In the summer of 2021, after delays forced by the pandemic, East London’s cult general store Labour and Wait finally opened its second domestic brick-and-mortar shop more centrally, in the West End’s Marylebone district.
Located on Dorset Street—500 feet from the Air Mail newsstand, on Chiltern Street—this new outpost from founders Simon Watkins, 57, and Rachel Wythe-Moran, 63, stocks most of the same perennially classic and impeccably curated household goods, genderless garments, and oddly essential miscellany.
Established in 2000, Labour and Wait (which draws its name from the last line of Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life”) is not just Watkins and Wythe-Moran’s passion project; it’s also a calculated rebuttal to their shared experience in men’s wear and trend forecasting. Having met in their 30s while working in the design department at Marks & Spencer, they felt there was something better waiting to be made.
“We became very disillusioned with the whole design process, whereby everything had to be constantly changed and re-invented each season,” says Watkins. “We also felt that at that time everything had become very over-designed. We were both frustrated that you couldn’t buy classic products which were timeless, be it household items or clothing.”
The like-minded duo raised their spirits by meeting up during their lunch hour and discussing their dream to open a shop of their own. A list of products to stock was drawn up, and after a year or so of fantasizing, they decided to take the plunge and go into business together, opening the first Labour and Wait 22 years ago on Cheshire Street off of Shoreditch’s Brick Lane. Watkins and Wythe-Moran’s bet on built-to-last timelessness paid off, and through word of mouth the project became a local hit.
“From the start, we wanted our products to be useful, fit for purpose, and not purely decorative,” says Wythe-Moran. “We’ve always tended to prefer natural materials with a view that often items become ‘favorites,’ and as they age they take on a character of their own.”
“We were both frustrated that you couldn’t buy classic products which were timeless, be it household items or clothing.”
Besides plenty of made-in-U.K. quality staples, there are also pieces of American hardware, Austrian enamelware, French linen, Japanese stationery, and so forth. An early shopper was Comme des Garçons’ founder, Rei Kawakubo, who was so taken with the selection that she offered the business partners a concession in her then young Dover Street Market. (And, unsurprisingly, they’re also big in Japan: since 2017, there’s been a stand-alone store in Tokyo.)
By 2010, after a decade in business, Labour and Wait had outgrown its humble shop and moved into a former pub on Redchurch Street, providing more breathing room for its expanding collection of globe-spanning offerings.
To browse Labour and Wait is to be inspired to get into some serious D.I.Y. There’s the 16-ounce leather-grip Estwing hammer, the elemen’tary beechwood-handle screwdriver set, and the painted steel watering can. It also makes you feel you’ve found exactly what you need to finally bring an aesthetic organization to your kitchen. It’s all part of Labour and Wait’s philosophy: Any quotidian task or chore can be fulfilling—when you’ve got the right (and best-looking) tools.
As for staff picks from the founders themselves? Wythe-Moran’s favorites are the gratin dish, heavy-duty paper scissors, linen dishcloth, and giant dustpan, while Simon’s top recommendations are the Japanese kettle, Coloral water bottle, and tube wringer.
Spike Carter is a writer and filmmaker. His next project is a documentary about Eric Roberts