Jamila Asgarova followed her passion of collecting small trinkets from around the world and turned it into a thriving concept store, Soroka, now located in Azerbaijan and London. Here she speaks to Maria Webster about the idea behind the brand, and how it will develop
Baku: Tell us the story of Soroka Concept Store. How did the idea of collating unique items from around the world come about?
Jamila Asgarova: I was always passionate about collecting interesting objects; whether due to their usual shape, mesmerising bold colour way, the symbolism it carries or simply because of the emotion it brings to its holder. The name itself was given to me by my team – since every time I would go to a work trip, I always came back with some vintage ‘treasures’ or some sort of token that I would add to my wall of inspiration – so they referred to me as a Magpie (Soroka) that flies around and brings back shiny and attractive items to its nest. It took me quite a long time to build confidence to make this passion into a concept that could bring the same emotions to my clients and visitors. I like to believe that my concept brings people Joy through the objects I collate for them.
Baku: How many Soroka Concept stores do you have at the moment? What makes them all so different?
JA: We launched our first two stores in Baku, Azerbaijan (my home city), the first one on 13th March 2019 followed by a second location in the airport terminal three years later. The third location was our first international appearance with a shop in London that we launched just over half a year ago. My aim for all the shops was to curate unusual objects with constant new arrivals from all over the world including makers from Azerbaijan – so that each time a client entered a shop they would see something new. And also, to have a varied price range – so that anyone that enters the shop can take away a little piece of it with them. And till this day I stick to this idea – all three locations are built around this ethos.
Baku: You stock so many various unique items from high-quality and eco-friendly stationery to modern home décor. What are your core foundations you stick to when outsourcing products?
JA: I choose every single brand and object that I bring into the shop, so most of the time I am guided by my ‘eye’ and my gut. I love to meet founders and understand the story behind the piece and feel the emotions they go through when creating them. I stick to everything that only brings positive emotions and light energy, so you will never see gloomy or dull colours or dark themed creations that carry heavy energy. Especially when buying vintage items, I am always guided by the feeling I get when holding the chosen item and what symbolism it carried in different cultures. With each pre-loved item, I always try to include a little story of the person I purchased it from and a glimpse into this object’s previous life.
Baku: How has the approach to the store changed since you first opened?
JA: Ever since we first launched our first store, in Baku, we always repaint and completely re-merchandise the whole shop every season – to create theatre, inspiration and magic for its visitors. I clearly remember several people telling me that with time I will run out of ideas, to not be as excited about the whole process or that I will simply get bored, but many many years later I am proud to say that me and my team still push ourselves to innovate, creatively grow and try out all sorts of things. I feel like that is what the additional ‘secret’ ingredient to our concept is. So, the approach never changed, I would like to believe we grew and blossomed together with our clients, our brands and makers.
Baku: If you had to choose one word to describe your store, what would it be?
Baku: How regularly do you introduce new products?
JA: Since we work with a lot of makers – they usually make small runs or send our orders in several parts so that means we constantly get new items within the store. This is great for our constant clients as every time they come in, they see something new. We also try not to be guided by seasons or do discounts as so many of the items we stock often take longer to make so our idea is not to shift product quickly it is that each object will find its person eventually.
Baku: Do you collaborate with any local and international artists/ designers? Which recent collaborations are you most proud of?
JA: When we opened our second location in the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, I became obsessed with an idea to launch products in collaboration with different local makers and brands – with the spirit of Soroka of bold colours, joy and positivity. The idea was to give the opportunity for the tourist leaving our country to take a little piece of our incredible culture, cuisine, and beauty with them. And so our first collaboration was born. We asked a lovely talented artist August Dina to create an illustration that would feature all our loved places and local symbols both historical and modern and call it ‘My Azerbaijan”. We then turned this illustration into a 1000-piece puzzle that we now stock in all our stores. I feel we really managed to create something truly unique. A takeaway that can be enjoyed by any age, nationality and encompass many of our landmarks and traditions in a fun and playful manner. We are now in the final development stages of our next culinary project which I can’t wait to launch soon and hope we get to do many more as there is so much scope and creativity to share.
Baku: What is your aim for the platform?
JA: It is to have fun in the world of retail and be a burst of colour and creativity. It is an opportunity to let independent makers shine and at times help a raw, beautiful talent develop a direction, or a product, and share it with an audience that understands and appreciates it. I hope this concept becomes a beam of inspiration for those that need a creative boost, a place where you go to find the unusual and where the right objects are matched with the right owner. And finally, to bring back the art of gifting through meaningful objects that tell stories and bring joy.
Baku: A few months ago, you opened Soroka Concept Store on Walton street in London. How different is your creative merchandising in London to the one in Baku?
JA: Soroka spirit is the same everywhere. I like to believe that, regardless of the city, we find those that understand exactly what we set out to do and appreciate the way we do things. In all our installations there is always a crazy start, a brainstorm of ideas and what seems like an unrealistic task at hand. Then slowly these ideas are usually grounded and amended dependant on budget and restrictions of the site – it is always a battle between pushing our creative limits and staying grounded and realistic. The most rewarding part is when we get to unveil the latest installation to the guests and observe their reactions and the way they interact with it. The way we present items to clients is what makes our space more than just a store, it becomes an experience and a journey.
Baku: Any plans for more store openings and if so, where?
JA: Three was always my lucky and happy number. I feel like we are in a good place now with two shops in my homeland and one international hub. I see Soroka doing more pop-up style locations somewhere but definitely not this year. This year is dedicated to just enjoying what we built so far and starting to build our online platform. Although in my mind Soroka is best to be experienced in person and I hope it will become a destination that people specifically travel to. By creating an online store we will be able to share our unique selection with more people. Within our online store the aim is to showcase most of our brands and makers, but the most precious items will only be available to purchase in store. Since we want to unveil our story chapter by chapter, we will launch category by category starting with our main collection of Home Décor, followed by Modern Gifting; Fashion; Jewellery; Beauty & Wellbeing and Kids. In the future I hope to add many more exiting dimensions and content to it to try and get the experience online a little closer to the magical spirit found in our physical locations.
Online Editor: Candice Tucker