Black Friday ‘deals’ may be in full swing, but with many waking up to the fact that the event merely promotes unsustainable consumption, hopefully it’s a seasonal event we will soon see the back of.
Instead of impulse buying items you would never have even considered at full price, do your research and seek out smaller, more local, brands instead, offering more sustainable and unique ideas for gifting whether it be for yourself or others. Today Fabric of the North meets 3 independent brands based in the North with a focus on considered, mindful products that don’t ‘cost the earth’..
“It was actually a sign from the universe that prompted me to start the brand!” says Paonea founder, Marketa Solcanska. “I had wanted to start up an online beauty store for a long time, but had zero knowledge or even idea of where to start. My friend recommended me to join one of the pyramid scheme skincare brands and it all sounded great. Long story short – it was NOT! I paid a couple of hundred pounds just to get in, and cancelled before my first ‘promo’ package even arrived. I then used the money as my first Paonea investment instead, and decided I will make it work!”
Marketa still works a full time day job in hospitality alongside running Paonea, and describes her online concept store as something she does purely out of passion. “Skincare-wise I was pretty much that woman who uses her Nivea cream before bed time and that’s it,” she tells me. “It wasn’t until later on when I started to experiment and discover new brands. They were not always natural or sustainable, but I enjoyed the process of trying out new products. Although I am much more settled on my favourites now, and I know what works for my skin, I am still open to try out new exciting brands. I feel like how you treat your skin is a lifetime journey, what works for you in your 20s won’t have the same effect in your 30s, so it’s important to keep developing and having fun.”
Marketa founded Paonea as an independent online beauty concept store that proudly delivers carefully selected skincare products in their pure natural quality, thoughtfully sourcing and supporting brands that care passionately about the environment as she does. Many of her supplier’s products are made in very small or limited batches, with a specific focus on the quality of ingredients. “My favourite saying is ‘quality over quantity’,” she says, “and this thought is put into everything I do at Paonea. I started with only two brands on board, both carefully selected based on their philosophy, and then narrowed down their product range. There is a sea of online skincare stores out there, with hundreds of brands and products available, and I knew from the very start I didn’t want to be another one. For some of my brands Paonea is their very first venture into the UK market, so I feel very passionate about presenting them at their best.”
Having launched earlier this year, Marketa feels that consumer shopping habits have significantly evolved during lockdown. “There are definitely two sides to this,” she tells me. “It’s been a very dark and confusing time for so many people – affecting their jobs and businesses – but has in another way been a blessing from the sky for those who are creative enough to start, or transform, their existing business and adapt to new trends. There are some amazing stories every day about how small businesses are booming with online sales since the first lockdown, and I believe many are finally starting to give social media platforms the credit they deserve. Many people laughed when I said I was launching an online store, where my main selling platform would be Instagram, and I can honestly tell you are not laughing now..!”
As the festive season looms, Marketa is delighted to unveil her newest brand, OSTĒ , for whom she is the only UK stockist. An independent beauty brand founded by Hana Pham in Prague, the hero ingredient in the range is 100% bio virgin coconut oil sourced in Vietnam. Blended with a patented rice grain formula this award-winning product line was highly successful and, according to Marketa, one of the most talked about green beauty products within the community. “To truly fulfill the principles of clean beauty OSTĒ goes extra mile with their product labels,” says Marketa. “Each product not only has the standard ingredients listing, they also break down every single ingredient and explain to consumers what is each element used for. You may think that Tocopherol is some nasty chemical blend to make the hand cream smell lovely, when in fact it is a leading skin antioxidant with Vitamin E – all naturally derived. These special labels not only to educate us on previously unknown ingredients, but also give the brand full transparency; clean beauty without compromise.”
While Paonea currently only stock products from three independent clean beauty brands, Marketa is keen to grow and help support more small under-the-radar beauty brands on their journey to success. “I would love to organise an open Paonea event where the brand owners can meet up with my customers face-to-face but, of course, given the current climate this may need to wait.” Fingers crossed this idea will get off the ground in 2021!
Photography, including article lead, © Paonea, used with permission.
Made In The Woodshed
“Made in the Woodshed evolved from weekends dabbling in my tiny garden shed, and from sheer necessity,” says founder Helen Brook. “I really didn’t have any room for 30 bowls and, since I can’t stop making, I felt it was time to find new homes for all of my designs!”
