Sublime: What inspired you to create an ethical, sustainable online retail space?
Elizabeth Barker: I have always loved two things: making a house feel like a home, and giving gifts. Even as a teenager I knew I wanted to run a homewares and gift shop, but retail isn’t always the most ethical business to be in. It was vital to me that there were ethics at the heart of Home of Juniper. And the way we buy, and what we buy, are two of the main ways we do this.
My initial aim when setting up Home of Juniper was to create a space where people could find affordable, good-quality products which have meaning and thought behind them. For me, the products had to be positive in the way they were produced. I also wanted to know that the home decor and gifts we sourced were made in a way that enhanced their makers’ lives as well as the lives of the people buying them. In the pursuit of these aims, Home of Juniper has developed to be increasingly ethical and sustainable. This year we have added a section to the website where people can find items that are either made from recycled goods or that will help them live more sustainably.
S: How did you go about setting up Home of Juniper, and what problems did you run into at the beginning, if any?
EB: Finding a range of stockists who fitted the style and ethos I envisaged for Home of Juniper was the first step. And the next challenge was trying to make what I imagined into an online space. This is something we are still working on as the brand grows.
Personally, getting used to working in an office for a majority of the day was one of the most difficult things. I have always worked at least part time on a shop floor.
Getting used to talking to customers online rather than face to face has been hard at times, but we have ‘met’ and been supported by some lovely people across our social media and emails. You can still have a great relationship with customers and visitors in an online community.
We have been online for just over eighteen months now, but there is so much more I want to do with Home of Juniper, that it still feels like the beginning.
S: How do you select products for Home of Juniper?
EB: I love choosing the products! Home of Juniper has a mix of items: some you may find on other sites, and some pieces are unique to us. We have found suppliers at trade shows, village craft fairs and online. A few makers have got in touch with us directly.
We only sell things we love. So when we find a supplier whose ethos suits ours, has great products and their own story, we look through all their items and try and pick pieces our followers will love too.
S: What are the reasons behind supporting smaller British makers, and also ethical and fair trade artisans from beyond the UK?
EB: There are some amazingly talented makers and designers in the UK. In my experience, the idea that ‘every time you buy from a small business a real person does a happy dance’ is remarkably true – I know I do! And I love helping British makers and designers get their work out to a wider audience. In fact, initially I had planned to sell British products only, but I fell in love with some of the stories and goods from ethical artisans further afield. As a rule, I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, so it seemed odd not to feature these brands as well.
S: Do you have a story you can tell us about one of your fair trade artisans?
EB: Each fair trade piece has a beautiful story of how it allows the makers to live a better life. The napkins that we sell are made fair trade by Pushpa and her family in Bashka, near Jaipur. Pushpa learnt her craft when she married into a family of fabric makers. She was taught to loom by her in-laws. Working in a fair trade environment gives Pushpa a fair wage, allowing her to help support her family. When she isn’t working, she likes to play with her two young children and cook.
S: If we had £20 to spend, what would you recommend we buy from your shop?
EB: I have always wanted Home of Juniper to be accessible, so we have a lot of items for under £20. Having read a lot on the importance of self-care and well-being, I think something from our well-being range would be lovely, for yourself or as a gift. Some of our latest well-being products include the Moa range, which start at £4. And our Bee well-being range, with the new large candle at £12 – 10% from Bee products goes to BBCT bumblebee charity partners (Registered Charity No. 1115634, Scottish Charity No. SC042830).
S: Name one of your favourite products from the shop, and why you love it.
EB: I have a soft spot for all the Lynn Fox products, especially the Mini Pink Jugs. Each piece is unique, and hand-chosen by us. The maker, Lynn Fox, is wonderful to work with. She works with us on the designs, creates beautiful pieces and then lets us loose in her studio to choose the pieces we want to add to the website (we would have them all if we could).
We are picking up more new pieces this week, and look forward to sharing them. We have also already talked to Lynn about an A/W range, so we are excited about seeing how Lynn interprets our ideas.
S: Do you see ethical shopping gaining more of a share in the market?
EB: Consumers are becoming more aware of issues and shopping more consciously, most definitely. And innovations in design and retail are making it easier for people to shop ethically. The independent brands encouraging this are amazing, and some of the bigger brands are making headway and are increasing their influence across the market. Ethical is becoming more accessible, something we are very proud to be a part of.
S: Do you have your own line of Home of Juniper products? We’d love to know more.
EB: Yes, we do, and we are planning more. We have a lovely group of makers who work with us. Some of our items are collaborations, for example the Lynn Fox ceramics, our make-up bags and our charity wildflower seed packets. It is great working with makers to create items that fit our brand, but that still have their unique creative stamp.
Our well-being range also features Home of Juniper products. These were some of the first things we sold and are all made in the UK by two family-run businesses. They are all natural and beautifully scented.
S: What are your plans for the future?
EB: We have lots of plans, big and small. We are introducing new stockists and products in June, including jewellery handmade from recycled silver. We also have some lovely collaborations coming up soon with other ethical brands.
S: Finally, what’s your favourite hashtag?
EB: My favourite hashtag changes a lot, but #myseasonalstory is one I like to follow. There are some wonderful images under this tag.