Co-founder of, Raquel is on a mission to live a more sustainable lifestyle

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Co-founded by Liz and Gaynor, Best Years is a wonderful fair trade and eco toy brand.  I spoke with Gaynor to learn more about how the business started and the pivot they made from a toy company supplying the giant high street stores, to one that partners with social enterprises, ensuring ethics is at the very heart of their business.
Q. Tell us a bit about Best Years

Best Years was set up way back in 2001. Liz and I met when we were buyers at Disney and liked working together so much that we decided to do it on a full-time basis

Q. What makes your toys different?

When we first started we specialised in supplying toys to the big high street retailers such as Next, New Look and Mothercare. However when the recession hit in 2008/9 and all the shops demanded better prices we realised that we had to make a fundamental decision about the direction we wanted to take the business.

Most toy manufacturers just resourced to cheaper Chinese factories to meet the demands of the multiples but ethically this was not something we were prepared to do. We, therefore, decided to focus our efforts on our distinctive knitted range of toys. We lost over 70% of our customers but gained some fabulous producers as partners and by focussing on supplying Independent retailers with distinctive and ethical toys the business is now larger and more successful than it was before the recession.

Integral to the whole move from volume manufacturer to working with hand made producers was our partnership with Pebble. Pebble had a vision to create skilled employment for people in rural Bangladesh so that they did not have to leave their homes and villages to seek work in the factories in Dhaka.

They were our first partner, we were their first wholesaler and we have grown together so that Pebble now provides fair trade employment to 6000 people across Bangladesh. Visiting Bangladesh and making friends with the people who have put together such a remarkable organisation has been the absolute highlight of our business and a real priviledge.

Q. Prior to this partnership, did you know that fair working practices was going to be at the heart of your business or did it develop from your work with Pebble?

No, our business was a normal manufacturer when we started. It's only as the business progressed that we saw what was done in the name of commerce, and conversely what could be achieved through ethical production that we moved to being a company with ethics at the core of all our product decisions.

Not all of our production partners are fair trade, but our key parameter is “would we let our own children work here”. We visit all but the very smallest of our Peruvian partners to ensure that they all conform to this very simple requirement. It’s a difficult concept to put in a procedure manual but it's central to who we decide to partner with

Q. Was the partnership with Pebble easy to establish?

We first started to work with them before they had even begun producing their first range. They had been making toys on an own brand basis for larger retailers but wanted to produce their own designs and have all the year round manufacture rather than being at the whim of a buyer. They needed a partner who would stock their toys and create a market for them, and we were completely smitten with their business model, their ethics and their toys! It has been a fantastically productive partnership. 

Q. What has been your biggest achievement that you’re most proud of?

Opening schools in conjunction with Pebble. Drowning is the single biggest cause of death for kids under 5 years old in Bangladesh. Although the concept of a childhood without constant supervision sounds great to us here in the UK where we are surrounded by kids who won’t move too far from their electronic devices, it comes with it own dangers. Kids wander off and can fall in a ditch and drown in 3inches of water which is what happen far too often.

Working with Pebble we have funded 2 pre-schools so that while the ladies crochet the Pebble toys their children are being cared for and given the start of an education. There is nothing that we have done which has made us more proud than these schools

For more information or to shop Best Year's fair trade range of toys CLICK HERE

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Last summer I was given some Seedballs and decided to grow them on my patio box, I grew some delicious peppery salads, useful herbs which I used ALL SUMMER and even some herbal teas. It was loads of fun watching things sprout and coming up with different recipes. More seeds appear to be coming up already which hadn't sprouted the first time round, it's the box of seeds that keep on giving!

On that note, recently I have been reading up on the idea of re-growing fruit and veg in your kitchen, from existing fruit and veg.

Last year, I successfully grew an avocado plant from the pit, of course, I am not expecting avocados anytime soon (not with our British weather), but it is a beautiful green houseplant all the same. But what it has done is peaked my interest in what else I could be growing from leftovers.

I found this great video from Tasty Vegetarian which is a great introduction to re-growing fruit from your kitchen:

For more information about eco-seedballs including bee & butterfly friendly flowers CLICK HERE

Friday, 16 June 2017

I loved this animation so much I wanted to share it on the blog. The Animation Workshop produced this short video to highlight the problems we face with plastic pollution in our oceans.

