They came, they popped up, they conquered.

Last weekend saw the We Are Pop Up x Escape the City pop-up challenge come together after only 48 hours of ideation and planning, following the reveal on Wednesday. The five Startup Tribe teams, as part of their intensive introduction to entrepreneurship, were tasked with creating a lifestyle brand around the white t-shirt, filling a shop – and selling – in Covent Garden for a whole weekend.


The 5 teams began working on their product concepts on Wednesday night during an ideas generation session, bringing their broad range of business backgrounds together to build a startup from scratch. With the winning criteria including revenue, social media reach and visual merchandising, the aim was to create not only a product that would sell, but a brand they could effectively spread the word about online and present well in-store.


A real-life example of lean retail in action, this weekend the Tribes proved that the lean business model is not only the reserve of tech startups, but also effective in the world of temporary retail. Testing, measuring and learning was key to each team, each able to see if something was working in real-time then altering or reinforcing their strategy depending on the results.



Each team sought a way to differentiate themselves in the saturated fashion and accessories market, finding unique value propositions to set them apart from the rest. Made in London brought in a range of local brands with meaningful stories behind them, including Beefayre beauty products dedicated to bee conservation.

Black Sheep Collective collaborated with exciting brands like Sibberi birch water, which turned out to be the highest volume sales product. The team allowed customers to customise their own t-shirts, introducing an innovative prosumer angle to the brand.

#analog created a lifestyle around pre-digital, offline life experiences and offered exclusive t-shirts and polaroids, inviting customers to reflect on what they would do with the extra time if they spent less of each day glued to digital devices.

Sleepworks produced a range of handmade products in fine fabrics focusing on the importance of sleep, from pillowcases and tees to candles and hot chocolate pots.

Finally, Love London offered one-off tours of exciting areas around Covent Garden, as well as selling ethical t-shirts and jewellery in-store.


While some teams focused on the product and built their brand around that, others did the reverse and brought the brand to the fore, introducing the product as a secondary feature. This proved an important learning curve in terms of value proposition and creating a clear, compelling brand identity – invaluable for each team member when it comes to generating their own startup.


Over the four days of the entire project, the teams created marketing campaigns across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope as well as building their own websites – you can check out the #escapethesuit tagboard here. In-store, tactics included both traditional and left-field strategies – from simple yet effective posters and flyering to free drinks sampling, team members dressed in pyjamas walking the streets of Covent Garden with teddies and billboards, and live t-shirt spray painting.

Coley from the Sleepworks team told us that “standing outside in pyjamas has taught me you can pretty much get away with anything – that’s really important, the personal touch. I think one of the reasons we’ve done so well is because we’ve got a man outside in pyjamas with a teddy bear. That’s what I’ll take out of this the most – the importance of really good promotion.”


Ben Keene, Startup Tribe leader, explains the thinking behind the challenge and why they unleashed the teams on their own pop-up: “at Escape the City we’re all about pushing people to take small steps towards a career on their terms. For those interested in startups that doesn’t mean talking, it means doing…getting ideas out into the world quickly to see if anyone wants them.

“The point of doing a fast, hard pop-up challenge was to push people to create, build and sell products in a very short space of time – to give them rapid learning and prove that it’s possible.”


On bringing in the help of We Are Pop Up, Ben tells us that “we wanted a challenge that would be physical and real. Nothing beats selling on the street or in a shop. The pop-up team designed and delivered a killer startup challenge that generated some amazing results and buzz. You could spend months on what we just achieved in a weekend. Boom!”


Lastly, we asked Ben for his take on the weekend and its impact on the Startup Tribe:

“I saw fear, joy, hope, frustration, skills to burn and a lot of love.

One of the hardest parts was the founderless aspect of the challenge. Normally a startup has a founder or two and that helps others follow – but for this, they had to figure all that out and get selling with no real leader. That’s tough. But they did it remarkably well.

I loved the rapid brand creation, the quick sense of ownership of the concept, the passion to make it work and the total commitment to sell and drive to win.

So much potential to do a lot more of this. Exhausting but inspirational.”


To find out more about what each team has learned, watch out for the third instalment in the #escapethesuit blog series, when the winning team will be announced and we hear directly from the Startup Tribe teams about their experiences.

Blog button