The talented locals behind The Indie Store
As we gingerly step back into the real world, it's more important than ever to support local. Here some of our Indie Store businesses recount their journey and show what makes them special
SKY WAVE GIN
We were life long gin lovers who couldn’t find the gin of our dreams, so we headed to gin school. It was there we developed a recipe everyone (including the head distiller) went mad for, and realised we had something special. Oxfordshire folk through-and-through, everything about our gin reflects our area. Our gin is made with Oxfordshire blackberries and mineral water taken with permission from Blenheim Palace, and is a true craft product. Where some people make their gin by machine, we make ours with taste. Everything is bottled, labelled, and packaged by hand. It’s amazing how many friends you have when it’s time to test the gin! The support has been incredible – people are continuing to buy tickets for distillery experiences despite having to wait until lockdown is over. The people around us are proud that a winner of the World’s Best Contemporary Gin is from here, and we’re proud to make it.
For Christmas two years ago, I started making organic candles as gifts for friends. I’ve always been interested in essential oils and natural products, and quickly realised that these candles were worth attention. For a product that we burn in our homes and breathe in, there’s a lot we don’t know about the candles we buy. Not so with mine: I use simple essential oils, vegetarian soy wax, and sustainable packaging. Even the packing peanuts dissolve without ill-effect. Starting my website was at times a struggle, as although I’m passionate about organic products, the same can’t be said for technology! Luckily, I had help from friends. That’s one of the best things about local life: I moved to Penn in Buckinghamshire nine years ago, and quickly developed a whole network of people around me, with everyone knowing everyone. Having started out in local shops and school raffles, I still feel indebted to my community, and loved doing local events when they were a possibility.
When my husband Simon and I launched NORSK café & lifestyle store in 2018, it was a way of bringing a slice of my Norwegian heritage to rural Buckinghamshire. The shop stocks stylish Nordic homewares, furniture and gifts, which I source on my trips home.
Unfortunately this last year has turned everything on its head – I’ve not been able to travel home to see my family and friends for many, many months and I’ve been terribly homesick for both the people and the lifestyle. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the rest of our business – Simon and I also run the Little Italy Espresso Bar station café chain. Having put in 15 years of hard graft and 4am starts, we’d built up six outposts (just about to open our seventh!) across Bucks, Oxon and Warwickshire. They’ve now stood empty for nearly a year and who knows what the future holds – NORSK is our only site currently operating. Then we’ve had to deal with Brexit, which has made importing goods from Scandinavian countries far more complex and expensive – it’s a whole new learning curve.
But we’ve kept pushing on. What else can you do? We’ve recently launched our online store norsklifestyle.com for pandemic-proof shopping, and we’re constantly adding new lines, including our rustic, own-brand NORSK ceramics, of which I’m really proud. And I find that keeping myself busy at NORSK helps with that homesickness a little – I can’t go to Norway but I have a little bit of my homeland here with me.
STYLE MY KID
After the birth of my first son, I struggled to find the time and energy to get out to the shops to buy baby clothes. Then, when I made it, all the options seemed dull and overpriced. I decided to take things into my own hands. With help from my other partners (four of us in total), Style My Kid has grown from strength to strength, offering the sorts of clothes that both my children and I love. A mixture of own and other brands, our products stand out from the crowd by offering style and quality at a competitive price. We started through pop-ups in the local area and quickly gained repeat customers and rave reviews, particularly about the speedy delivery (back when I kept stock boxed up in my house!). Though now online, I still promote in nearby school and NCT groups, and use local help where I can. My photographer, for example, is a neighbourhood talent.
Anna and I realised we both had a good eye for interiors about eight years ago when we were at a trade fair. We worked together at a jeweller (although my background is antiques and silverware and hers is colour and style) and we took a detour into the home section. We found we were both picking out the same items and the stuff we liked was trending on the high street a year later. Mixing old and new is our ethos. We don’t want to give up on heritage but look to the fresh as well. We source from trade fairs across the country but also from sale rooms abroad and here, and even car boot fairs. We love discovering really special items from candle holders to tableware and glassware. A lot of our clients are men looking for help finding the perfect gift. Right now, the Scandi look is strong – minimalist and natural colours like beige and cream, but against that backdrop people want pops of colour, which we can provide with items like vibrant glass.
It was on a trip to the Cotswolds that we fell in love with the countryside and decided to leave London for Buckinghamshire. Once we’d made the move, we were in a different mindset and decided that we really could start the business we’d always talked about. We love drinking, especially spirits! We’ve always made cocktails and even met in a bar. We liked gin but wanted something new and thought about rum given that it was in the cocktails we were making like pina coladas and mojitos. But what if we could create a rum that was smoother and could be drunk as a cocktail but also just with ice? So, we got a load of rum samples and a load of ingredients on our kitchen table and experimented. The combination of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and orange zest worked beautifully and Rockfall was born. We get the most amazing feedback and my friends, who were the first to try it, can’t believe they’re now rum drinkers.
I had my own business designing and selling jewellery and accessories. I noticed there were a lot of handbags out there but not much that was different. I found this great company in India using skilled tailors from families who have worked with leather for generations. All of the leather is off-cuts from large factories otherwise destined for landfill. It might be a tiny blemish or a hole cut in a wrong place, but it’s scrapped. We use every last piece for details and keyrings because we want to reduce waste and be more sustainable. The handbag side has grown so much that jewellery has taken a side step. We have about 20 different designs but we’re working on ten new ones with bright colours coming in now for spring. Every piece is unique and colour combinations are a one-off. They are sustainable, fairtrade and they’re made to last – we want to move away from fast fashion.
I grew up with terrible cooking, but in my early twenties went to Italy and fell in love with real food. I suddenly saw this really impassioned eating culture. It taught me that eating can be about connecting with other people — something we all appreciate more than ever at the moment. Starting my business with essentially no money, I felt instantly supported by a strong community that’s still all around me. The growing Oxford food scene is full of little independent businesses, marching together and supporting each other. I’ve recently teamed up with a nearby fruit and veg stall, swapping recipes for locally grown produce. I feel passionately about locally grown food, preaching sustainability and seasonality. Yes: I fell in love with summery Italian food, but our diets shouldn’t be all about that. At this time of year, it’s about giving love to root vegetables, and all the ways they can be delicious. Teaching about food and what it can do for us — the healing qualities it can have — is central to the Jericho Kitchen. Our online classes have been amazingly successful, and full of joy.