It is estimated that every year 10 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean, so it's time to step up and fight the war against plastic pollution. For more info visit the Plastic Change website here, but in the meantime, you can watch the animation below:

Thursday, 15 June 2017

I first found out about Liter of Light through Tech Insider UK. For those not in the know, Liter of Light describe themselves as a global, grassroots movement committed to providing affordable, sustainable solar light to people with limited or no access to electricity.

Volunteers teach marginalised communities how to use recycled plastic bottles to illuminate their homes and communities. To date, Liter of Light have lit up more than 850,000 homes around the world through the power of upcycled and locally sourced materials.

See more about how it works here (via Tech Insider UK):

For more information about 'Liter of Light' click HERE

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

So what is forest bathing? Well, simply put it's about being in the presence of trees and appreciating the nature around you. In 1982 forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku became part of a health programme to act as therapy.

The best part is there is no pressure on what you do, it's not about counting the miles you've trekked or the steps you've walked. It's simply about being at one with nature, whether you're meandering, sitting or meditating, the point of forest bathing is to relax and replenish.

"Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better—inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve immune system function." (source)

There have been various studies on the scientific evidence behind the benefits of forest bathing. Amongst some of the results a study found that “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,”  (source)

For more information head to the World Economic Forum HERE

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A relatively new joiner to is the wonderful Funky Kalakar co-founded by Amit and Amey. They have taken traditional and indigenous art forms and turned them into contemporary fashion pieces. The timeless design and quality manufacturing ensure that these are pieces made to stand the test of time, providing you with a sustainable wardrobe and peace of mind because you know where your handbags and vegan shoes have been made. 

I took some time out this week to catch up with Amey and learn more about the motivation behind the brand, including the giant strides Amey and Amit are making towards a sustainable future.

Who is behind Funky Kalakar?

Funky Kalakar (Unconventional Artist) was started by me Amey Alshi and my childhood friend Amit Jain. We are both travel enthusiasts, with an enormous love and passion for different art forms. We started Funky Kalakar to produce luxury leather fashion accessories and vegan shoes whilst doing our bit, giving back to the small communities and artisans.

Our entire business model revolves around collaborating with artisans from economically challenged backgrounds. Such alliances have been labelled as fair trade, ethical fashion and much more. But for us, it is a chance to create prosperous ties with endowed artists and share their stories.

Why did you start your brand?

Funky Kalakar is the conception of a long journey fueled by enthusiasm and devout respect for ingenious art forms. We have come to understand that the world without the beauty of art and its principles is a world lacking life. That being said Funky Kalakar aspires to make a mark in the grey blur of the convention.

We work out of a handbook that mirrors our outlook of the world. Our principles are not rooted in the origins of the people we work with, but with the heart, they put into their craft to create something magnificent.  Funky Kalakar has been built upon three strongholds, those being a hope for sustainability, a vision for empowerment and of course a sanctuary for the artistic temperament. 

Obviously, this quality craftsmanship is important to you, did you always know that was the type of business you wanted to go into?
Both Amit and I come from families engaged in a saree business in Mumbai, and we always wanted to start our own enterprise but were unsure of how to go about it. Things took a turn when I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London back in 2015. The V&A was then hosting a show titled 'The Fabric of India'. Apart from showcasing painted fabrics from 1590 to 2015, the exhibition also detailed the ways in which cotton and silk fabric were produced, along with the vegetable dying process, handmade embroideries and so on. 

The entire process during pre-industrialisation was handmade, sustainable and environmentally friendly. That visit sparked a light-bulb moment, with the possibilities of sustainable fashion. In order to understand the different facets of sustainability in fashion, I enrolled for a short course in fashion design from the renowned London institute Central Saint Martins. 

What makes you different to the high street alternatives?

The theme of our brand is "Bringing Back the Classics". We believe Our forbearers did not always lead lives admixed with adventure and excitement but they had a wonderful trove of stories to tell. Stories of amazing ingenuity and unparalleled passion. We recite those stories by reviving the art forms they birthed and amalgamating them with contemporary designs and trends of craftsmanship.

