When the shop first opened, Anja Sauer and Sigrid Carl didn’t expect that they would still be running Lilli Tulipan decades later. They have their shared love of unearthing second-hand items in thrift shops and markets all over the world to thank for this.
It all began back in 1996 with a discovery in an old factory: Sigrid and Anja found 50,000 little plastic flowers. And the two former students of the Zurich University of the Arts knew right away what they wanted to use them for – strings of flower fairy lights.
Today, these flower fairy lights are a permanent fixture in the Lilli Tulipan range.
An article in women’s magazine Annabelle finally got the ball rolling for this duo in 1999 when subscribers were given a discount on their fairy lights. Anja and Sigrid expected 50 orders, but in the end they received 500. Today, these flower fairy lights are a permanent fixture in the Lilli Tulipan range.
There is a distinct business idea behind the shop. ‘We sell whatever catches our eye,’ says Sigrid. She and Anja don’t want a shop full of items that just gather dust or novelty products. That is why they include functional products such as household items and home accessories in their range – school desks from Thailand, miniature vintage suitcases from the Czech Republic, truck decorations from India, Egyptian tablecloths and slippers from Uzbekistan are all masterfully staged inside Lilli Tulipan.
Sigrid and Anja don’t want a shop full of items that just gather dust.
There is a bench in front of the shop. Laughing, Anja and Sigrid recall how they had a chair in the entranceway at a previous shop – for the men who waited outside for their wives. Nowadays, Anja and Sigrid are amazed by how many men seem to enjoy their collection. And they don’t just come to the shop to buy gifts. Many also want items for their homes.
Lilli Tulipan is also popular with young people. Most of them know about the store from their mothers, who used to bring them to the shop in their pushchairs. Older generations like to visit the shop with its nostalgic children’s toys to step back in time. A seventy-year-old man once said to Sigrid and Anja: ‘This store makes me feel young again.’
‘We love making our customers’ wishes come true.’
Sigrid and Anja’s workshop is also based in Lilli Tulipan. Anyone who is interested is always welcome to take a look. ‘People are fascinated by our creations,’ say Anja and Sigrid. Alongside their fairy lights, the pair produce their own range of paper and upcycle plastic items. This is because they picked up on people’s aversion to environmentally unfriendly products.
Anja and Sigrid craft other products for their shop together with a women’s cooperative in Nepal. They want to support the region with their partnership after it was affected by an earthquake. The women produce handicrafts in colours and using patterns specified by Anja and Sigrid and the products carry the company logo. In Sri Lanka, the two Zurich locals also supported people who needed help after a flood. They bought a new sewing machine for one particular woman. She now uses this to sew purses, sun hats and rucksacks for the shop using cutting patterns provided by Anja and Sigrid.
Many of their regular customers like to bring their foreign guests to the shop.
Sigrid and Anja are often asked to make decorations for weddings, children’s birthdays and other parties. You can also rent their long lines of fairy lights. ‘We love making our customers’ wishes come true,’ both of them say. And there are always plenty of special requests.
Many of their regular customers like to bring their foreign guests to the shop to show them just how ‘un-Swiss’ Switzerland can be. The two business owners describe how Zurich used to be very restrained in the early days – there was nothing jolly or colourful anywhere. A customer once told them: ‘You are the first people to inject some colour into Zurich.’