I was lucky enough to catch up with Emily Mathieson, former commissioning editor of Condé Nast Traveller and travel editor at The Guardian and Red.
Emily is a multi-talented successful writer with many strings to her bow. Emily’s entrepreneurial adventure started when she came up with the idea for and subsequently founded Aerende, a homewares shop selling products made by people facing social challenges.
I love the concept of Aerende and the maker stories behind the shop’s super stylish homeware products, I can’t wait for you to be inspired by Emily’s journey. I’m very excited to share this interview with you, enjoy!
Please can you tell me a bit about you and life before Aerende?
I’m a freelance writer living in Hertfordshire with my husband, an art director, and two children. For most of my career I’ve worked in travel and lifestyle publishing (including as commissioning editor of Condé Nast Traveller and travel editor at The Guardian and Red) but have recently added social entrepreneur to my CV with the launch of Aerende, a homewares shop selling products made by people facing social challenges. It’s been a steep learning curve, to say the least!
How did the journey to create Aerende begin and when did you launch?
I began to feel like I wanted to give a little more back to a world that had been very good to me. I didn’t want to turn my back fully on the lifestyle sector so started trying to work out a way of balancing a desire to make a difference with a love of life’s finer things. The idea for Aerende really came to fruition when I bought an amazing wicker basket, made by people with learning disabilities, at a local craft fair in Summer 2015. They explained that they had only sold one that day and I knew that if they could reach a wider audience the baskets would sell really well, raising the makers’ self-esteem and increasing revenue for the charity that supports and teaches these meaningful activities. I spoke to a number of other charities and organisations who felt passionate about the benefits of their creative work but lacked the skills or inclination to create a brand and sell online in a more organised and up-market way. So began the Aerende journey. The combination of our makers’ amazing techniques and products and my enthusiasm for telling their stories has come to fruition in the store you see today, which launched in September 2016.
What inspired you to set up a social enterprise?
If you subscribe to the idea that spending money is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, business is the ideal starting point to affect social change. Social enterprises are a showcase for a new kind of model, using capitalism to solve some of the problems it creates and recognising that business can be a huge force for good, not just in the way a company is run but in how it can influence consumers to think more deeply about their purchasing habits. I like the can-do, problem-solving approach of the sector.
You have a stunning online shop, what products do you sell online & what impact does this have on the lives of the makers?
Our collection is a carefully edited range of hand-made homewares. They range from functional sturdy chopping boards to more indulgent blankets and bed linens. Most of our items come in tiny batches (often less than 20, occasionally a true one-off) as a way of recognising that making things by hand takes time. In most cases customers will receive a tag stating the name of the maker on the item as a way of making meaningful connections and showing how much more you can appreciate a product if you know what went into making it. We believe not only in the therapeutic benefit of making in and for itself but also that knowing other people are prepared to pay them for builds confidence and value in our makers and can be the start of a wider discussion about how we can make society more inclusive. Of course, the practical skills and expectations are important too, it’s also a really helpful revenue stream for organisation and individual that may not be able to access conventional routes to market.
Which products are you most excited about?
I love all of them – I won’t stock anything that I wouldn’t buy or use myself – but I’ve been really enjoying wearing our leather espadrilles this spring as they are super comfy and go with everything. The two-tone cushions are popular at the moment, as are the wood and leather drying racks. I think customers love that they have an environmental integrity and a heart-warming back story as well as simply looking and feeling great. Oh, and everything comes wrapped in compostable packaging, too.
Can you tell us a bit about who the makers are, their stories and how you found them?
Lots of Googling, word of mouth and research. One of the really uplifting things about running a social enterprise is how much people want to help, so I’ve had lots of people and places recommended to me – for example, it was someone at The Big Issue that introduced me to FabricWorks, which supports women who have been trafficked, and which now make our bedlinen and plant hangers. We want to celebrate their achievements rather than focussing on their challenges, but you can read more about them on the Makers page of our website.
Which charities have you worked with and what has the reaction been towards Aerende?
A lot of the people we work are individuals or fellow social enterprises. In terms of charities, the best known are Fine Cell Work, which trains prisoners in needlework, and Camphill Village Trust, which supports adults with learning disabilities in residential communities.
Your business is committed to heritage skills, British made items and considerate business practices that help improve lives, how important is it to you to be true to these values and what are your future goals for Aerende?
These are brand values not just from a marketing perspective but because I genuinely believe in them and they are enshrined in the name – Aerende (pronounced air-en-day), an Olde English word that means care or message. There are times when the most business-like decisions conflicts with these goals but it’s important to me to champion alternative ways of doing things, by measuring value not just by financial return but also social and environmental impact. In terms of the future, I continue to develop the range on the shop (visitors can check out the What’s New section to see recent arrivals). We’re also currently trialling a scheme, in partnership with the Refugee Council, with local refugees to take commissions from restaurants and hotels to create bespoke linens. There has been a huge amount of interest and we hope to announce our first big-name clients very soon.
A huge thank you to Emily for sharing her story with us, I hope it’s left you feeling inspired to ponder who made your homeware when buying new items in future.
Aerende is about to open a pop up shop in St Albans, check out their social media feeds (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram – all @aerendeshop) for more info.
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