Our handbags are made from full grain leather, they are hand made and hand painted by the traditional madhubani artists.

Our range of shoes have an interesting development process, as the designs are block-printed on cotton using the Ajrakh technique and the soles are made from scrap tyres. The production unit, based in Mumbai, has also employed four roadside cobblers for this purpose. These cobblers were struggling to earn a living due to increase in branded machine-made products. It is not just about employing four men, but providing for four families.

You’ve obviously spent a lot of time getting to know your artisans what has that been like?

Once the concept of Funky Kalakar was finalised, we started a journey that took us deep into the interiors of Northern India, as part of our extensive research that included studying various indigenous art forms and meeting local artisans who still practice these crafts.

We went to villages which didn’t even have local transport or road infrastructure. We came across several artisans who were extremely talented but still struggled to meet ends. Demonstrating enormous love and passion for the art form, which was inherited by them from their ancestors, we realised that the medium they used to display their art form was not able to fetch them adequate returns. 

What has been your biggest achievement to date? And where do you see Funky Kalakar in 5 years?
To date, we have up-cycled 105kgs of rubber from scrap tyres for our vegan shoe collection, which would have otherwise ended in landfill. Funky Kalakar has directly or indirectly affected the life of 25 to 30 artisans. We are extremely proud of our collaborations with designers, artisans, NGO's and groups, they are the sole reason for our existence. We are also thankful for our collaboration with you guys at, as we know you're helping us to communicate our message to our customers.

For one week only Funky Kalakar are offering a 15% discount on their bags and tablet covers, to take advantage of this offer or more information about the brand CLICK HERE

Thursday, 8 June 2017

This is the only packing guide you'll need this summer, if you're tired of hoarding your entire wardrobe on holiday only to wear just a fraction of what you've packed then we've put together this guide to give you a helping hand when it comes to the packing essentials.

1. Clothing 

If your destination is somewhere hot, then think lightweight casual wear that you can accessorise easily for a night out.

Think about packing just one or two dresses, that you can wear with flat pumps when you want to do some exploring during the day. Or with a pair of wedges in the evening, teamed up with your favourite piece of statement jewellery and a glamorous clutch bag.

Another must have on the list are a simple pair of lightweight shorts or a mini skirt that can you can work from day through to evening. Team them up with a vest or an organic cotton slogan t-shirt when you think your shoulders have had enough of the sun rays.  On that note, sometimes a light sweater that you can throw over with a pair of shorts in the evening when you start to feel the sea air chill also won't go amiss.

2. Jewellery

Be careful not to over pack the jewellery, you most likely won't be wearing them too often during the day on the beach, and for the evening a couple of key pieces is all you'll need for the holiday.

3. Bags and Accessories

When it comes to a bag, you need one clutch for the evening a tote or leather backpack for daytime sightseeing and a beach bag for all those hours of lounging on the sand or by the pool.

A lightweight scarf is the perfect packing partner, pick a summery colour, one that you can throw over your shoulders when the sun is getting a bit too much or wrap around you to protect you from the night air.

One pair of sunglasses will be more than enough, as long as you choose just the right style. I love these retro style sunnies made from upcycled denim. You can wear them with absolutely any outfit and they have Zeiss Polarized Lenses so they'll keep your eyes safe in all that sunshine!

Keep your phones safe from all knocks and bumps along your travels, a hardcover or a smart phone case with credit card space make the best protectors for your phones and are super handy on your hols.

Outfits we love:

Cream Chiffon Strappy Dress: team with tennis shoes during the day and wedges at night - BUY NOW 
Geometric Drop Earrings: perfect for day or evening - BUY NOW
Marble Vegan Leather Clutch: neutral tones for all your evening outfits and just the right size - BUY NOW
Tribe Brass Cuff Bracelet: the only bracelet you'll need for your holidays - BUY NOW


Mosaic Empress Dress: team with flat metallic silver sandals or sandal wedges - BUY NOW
Natural Leather Tote Bag: Just the right size to hold camera, maps and books during the day - BUY NOW
Shibori Lightweight Silk Scarf - throw over your shoulders after a long day sightseeing in the sunshine - BUY NOW
Silver Star Necklace: pretty little piece of jewellery you can wear throughout your holiday - BUY NOW

4. Beauty 

I'd always recommend finding one really good wash bag that has ample room to fit all your travel-sized toiletries, something that has been made well, is fully lined and ultimately you can use year and year again. 

