By October 3, 2016 Read More →

Launching a social enterprise – Aerende

Aerende - Emily MathiesonI love looking at interiors and homewares online, and recently stumbled on Emily Mathieson’s Crowdfunder campaign for her new social enterprise, Aerende.

Emily is a journalist and editor based in Hertfordshire, where she works in her kitchen. Aerende is her first business – an online shop selling beautiful homewares, handmade in the UK by people facing social challenges.

Hi Emily, tell us how you got the idea for Aerende
As a magazine and interiors addict, I’ve always had a fantasy about running my own homewares shop, but always felt uneasy about the negative impact of consumerism on society.

After mulling over ways of creating something that would leave less of a footprint on the world, and have a positive impact, I stumbled across a wicker basket at a summer fair close to my home in St Albans.

It was made by residents of a community that supports adults with learning disabilities, partly through traditional crafting activities. It sparked the idea for a shop that would celebrate unsung talent and tackle stigma with high quality items and great customer experience. Sadly, expectations in this area are quite low so we’re looking forward to raising the bar.

How have you managed to combine setting up Aerende with your writing work and your family?
Honestly, the juggle has been challenging. My youngest started school in September so negotiating his needs alongside the business has been an evolving process.

Generally, I try to carve out official ‘work’ time when the children aren’t around – in the mornings and evenings. Being able to work flexibly means I haven’t missed an assembly or parents evening yet and the holidays are not fraught with childcare worries.

Recently, my writing work has taken a bit of a backseat so I can focus on Aerende, which in many ways has been easier to combine with the family, especially when I involve the kids in professional tasks that we can all do together – such as stamping labels with the Aerende logo or testing out products.

Aerende - Fruitful woods boardsHaving a computer (and a pile of fabric samples, boxes and packaging materials) on the kitchen table is not always conducive to switching off so, like many home workers, I’m planning an office in the garden. A dedicated work space in which I can still be master of my own time feels like the dream to aim for.

What has been the most inspiring part of the project so far?

The response to the crowdfunding campaign (the project got full funding in a fortnight) was a fantastic way to kick things off and generate interest in the brand. A whole host of opportunities for organic marketing have come from it, including this blog post.

But really it is meeting the makers that keeps me motivated and inspired. The Aerende concept isn’t easy for many makers to get their heads round, particularly in terms of implementing more business-oriented practices. But the testimonials I’ve heard about the boost to self-esteem that can be gained not just from the creation of a product but knowing someone wants to buy it is constantly uplifting.

It’s been particularly evident during my contact with refugee families who have recently arrived in the UK. They are so skilled and enthusiastic that not being able to work because of lack of English (or other reasons) is terribly damaging for their mental health and future prospects. Being able to provide creative outlets and a source of revenue feels hugely exciting and valuable. And their products are gorgeous – it is a very wholesome and heart-warming to way to do business.

What’s your routine, or is every day different?
The endless procrastination opportunities that working from home affords means I prefer to have a routine. My phone is banned from the bedroom so when I wake up I often sneak down to the kitchen for a contraband scroll through emails and to make a to-do list for the day.

Then it’s the usual pre-school chaos before the house is quiet at around 9am. I can’t work until things are orderly so I’m often thinking things through while dusting or scrubbing, which means my house should be much more immaculate than it is!

Aerende chartreuse handmade porcelain vaseThen I need coffee – being at home allows me to indulge the slow pleasure of waiting for the stove-top espresso maker to gurgle to life before I start checking through social media.

I tend to post Tweets and Instagram pictures early as I’ve found morning posts get better responses and interaction opportunities.

The rest of the day is a whirl of contacting and visiting suppliers, sourcing new products, looking for collaboration opportunities and building the online shop.

Between 3 and 7pm I have a 4-hour, child-focused hiatus before picking everything up again for another hour or two in the evening. I imagine now the site is live that the tasks will change, though the whirl is not showing any sign of slowing.

What are your top tips for anyone wanting to start an online shop at home?
It’s all about research – knowing what you want to sell, to who and why. Keep a list of online shops you like with reasons (everything from tone of voice, to sourcing ethos to site design) to start building up a vision of the kind of shop you want to have.

Then, buy stuff. The most fun kind of ‘research’ any potential shopkeeper can have is to purchase from similar sites to assess the effectiveness of their communication, backend and shipping services.

My other big recommendation is Shopify, an online platform with all of the back-end sales logistics built in. It’s easy to use and has excellent customer service, with actually humans constantly available to help with any issues.

Oh, and prepare for negligible/absent cash flow. Although I had carefully worked out how much I needed to get Aerende off the ground, I hadn’t built living costs into my financial forecasts, which means I’ve had a frugal few months. Hopefully now is the time for payback as we launch the company and bring it to an enthusiastic online community.

work from home secrets

Aerende - striped linen and cushionWondering about Emily’s unusual name for her business? Aerende (a-ren-day) is an Old English word meaning care or message.

Find out more about her ethos and makers at www.aerende.co.uk, and of course browse her growing range, which includes the basket, boards, vase and bedlinen pictured.

Some items have already sold out, so be quick if you spot something you like!

 

 

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