Over the last year, I’ve spent every available moment learning, practising, failing and hopefully now succeeding.
Helen discovered woodworking whilst on holiday in France where, instead of relaxing and kicking back, she spent her days in a barn learning the basics of woodwork. Gradually over the course of the past year, woodwork developed into her passion. “After part-time work and Motherhood, full-time employment has been demanding and involved,” she tells me. “As a balance to this, I have always strived for a creative outlet. I dabbled with all kinds of hobbies including knitting, crochet, pottery and photography, but none were as fulfilling as woodwork. It was a chance encounter a year ago that gave me access to a fully furnished workshop and all the reclaimed wood I could dream of. Over the last year, I’ve spent every available moment learning, practising, failing and hopefully now succeeding. The surprising results from the last 12 months are how much I love woodworking – I wish I’d found it 20 years ago! – and how good it is for your headspace.”
Helen now spends every weekend and spare moment creating beautiful contemporary homeware in her little woodshed, come rain or shine. Helen tells me she has always had an affinity for minimalist stylish interiors, as well as a love for natural materials, which has driven her to combine the two to create inspiring, quirky sustainable designs for the modern home. “All my designs come from a place of personal preference and appeal,” she says. “I turn shapes that I would love to have in my own home. With that being said, each piece of wood I choose has a unique quality to it, which gives me the inspiration for the shape it finally becomes – with a lot of patience and perseverance as wood doesn’t always do what it’s told. Chisels and wood can be quite a temperamental mix! Failures are inevitable in woodturning; creatively working around a problem leads to satisfying and unexpectedly beautiful outcomes.”
“Made in the Woodshed began from a single piece of reclaimed wood, and to divert from that path wasn’t even a choice,” she says. “I’m at a time in my life where I have the time, knowledge and enthusiasm to try and make something beautiful out of what is essentially waste. All my wood is a mixture of offcuts from a local joiner and wisely chosen pre-cut blanks from Penrith and Doncaster. I research each wood before purchase and make sure I only use sustainable woods which are not found on the CITES and IUCN endangered species lists.”
Motherhood changed everything for Helen when it comes to protecting the planet. “Everybody wants a better world for their children,” she says. “I believe there is no question anymore about whether or not we should be sustainable, it’s up to every single one of us to do our part and make sure we choose more wisely. I strive to live a low waste, ethical life, creating as little negative impact on the planet as I can, whilst also trying to be supportive of others doing the same. I regularly support small businesses and make charitable donations as a way of giving back.”
“I think traditional crafts such as pottery, woodturning, quilting, silversmithing and metalworking have always been there for everyone to find,” she continues, “but there has been a spotlight shone on it in recent years as people have grown weary of mass production, and have realised that expressing your individuality is far more satisfying. There are more self-employed people in the UK than ever before, and with this increase, we have seen more and more people wanting to support their local community. A positive impact of social media has meant small unique businesses can reach everybody.”
Helen’s daughter Lucy, a photographer by trade who has worked with many of the small product-based brands featured on Fabric of the North, looks after the visual and marketing side of Made In The Woodshed. When I ask how big of a role social media has played in developing the brand and growing her customer base, Helen is adamant. “It’s absolutely huge,” she says. “I’m not one for social media myself – I’ve always been reluctant to spend too much time on Instagram – but having my daughter run that side of the business for me has seen a huge increase in exposure and subsequently support from lots of wonderful people. Working full time has excluded the option to go down the traditional route of markets and fairs, which in some ways is a shame as interacting with people can be so satisfying and enjoyable, however Instagram has provided the perfect platform to enable me to spend maximum time creating, whilst also fostering great relationships with potential customers. Truth be known if I could spend all day every day in the shed creating, I would!”
Her ambition for Made in the Woodshed is to keep creating and loving every second. “It’s not a big ambition,” she says, “but it holds true to what I am trying to do – making my fortune is not the objective here.”
Made In the Woodshed’s online store restocks this Sunday 29 November at 7pm, including some new designs and minimalist wooden Christmas trees. Be quick though, last time many items sold out within 30 minutes!