The great thing about holidays is that you can take advantage of beauty products you've had your eye on but don't want to invest in the full-size bottles until you try them. Travel size beauty products are great for testing out new products, or just to ensure you can continue with your beauty regime without having to cart large bottles everywhere you go.

It's important to also look after you hair on your holidays, after all the sun and sea water/chlorine will definitely hurt your lovely locks. So take a nourishing conditioner to use every evening and a hair protector that you can spray on before whipping out your curling iron or straightener. 

When it comes to make up less is more when you're sporting a golden tan, so keep things simple. Add some face glitter to your cheek bones, a little dusting of gold eyeshadow to your lids or try experimenting with stick on face jewellery (as a modern twist on the cat flick eyeliner).

When it comes to fragrance, sometimes our everyday perfume can seem to heavy, so think about natural organic fragrances with hints of Jasmin and Vanilla, this boxed collection of travel sized perfumes just screams summer! 

Beauty products we love: 
Cockatoo Beaded Wash Bag - BUY NOW
Leopard Queen Purple Wash Bag - BUY NOW

Jet set travel set - includes Organic Peppermint & Lemongrass Lip Balm, Roll-On Perfume Oil & a jar of Mini Heart-Shaped Travel Soaps (~40 washes) - BUY NOW

Natural Facial Discovery Range - set includes Cleansing Gel, Eye Makeup Remover & Restoring Cream - BUY NOW

Travel Size Kit - includes clear zip travel pouch, Cleansing Balm, Orange and Aloe Toner, Coconut and Rosehip Calming Cream and luxurious Night Cream - BUY NOW

5. Getting organised

It's important you get organised, so if you need to have printouts (for hotels or flight confirmations) make sure you have these and keep them all in one place with an organiser

But think about what really needs to be printed. Can you use your phone to pick up your boarding passes at the airport? Do you have all the email confirmations of your hotel on your phone? If you booked through a website check and see if they have an app you can install to make it easy. The less paperwork you have to carry the better for our planet but also the less confusion for you.

Don't forget your passport, and if you're travelling involve backpacking through deserts or jungles (having trekked through South America myself) I thoroughly recommend a passport cover

Finally but certainly one to keep in mind, when I go on holiday I get through so much water, of course in some areas it's important you drink solely bottled water. But large gallon bottles aren't very practical to take out and about, so often we find ourselves getting through a vast amount of small plastic bottles every day. Whilst we're thinking about the environment, why not invest in a re-usable water bottle, you can refill it every day and you won't have to worry about the footprint you're leaving behind.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

This week I met with Harjit, founder of ethical fashion accessories brand Jewelled Buddha. Listing necklaces made from upcycled saris and unique silk scarves, Jewelled Business works with social enterprises and small communities empowering marginalised artisans to earn a dignified and sustainable livelihood.

Q: Who is Jewelled Buddha?

I'm Harjit, founder of online ethical brand Jewelled Buddha. I partner with House of Wandering Silk - a social enterprise based in India, who works with women’s cooperatives, NGO’s and Self-Help Groups. We bring authentic, timeless artisan accessories to the global market.

Each purchase empowers marginalised artisans to earn a dignified and sustainable livelihood, enabling them to achieve financial independence and support their families. Currently, I run the business on my own, so there's a lot of juggling going on, but there is a “silent partner” in the business, otherwise known as my long suffering husband who kindly ferries me around to events and craft fairs!

Q: Who makes your jewellery and scarves?
We have an exquisite collection of sari necklaces designed in-house and handcrafted by artisans who are employed by our partner. Parvez originates from the state of Bihar and Achui is from Manipur that borders Nagaland and Assam. As immigrants to Delhi, both Parvez and Achui come from very poor backgrounds.

