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29th November, 2021

Studio KT1: a new business model to increase students’ working experience

Claire Selby, Kingston School of Art, Kingston University

It’s November 2019, and we launch Studio KT1: a new business model for Kingston University allowing clients to engage with students and pay them for working on creative briefs. The model was taken straight from industry – as many creative agencies work, encouraging cross-collaboration across teams and disciplines. The students get paid and get valuable work experience: pitching, presenting and working to deadlines.

Following the launch, we were overrun with projects for those last three months of the year. We built a polar bear for Veolia, an AI Installation for Mozilla Festival, disrupted the TBD Conference with an office chair race, set up student-led art and sustainability activations in a disused HMV in the Bentalls Centre commissioned by Blackline and Bentalls themselves. Phew.

Fast forward to February 2020 and the global pandemic is taking hold. We retreat into an online world that actually works pretty well for Studio KT1. We take on more and more internal commissions from colleagues across the university and also embark on some pretty special commissions for other partners. With filming, photography and in-person work impossible we see the rise of animation work being sought more so than usual. Our students step up. As restrictions are lifted, one of our more high profile projects in conjunction with Kingston First, the business improvement district is launched. Vacant shops turn into canvases to display students work. Six student artworks go up around the town and we have a lot of coverage, one of the designs even ends up on the front page of the Guardian to illustrate a story about footfall returning to towns across the country. The students are delighted, after so long indoors there is something to celebrate and have their photos taken with their work. 

It’s now January 2021 – we’ve spotted a Mayor of London bid opportunity and we go for it with the Union of Kingston Students. We’ve already been offered a vacant PC World by a landlord for a “Creative Meanwhile Space” a chance to try out another new student -led business model. This is a venture celebrating and supporting creativity in Kingston, including students graduates and anyone who wants to try out a new product. 80% of sales go to the seller, we keep 20% for running costs. By mid-March we are celebrating our successful crowdfunder of £70,000, by the end of March, we collect the keys from the landlord. The first week of April we invite a group of students who have been working on plans for the interior, the branding and the display furniture. It’s an odd time as we are still in lockdown, essential retail is still closed and the students haven’t seen each other for months. Nothing about getting this space ready is easy. We’d all been staring at a 2D architect’s drawing for months, seeing the space in person is a whole different ball game. It’s the biggest live project we’ve ever worked on, but the most rewarding. We are able to employ and pay around 35 students to help us get the shop ready, as well as offering part time jobs to four students to staff it. We open the doors on May 7th. 

It’s August 2021 and the pop up’s tenure has been extended until January 2022. What are you if you are no longer a pop up? We’ve now had 14 exhibitions, and are about to do two pop-ups of the pop-up in Fenwick and on Old London Road market. We’ve hosted the GLA, BBC Radio London, Salmon Magazine, Radio Jackie and are looking at an average spend of £26 per customer. All this with very little PR or marketing, just an Instagram account. The stats are wild:

  • Footfall of 9917 overall 
  • 88% of visitors are general public 
  • 32% of all applications are general public 
  • 31% of total applications are between the ages of 22-25 
  • 46% of applicants identify as LGBTQ+ 
  • 37% of applications have been successful. 
  • £19,695.32 paid to sellers since May 
  • Sales conversion and revenue have increased significantly since July. 
  • 149 purchases made online 
  • 37% of sellers are students 

As I write it is November 2021, we are preparing for Christmas and hosting markets with new sellers and old, helping them make the most of the festive season and the opportunity to “shop local” and “support small businesses”. We have a new staff team with new skills and new ideas. Studio KT1 is working on the biggest project yet, an art commission for Unilever.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the students, graduates, staff, clients, customers and sellers who have helped make both projects a success. We wouldn’t exist without you.

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