Which ever city you call home, chances are your high street looks a lot like the one next door: big-name-supermarket chains, a fast food outlet, a newsagent and the odd post office or two (although these too are becoming rare sights). The Belgian government, in a fresh bid to add character to your neighbourhood’s retail landscape, now wants to change that though. Launched in February 2010, its so-called OpenSoon initiative supports retail start-ups that stand out from the pack through their innovative ideas – concepts that come with a certain edge and a heady dose of independence. With hopes of uplifting your local shopping strip, the Brussels Capital-Region and the European Union have created a 1,200,000 euro fund to finance this urban renewal scheme that aims to support some 60 businesses over five years. To date, 26 projects have been selected for the programme, with six of those having already opened shop. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be presenting four of these new upstarts – two fashion boutiques and two food stores -, getting to know their ventures a little better and talking about the benefits such an initiative might bring to budding entrepreneurs such as them. We start this week with Joya, a jewellery shop that puts fresh talent at the heart of its concept.

Aurore de Heusch (26), a recent jewelry studies graduate from Brussels and Agnès Figueres (44), a globetrotter with stops in Africa, Argentina and roots in Barcelona, are a rather unusual pair. They do share one passion however, and that is jewellery. Their downtown shop, which also serves as their workspace, doubles as an outlet for their own handmade creations as well as a support platform for upcoming talent. Indeed, the duo rents out showcases to budding jewellery designers without taking a cut of the sale. “We know how hard it is to make it as an artist”, Aurore explains, with Agnès adding: “Our goal is to democratize the jewellery business”. And that not only means giving young talents a chance to shine:  “(We want to) desecrate the sector”, Agnés continues, doing this by bringing a selection of affordable gems to the market.

And how did OpenSoon help them? The two artists-come-businesswomen are unequivocal in their recognition of OpenSoon’s assistance. And, although both are convinced they also would have made it without the government programme in the end, they acknowledge that the scheme allowed them to do so more quickly, and smoothly. “The people from OpenSoon support us in all areas, and whenever we have a question we can call them, be it about safety rules or financial issues”, Aurore tells us. Besides, Agnès thinks that without the reduced rental that OpenSoon negotiated they would have not been able to open up their shop in the location they directly fell in love with: a beautiful art-nouveau building in the fashionable Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat.

Joya opens on 15th October.

Joya – Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat 175 – 1000 Brussels

www.joyabrussels.net