Our Kantha scarves are handmade by artisans from women’s cooperatives based in West Bengal. The process of sourcing, preparing and stitching vintage saris to be transformed into Kantha scarves is a long one. The journey begins with the sourcing of vintage saris from a community of select Gujarati sari traders in Delhi. This is done in-house to ensure that only the most beautiful saris are selected. They then go through a process of quality control and preparation before being sent off to a remote village in West Bengal. Here, artisans who have been Kantha stitching for generations, start the labour intensive work of transforming a piece of sari into a beautiful scarf.

Our Shibori silk scarves, made by a cluster of Self Help Groups in Rajasthan, are run by a former child-bride whose inspiring work trains women who have suffered gender equality, violence and child marriage. As a result, this enables them to seek livelihood opportunities, assert their independence and gain self-esteem. As for our hand spun, hand-woven Khadi cotton scarves these are also made by cooperatives in rural communities.

I was lucky enough to visit the social enterprise and Kantha artisans a few months back. It really connected me to my business in a way I’d never experienced before and I realised just how special our products are and how much work the artisans put into creating them. I travelled to two cooperatives deep in the rural villages of West Bengal, spending days with the artisans, getting to know them and interviewing them about their lives. It was proof to me that what we do as social businesses is so important. I could physically see for myself how fair trade had benefitted the lives of these women.

Q: What makes your jewellery and scarves different to the high street alternatives? 

What differentiates us from high street alternatives is that our products are exclusive and one of a kind. All are handcrafted, timeless and the designs are not mass marketed. Our customers who buy from us do so because they are looking for something that very few have. I believe people don’t just buy into products; they buy into inspiration, stories and now more and more are being guided by their ethics. By buying something that affects the lives of others, customers are now a huge part of being able to affect change, empowering artisans to earn a living wage and seek livelihood opportunities that benefit themselves and their communities.

Sure, high street fashions can get in on the act and incorporate handmade trends in their designs, but I feel there’s no substitute for the real thing. Our products have an authenticity you won’t find on the high street. Those who appreciate the real thing, made by real artisans, know the true value of why we do what we do. Apart from being beautifully designed, our scarves and jewellery are all created from recycled saris, upcycled into quality, luxury products.

The textiles used in our scarves are of the highest quality. So much thought goes into the quality of the handwork and the finishing is of the highest standard. Our jewellery is unique because it is created from the left over sari fabric used in the production of our Kantha scarves. This means that every last piece of fabric is used from the vintage saris sourced and there’s no waste. 

Q: Why ethical scarves and jewellery?
I think when you make the decision to go down the ethical route as a business, it represents your values as a person. For me, I think it’s only fair that people who make our clothes in developing countries are given the same rights that we expect in the west. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013 was a shocking wake-up call to the world, uncovering the unpleasant truth and harsh reality of how the fashion industry operates. It took a catastrophic event like this to bring to the surface important questions that needed to be asked about the inhumane exploitation of garment workers and how the practices of fast fashion are unsustainable

The speed at which clothes are being made and consumed has not only impacted the environment, increasing landfills and placing huge demands on natural resources such as water, there are also social implications for everyone. As a business that champions ancient artisan techniques, one thing that concerns me is how mass manufacturing is destroying artisan industries and affecting the lives of whole communities. I believe it’s important to preserve these handmade techniques that have been passed down from one generation to another. They are inherent to the cultural identities of communities, providing much-needed income to rural communities.

The fashion industry’s model of cheap, trend driven, excessive production needs to change along with our never-ending thirst for cheap clothes. In essence, we need to buy less, look for quality and longevity and change our mindset by respecting clothes and those who make them. 

Q: What are your plans for Jewelled Buddha?
I’ve got so many plans! I’m currently looking at sourcing more beautiful handmade textiles. The plan is to grow the business in this area and also work directly with artisans and social enterprises in other countries. I managed to meet quite a few on my trip to India. This was definitely the highlight of my business, apart from my very first sale! It made me appreciate the interdependent relationship we all have in ethical businesses. Every time I sell a scarf or necklace, I know who made them and I can pass that experience on to customers. High street brands can’t compete on that personal level. It’s a special type of shopping experience you won’t get anywhere else. 