Photography © My Kind Lifestyle, all used with permission.
“I started Cedar around two and a half years ago,” says founder Lizzy. “I was in my first year as a secondary school geography teacher, and was finding the pressures of the job very difficult to cope with. Candle making was something I decided to try in an effort to relieve the stress and anxiety I was feeling.”
“I’ve always found candles therapeutic and meditative; they represent little moments of calm, of which I was sorely in need at that time. I enjoyed the making side of things so much that I started to think seriously about pursuing it as a career. Candles brought peace and tranquillity to my home, and I thought other people might find that valuable too. Since then Cedar has grown, and I’ve been able to become a full-time candler!
From the very outset, Cedar has been a process of evolution and adaptation for Lizzy. “I’ve been on such a creative journey since those first few tentative pours in a saucepan in my Manchester kitchen,” she says. “Whenever I think about it, I still feel surprised at where my business has got to!”
Finding her feet within the industry, it’s inevitable that things have adapted and evolved over time. “This year I decided to make the switch from fragrance oils to 100% natural essential oils,” she tells me. “I really enjoy the process of blending – the trial and error and experimentation – that you get working with essential oils. Also, wellbeing is a huge part of what Cedar does. I want anyone who owns a Cedar candle to enjoy the psychological benefits of essential oils. The aromatherapy side of candles is something you just don’t get when you use synthetic ingredients.”
“Elsewhere, and I know this might sound obvious, but learning has been a massive part of my development. As an independent brand and a one woman show, I’m always trying to educate myself on how to improve and deliver a better product. This is especially the case when it comes to sustainability. Part of this learning process for me has been the realisation that just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable. That’s why I now use a rapeseed wax blend instead of soy wax. Rapeseed is UK-grown, and doesn’t involve mass deforestation.”
Part of this learning process for me has been the realisation that just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable.
When it comes the the development process of the brand itself, Lizzy tells me that it’s all been about experimentation and putting in the hours. “Testing burns, playing with blends and percentages, different containers and wicks, not to mention the product identities and stories themselves, as well as the packaging and photography.”
“I work closely with an amazing creative named Will from Eat it Up Design agency in Sale. Will is a great friend of mine, and pushes me all the time. With his adventurous streak and my love of simplicity, we strike a good balance. I couldn’t be happier with my new branding. Cedar’s new Core Collection is actually the first time I’ve used bespoke boxes, and it’s been great putting these together with Will. Each box comes with its own pull-out card, telling a story about the scent experience. Sometimes it’s worth investing extra if it’s going to make your product stand out and – ahem – shine brightly. My other partners are Pressision Printers from Leeds. They are absolutely amazing and they offer all kinds of guidance on materials and finishing. They’ve produced the Core Collection’s packaging, printing everything on GF Smith paper which is FSC certified, meaning it is sustainably sourced.”
“The Another Place Collection is about how a simple interaction with a scent can take us on a journey in time and memory, all without taking a single step. The collection was conceived earlier this year whilst we were in full lockdown. Perhaps it was born of an urge to get out of the house!” she laughs. “Another Place candles are all made using rapeseed wax and essential oils. They’re their own entities, singular and separate to those from the Core Collection. The vessels come from Dutch design studio, Archive. They are actually coffee cups believe it or not. The idea is that people can re-use them afterwards.”
For the holiday season, Lizzy has a couple of really fantastic festive scents on offer. “Yule is a spiced scent made with orange, cardamom and cinnamon essential oils,” she says. “It’s really comforting and nostalgic – I’m super pleased with it. Then there’s also Embers, which is the latest addition to the Another Place collection, which is a smoky blend of frankincense and cedarwood combined with subtle notes of cinnamon and vanilla. Ideal for lighting after coming home from the chilly outdoors!”
“With Covid-19 blighting all our lives,” she says, “I have really missed sitting around a table and getting to know people at workshops, and seeing different parts of the country with markets and events too, so I’m really looking forward to getting back to all that. I’m also hoping to expand my product range, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while! Long term, I want to keep Cedar small and independent because I much prefer a personal approach but, you never know, premises might be nice! I’m also exploring the possibility of doing a two year diploma in perfumery, so I can keep learning and think about branching out.”
Photography © Cedar, used with permission.