.’
‘I think that it is different in the sense that it aims to show the rich heritage of the region and what it has contributed to the world.’
‘When you look into the region, it shows numerous different people, how cool Birmingham is and what is has contributed to the world. If I can show the world what Birmingham has contributed through the products that I make, then I?ll be really happy to have been a part of that discovery.’
‘That would be the Midlands Artisan Project which is a product programme in which I seek out people and businesses across the east and west midlands creating great products and then I work with them to create new exclusive products.’
‘It could be a small family owned factory making the same product for 30-40 years or they might be making products for a particular market and will not have dealt with lifestyle brands before.’
‘It?s a way of continuing what I?ve been doing but focusing on people making things locally. It?s a project that helps support other local businesses, keeps the business in the region and the more I sell of their products the higher chance they have of keeping people in jobs and maybe hiring new people.’
‘People are responding well to the fact that it?s locally made, especially this year and they’ve have doubled down on supporting local. In general everyone’s becoming more aware of their environmental impact so the fact that these products are made locally means they haven?t had to travel too far, and it?s easy to monitor manufacturing conditions!’
If you enjoyed this article check out the first episode in the Stag Talks series here!