For more information or to shop the collection CLICK HERE

Sunday, 28 May 2017

I love Dirty Work, from the tongue in cheek slogans to the beautifully intricate illustrations that go with them, Dirty Work are a great brand if you're wanting something just that little bit different. But what's even better, is that, at the heart of this brand are a strong set of ethics, so I caught up with founder Tasha, and had a chat about the brand, the environment and advice to anyone wanting to start out in business.

Q. Tell us a bit about Dirty Work

I’m Tasha the founder of Dirty Work, based just outside Cambridge in a fairly boring town where nothing much ever happens. At the moment it’s just me! I started out as a product designer for a party company, then as a jewellery designer – which were both fantastic jobs, but illustration is where my heart lies. I’ve always wanted to have full creative reign which is why I started my own illustration business: now I can be as quirky, weird and farfetched as I like.

Q. What makes your homewares and phone accessories different?

One thing that really made it difficult working for other companies is that they never shared the same ethics as me and weren’t concerned with the enormous amounts of plastic waste they were producing. I wanted to create really fabulous products for your home that don’t exploit people, but also aren’t ‘throw away’, filling up landfills with stuff that is temporary.

My designs are inspired by so many things: I love old movies, vintage postcards, art galleries and I own every edition of vogue since 2008. I’m always jotting things down or waking up at midnight with an ‘ah-ha’ moment.

Q. The environment is obviously at the heart of your brand, how important was that to you when setting up your business?
It’s a lot more time consuming to create products that are eco-friendly. It takes dedication to find the right suppliers use, it makes the process worth is when you find someone that knows their craft. I can then combine their skills and knowledge with my illustrations to create something wonderful. I put a hell of a lot of effort into sourcing and making sure all my packaging is eco-friendly.

Of course I abide by the same ethics in my office always recycling etc. That’s something a lot of people don’t realise big companies just don’t do. I know a lot of people don’t have time to search for hours on the web sourcing eco-friendly and ethical products, which is why independent suppliers and places like are so great – it takes the hard work out.

Q. You have some really funny tongue in cheek designs, where do you find your inspiration?

I like to keep things light hearted. I love drawing and creating pretty floral illustrations and enjoy juxtaposing them with a smattering of swears and funny phrases. Everything I make I would use, and all the phrases are things I say – I guess you could say I’m a little eccentric, or maybe that I swear like a sailor.

Q. How hard is it for illustrators to turn their passion into a business? And what would you one piece of advice be to anyone thinking about starting up?

Starting your own business will be the hardest things you ever do. But if you love it, it will also be the best. I’m still at the very beginning of my journey, but if I could give advice to someone else starting out I’d say it’s going to be hard, real hard – some days you may feel like putting your face through a wall. But you must never, ever give up – and that is why in the end you’ll succeed.

To see more of Tasha's work or to shop the collection CLICK HERE

Sunday, 21 May 2017

This week I had a chat with Harun from Jerry Bottle. A Social Enterprise, Jerry Bottle produce re-usable and eco-friendly water bottles campaigning against plastic pollution, but they are a brand that do more, ensuring that all profits provide funds towards clean water projects.

Q: What is Jerry Bottle?
The Jerry names derives from Jerry Cans the big plastic containers you see people carrying all over all over Africa to transport water from wells and water sources to their homes. The name gives a personality to the brand.

We set up as a social enterprise as ultimately all profits go towards clean water projects in India and Africa whilst campaigning closer to home on one time plastic pollution and also to encourage people to drink more water for health and hydration.

Q: Who’s the team behind Jerry Bottle

There's Tobias Gould a social enterprise expert, Taj Bhamra a successful businessman and me, Harun Master. I'm the founder of Waterfall Charity the charity arm of Jerry,

Q: What’s the story behind the brand?

I set up waterfall charity in 2011 and after meeting Tobias, I learnt about social enterprise in how you can trade as a business and make profits which can generate funds for the charity work, instead of just appealing for donations. 
On the bottom are coordinates of a water project, so you can trace back exactly which village your eco-water bottle is funding.

Q: Why water bottles?

The natural link between a water bottle and a jerry can, both transporting water, along with the profitability of the bottle seemed a good commercial decision. We have put coordinates of our water projects on the bottom of our bottles so people can trace where our profits are going, social enterprises need to be more transparent as we are not for profit and are interested in social outcomes.

