HOLLY & CAMILLA - THE BASKET ROOM
HOLLY: Thank you! First and foremost, our mutual interest in ethical fashion and handicrafts. Camilla and I studied fashion together at university and then went on to work in different areas of fashion and retail when we graduated. It was when I was a buyer and business development manager for an African charity and Camilla was working in fashion production that we both began to dream of running our own business. Camilla got connected with a weaving cooperative in Kenya via a friend, they needed access to market and we needed a product! We just fell in love with them and thought there was nothing quite like them in the UK.
CAMILLA: I invited Holly to come up to London for a talk about corporate social responsibility in 2013, and this ignited what was to become a very long and fruitful conversation between us about our own business ideas and values. From there onwards we kept in touch more regularly, bouncing business ideas off one another before ultimately deciding over a Skype chat (me over in Tanzania and Holly in Oxford) that we would join forces and become business partners. Six months later, we launched The Basket Room.
HOLLY: In 2006. My dad was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) and hadn’t been back to Africa since leaving the country at the age of five. So I planned us a father-daughter road trip for his fiftieth birthday - across East Africa from Johannesburg to Nairobi - and also used the trip for dissertation research into the African textile industry!
CAMILLA: My boyfriend was posted to Tanzania for work in 2013, so this was when I first visited Africa and fell head-over-heels in love with the place. I’m extremely lucky to visit Kenya frequently now to manage basket production. It’s mind-blowingly diverse: full of energy and creative inspiration.
CAMILLA: Spending a lot of time in Kenya has helped us find the very best weaving groups through word-of-mouth recommendations, and enabled us to build really strong relationships with the co-operatives we partner with. Some, but very few of these groups have managers who are easier to make contact with using modern technology like Skype and Whatsapp, whereas others are extremely rural and hard to get to. To work with the more remote weavers you’ve really got to know someone who knows them! We’ve spent a lot of time training the more remote groups ourselves, it has been a challenging but rewarding journey to see them grow as individuals and a cooperative.
HOLLY: We pay a deposit when we give a group an order so that they can buy the raw materials needed, this also creates trust in our partnership. We also acknowledge and respect that most weavers are farmers, and so during the rainy seasons we don’t give them so many orders, this enables them to tend to their crops.
CAMILLA: Once we got to know one or two groups, it worked more like word of mouth. Someone’s Grandma or Aunt will weave and it goes from there! We are constantly keeping our ears to the ground for new artisans and groups.CREATING A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, OVER FAST PRODUCTION IS HARD WORK AND EXPENSIVE. FOR PEOPLE THAT KNOW LESS ABOUT THE PRODUCTION CHAIN, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT WE CHANGE THE WAY WE BUY PRODUCTS AND WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO WORK DIFFERENTLY THAN THE MASS PRODUCERS?
HOLLY: It is most definitely hard work! We don’t work with a factory where risks are lower and the supply chain more streamlined, but what we do have is personal relationships with people, not a production line or machines and so we feel so much closer to the artisans and their way of life. We are able to understand and respect their needs and have a conversation one to one, it’s a partnership not a one-way business model. I think its important to change the way we buy products because over consumption is having both a huge impact on our environment and the lives of people living in developing countries. We’ve seen so much in the media recently about throw away plastic is damaging our oceans and killing sea life, we have a choice, it is that simple. Consumer buying habits are what the mass producers listen and respond to, so if we change then so will they. Both Camilla and I were personally interested in fair trade and artisanal crafts and so we wouldn’t have done it any other way.
HOLLY: I have a couple in my hallway for keeping woolly things and Moroccan slippers stashed away, and a few more in the living room for blankets. I use some of our rectangular storage baskets (which cleverly fit IKEA shelving units) for magazines and a laundry basket in the bathroom as well as a hanging macrame planter which sometimes houses a plant and sometimes holds bathroom bits like loo roll!
CAMILLA: I use mine for plants and laundry, mostly, and I keep six linear fusion baskets in my bathroom - all different colours - for storing toiletries, make-up, jewellery and so on. My cats are also big fans of our baskets, so you can normally find them curled up together in one!
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR OTHER ETHICAL ENTREPRENEURS OUT THERE?
HOLLY: Be true to yourself, if you feel lost at times, unsure or stressed, re-connect with the reasons and passion for why you started your business. You’ll make mistakes but remember it’s a journey and you are constantly learning.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONE WORD TO PROMOTE A POSITIVE THINKING FOR THE FUTURE, WHAT WORD WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
HOLLY: TAWAI – this is the word the nomadic hunter gatherers of Borneo use to describe their inner feeling of connection to nature. It’s also the name of the recent film by Bruce Parry..highly recommend!
HOLLY: It’s surreal! It’s happened organically but also very quickly. We do have to pinch ourselves sometimes. Every day is exciting - especially when we get new enquiries. There’s never a dull moment and I wouldn’t change it for anything!
CAMILLA: It really is like a dream some days. I’ve always wanted to run my own business and have a business partner, and although it’s extremely hard work it’s also incredibly rewarding. I couldn’t go back to working for someone else now!
LASTLY, WHAT DOES THE SHAPE OF A CIRCLE MEAN TO YOU?
Continuation, no beginning or end. Cycle of life and the seasons of nature.