I Am Acrylic is a quirky jewellery and trinket shop snuggled into a charmingly crooked shop on Christmas Steps. Cosy and understated but incredibly stylish, the space houses the handmade designs of new Bristol residents Ruth and Brendan, who opened the shop in September 2017. With their vibrant, geometric designs sold in art spaces across the UK, I Am Acrylic is a creative gem placed in the heart of the city.
Passers-by can’t help but coo over the Bristol-themed display in the front window; novel designs dangling between the piers of a miniature Clifton Suspension Bridge. Upon entering the shop’s dainty doorway, you can expect to be greeted by its founders: a couple who radiate warmth, charming eccentricity and wit.
Over coffee, Ruth and Brendan explain how the previously London-based project started almost by mistake. Fifteen years ago, Brendan made Ruth an acrylic bird-shaped keychain for her birthday, emulating a Soho carpark logo she liked. After a colleague suggested they could sell the designs, they began translating that passing proposal into a full-time pursuit.
“When I first made that keychain, I didn’t expect to end up here,” Brendan says. “We didn’t really plan the business to be a business to start with – it was always organic in terms of its progression. There haven’t really been any challenges or disappointments because we didn’t have any ambitions for it in the first place.”
Since starting the project at a market stall in London, the pair has built an extensive catalogue of individual designs, gained a loyal online following and relocated to Bristol to reconnect with family. Being here also allowed them to open I Am Acrylic’s first shop: a space for customers to finally view their innately tactile designs offline.
“Coming up with the designs is fairly random – there’s no science to it,” Brendan continues. “I like doing a lot of brainstorming and word association. The pair of earrings shaped like a piece of cheese and a little grey mouse came about because I was thinking of things that go together, like a teapot and a teacup. It’s just silliness a lot of the time.”
I Am Acrylic’s shop floor undoubtedly reflects the cool tastes of Brendan and Ruth. Its neoteric interior curates an essential backdrop for their artwork. On chic, Scandi-esque wooden backgrounds, the designs’ vivid candy-bright shades bounce, while many of Ruth’s antique finds and vintage shop oddities are scattered throughout.
“Recently, we talked about filling the space with more of our stuff because both of us like going into shops where there are lots of things to look at. It’s our inspiration, too,” Ruth says. Sitting in front of an array of design books, she points out a little plastic cake topper shaped like a pansy which has directly influenced a floral necklace design sold in the shop.
But besides personal decorative trinkets, the pair carry a humble awareness of the shop’s historical setting, with old photographs of Christmas Steps displayed prominently.
“It’s really nice to think of all the people that came before us,” Ruth explains. “Someone came in who used to work here when it was a shoemaker 30 years ago. Even in the last 15 years, it has been an office space and a cider shop. It’s so interesting. But we’re not thinking of leaving – ever. Even if I’m eighty – if I make it that far.”