Q: Obviously aside from the charity aspect, the environment plays a big factor behind your brand, what does plastic pollution really mean for our future?

If we ignore the problem of one-time plastic pollution problem then we are on a road to self-destruction. With rivers and seas having plastic floating around, hugely affecting the sea life and ourselves, the plastic ultimately contaminates the water and comes back through our taps affecting our health, with plastic usage in food and drink leading to many diseases. 
Q: What’s Jerry Bottle’s proudest achievement to date? 

We were invited by a Malaysian Government to talk about social enterprises, we have been endorsed by Lucy Siegle of the Guardian a leading journalist on environmental issues AND we were voted one of the coolest products in the world by GQ Magazine, so a few achievements(!).

Q: What’s your advice to someone wanting to make changes to their lifestyle but not sure where to start?

Take small steps to change your habits and lifestyle for example by increasing your water intake it will benefit your health, by drinking out of a sustainable reusable bottle will save many onetime plastic bottles ending up in landfill or the oceans. If everyone were to change small habits, we could all make a big change in the world we live in.

For more information or to purchase a re-usable eco water bottle CLICK HERE

Sunday, 14 May 2017

I came across Lanka Kade when searching for traditional wooden toys for my nephews and goddaughter. In the age of technology that we live in, I think it's wonderful that retro wooden toys have made such a comeback and it's great to see kids being creative and playing with educational toys that don't require batteries or technical aids. 
Aside from being traditionally led, Lanka Kade are also a toy company that do good, aiding small artisans and businesses in Sri Lanka to flourish into independent businesses.  Their Fair Trade range of toys and bedroom decor are great for eco-conscious parents and those who want to bring creative playtime back into their homes.

I was lucky enough to speak with Millie recently, who gave me the Lanka Kade low down. From their roots and ethos to their major achievements, including the Lanka Kade Educational Foundation.

Q. Tell us a bit about Lanka Kade

Fair trade toy company Lanka Kade was founded in 1994 when husband and wife team, Upul and Diane, returned to the UK having met in Sri Lanka whilst working for the Red Cross. They did not want to lose contact with the country and the people they both love, therefore they set up a small import business to maintain links with Sri Lanka. The name Lanka Kade translates to ‘The Sri Lankan Shop’.

Twenty years on, Lanka Kade is an established business based in the heart of the UK specialising in the design, craft and supply of fair trade wooden toys and gifts for children. Our distinctive range of educational toys offers both bright, bold colours and natural wood finishes.  
Q. What makes the toys different?

Our director Diane was, prior to Sri Lanka, a school teacher. Drawing on this experience, Diane was able to envisage the educational elements that were to be part of every Lanka Kade toy and gift. Once our experienced designer Anne joined the team, there was no stopping the creativity! Anne has designed Lanka Kade products (with help from the team!) to inspire learning through play which develop language, picture, shape and colour recognition skills to name a few. We have worked hard to set high standards for quality handcrafted toys. This, along with our bright colours and natural wood finishes are popular with parents and children alike!

We include artisan stories on our packaging to share our connection with Sri Lanka and promote our artisans, showing the difference purchasing Lanka Kade makes. When you purchase a Lanka Kade product you also directly support our educational foundation which provides books and daily milk drinks to several rural schools in Sri Lanka.
Q. As a fair trade company you obviously care about fair working practices. But how important was that to Diane and Upul when they started in 1994?

Whilst in Sri Lanka in 1994, Diane and Upul met some local workers outside of a toy factory, only to discover they were ex-employees of the factory, chasing payment for work completed three months earlier. So incensed at this injustice, they decided there and then that they would only buy from people who cared about their workforce.

This was the defining moment for the business and the catalyst which established our fair trade business ethic.

We have direct trading relationships with our producers, Upul travels to Sri Lanka regularly, working with our artisans to ensure fair trade working practices are met and maintained. Our commitment to our producers supports their growth and development, whilst ensuring their employees have a sense of job satisfaction and that their employment is valued. The producer groups offer their staff good rates of pay, equal opportunities and a safe working environment in coherence with the 10 Principles of Fair Trade.

At Lanka Kade, we comply with the internationally accepted 10 Principles of Fair Trade and we have been a proud and active member of BAFTS (The British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers) since 2001, with our Director Diane chairing the board for a couple of years.

Q. Tell us more about the Lanka Kade Educational Foundation

The educational foundation provides several disadvantaged rural schools in Sri Lanka with books and daily milk to ensure that all students are better equipped for learning.

For some children attending school, the cup of milk provided by the foundation is the only sustenance they will receive during the day. Since the programme was introduced, teachers have reported much improved concentration and contribution from the children. In 2016 alone, we provided 40,934 daily milk drinks to 211 students. 
Many children in Sri Lanka attend school unable to fully participate as their parents cannot afford to buy exercise books and they are not supplied by the Government. In schools supported by the foundation, books and pencils are provided to ensure all children have equal access to education; we provided 4771 school books in 2016.

The book donations and milk programmes have inspirited a big increase in admissions, with more children than ever attending school! Exam results are improving, whilst the Public Health Inspector has praised the impact that both programmes have had on the health of the children.

Q. What has been Lanka Kade's biggest achievement that you’re most proud of?

As we have evolved over the last twenty years our ethos has remained the same; to build long-term, sustainable trading partnerships that provide stability and protect local skills. We encourage our producer’s independence and growth at every level and offer interest-free loans, training and independent financial support to help them grow into independent businesses.

Our director Upul comments “Seeing our producer groups flourish over the years into the healthy, independent businesses they are today has been inspiring to see and a privilege to be a part of. The ten groups we work with have given employment to over 180 local people and allowed them to provide for themselves and their families with pride. We are most proud of the independence our producers now demonstrate having seized the opportunities we offered over the years and look forward to working with more groups in the future.’

To learn more or to shop the entire collection please CLICK HERE

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Q. Tell us a bit about the Milly behind the brand Milly'O

I'm Milly, I grew up in Somerset riding a tubby pony and am now 27, I solely run the business and I have a lovely little workroom in Street, Somerset.
I have always been creative and first used a sewing machine when I was at school,  this fueled my passion and I went on to complete an art & design B-TEC at Strode College.  After a year I decided to go travelling and then worked a couple of ski seasons. Finally, I went back to my true love, my sewing machine.  

Q. Why did you start your brand?

I started Milly'O in 2014 after looking back on some photos of me as a child, my parents would always dress me in the most fabulous clothes and I would most definitely stand out from the crowd. From this, I was noticing a gap in the market for fun, bright and comfortable clothes for kids to wear with a smile. I am sure my travels had an impact on the designs of my clothes and the fabrics I choose.

There might not seem like much imagination to why I chose my business name, but for as long as I can remember I have called my Dad Daddy'O therefore Milly'O just fell into place. Plus my surname is Ollis so it's basically just my name.

Q. Your entire brand is handmade by you, how important was this to you when launching your brand?

Really important, my workroom, where all the making takes place is my happy place and I love coming up with new designs in there. Although I do all of my tie dying at home, so naturally all our bedding and clothes are slowly being dyed. I love tie dye!

Q. What inspires you?

Annoyingly most of my designs come to me in the middle of the night, I have a sketchbook and I try and jot down as many ideas as I can and then slowly work on these throughout the year. A firm favourite is definitely my Teddy Sweaters. They have a lovely soft fleece lining and either stars or stripes on the right side, perfect for snuggling in the winter and even heading to our British beaches in the summer months. Another popular product is my soft organic baby leggings, they come in lots of various colours and patterns which brighten up any outfit.

Q. Why should people consider handmade over the high street alternatives?

I think people should consider buying handmade because they will always know exactly where their purchases have come from, and more often than not better quality. I personally make my products so that they are very durable and withstand daily activities that children's clothes go through. 

I source my fabric's from all over, I wish there was just one company that had all my favourite fabrics but that would just be too easy. My favourite designers at the moment come from Sweden, I love the colours and patterns they use. They are so eye catching and really keep up with the current trends, most importantly they use GOTS certified and organic fabric important for my ethical brand.

To view Milly's entire collection of ethically made baby & toddler clothing

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