Meet the makers part two: your local Indie Store heroes
These are the local entrepreneurs who went from garages, kitchen tables and market stalls to become thriving and fabulous Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire businesses
LITTLE PEACH PORTRAITS
Before I left London for a quieter family life in Buckinghamshire I didn’t think for a second I’d be running my own business. I’ve over 20 years’ experience in design, print and advertising and a passion for all things graphical but had always worked for agencies. Inspired by my two boys and obsessed with capturing their beautiful, childhood features, Little Peach Portraits was born almost by accident. The personal portraits I made of my boys and friends’ children became so popular and I was told so many times I should do it as a business that in the end I thought I’d give it a shot!
Since then I’ve created hundreds of pieces of art. But I still run my ‘empire’ from my home in a little village with duck pond, church and relaxed pace of life. I work around the kids (when Covid isn’t making me home-school) and my husband’s award-winning pub The Hundred of Ashendon (when Covid isn’t closing it!). I love my job so much and it’s my joy and privilege to craft every single piece of work for others.
FOUND IN THE BARN
Found in the Barn is the online sister to our shop Life at Nettlebed. Although it’s more of a modern rustic style than Life, we’re keen to keep that small shop feel. The website is simply a local shop that offers more: by being based online, we can explore artisan, cottage-industry businesses further afield, such as beautiful products sourced from Tunisia. But we keep that handmade, bespoke, and sometimes vintage touch, and don’t want to lose the face-to-face charm of a physical shop. Where possible, we still hand-deliver our items, and love to engage with our customers — people popping in for a chat is one of our favourite parts of Life at Nettlebed! Found in the Barn will never be faceless: we work directly with clients, and continue to offer bespoke, unique home services.
OLD AMERSHAM GIN
Old Amersham Gin began as a hobby for my late father and I – something we could enjoy together alongside working in an Old Amersham pub. Since then, I have spent a lot of time and effort creating a unique gin with distinguishable branding, learning to move from pulling pints to selling products. The brand’s connection to the area is clear in our name: we use local and homegrown botanicals to distil our gins. I’ve enjoyed serving drinks in the Kings Arms bar over the last ten years, and now relish the opportunity to offer our own delicious products to the local people and beyond. As our home, Old Amersham was incredibly important to my Dad. I wouldn’t want to run my business anywhere else.
HOLIDAY IN A BOX
I was on the way to setting up my own travel business when the pandemic hit, so I pivoted my company and passion for travel very quickly. I had been travelling for 18 months, living in Bangkok and going solo by rail through Russia. And it’s my experiences abroad that have inspired my boxes. I made my first box as a present for my parents after they missed out on a 30th wedding anniversary trip to Lisbon and Porto. I bought a job lot of soap and had to sell the rest. The first box was very simple but now I have proper printing and source the items from around the world. It snowballed from there. The destinations are personal to me – I’ve lived in Vienna and Bangkok – and next I’m doing Tokyo and Kyoto and a collaboration with a safari lodge in Kenya. Most are given as gifts for people who love travel, to rekindle the memory of a holiday but also as a research and inspiration tool to start getting under the skin of a destination.
My pastry chef father-in-law began by making chocolates at the kitchen table for friends and family, who all instantly asked for more. In 2004 he opened a shop in Wendover. Keeping that kitchen-table aspect, it become a chocolatery: people could sit and watch him work over a cup of coffee. Now we’re proud to have two high street chocolateries – in Wendover and Thame. Although others might have swapped to industrial machinery, we still make, cut and wrap our chocolates by hand. Even throughout the Covid uncertainty, we’ve held on firm to our bricks and mortar: we love being central to the community. My favourite days used to be snow days, when all the kids off school would rush in, cold and excited from sledging, for fresh hot chocolate. It’s been strange not seeing our customers in person for so much of the last year. But, at the same time, it’s been wonderful to offer more online, and see people from all over the country wanting to order our chocolates: not because we’re local to them, but because we’re good.
ALICE ACREMAN SILKS
At first, I printed silk scarves as a hobby. But I was working for big fashion brands, and hated how many resources were being constantly, thoughtlessly wasted. I decided to start my own low-waste, slow fashion company. Having grown up in Oxfordshire, I began by selling my products in markets there in Henley. There were days when I sold only ten scarves but I kept going. It’s been amazing to see how many people have stuck with me. I offer much more now, but everything I make is still passion-led, and dictated either by what excites me or by what my customers are asking for. I love the freedom that’s come since leaving the big brands: I don’t have to cater to mass appeal, and can produce things that are divisive and interesting. Being a slow fashion brand means that I don’t follow seasons or offer flash sales: I add more pieces to the collection as I go, making things that are timeless and can be worn all year round. Every piece is handmade, and I’ve recently been working with some amazing local seamstresses who were suffering from the lack of wedding trade.
With no idea when my bar would reopen, during the first lockdown I launched a new business aspect: bar-quality cocktails that come with their own curated, matching playlist. For me, music has always been central to what the bar is: before I owned my bar, my job was booking DJs. A proper vibe to go with a drink is almost as important as the drink, and it’s been great seeing the positive feedback from people enjoying our selection. I can’t sell any cocktail that I don’t love, so I make sure that all our drinks are worth it. This often means using local, artisan products, like the Marlow gin that goes into our negronis. I update the playlists regularly, championing really good but perhaps lesser known artists, so that people can find great tunes as well as enjoying a great drink. Some of them are even old friends: SG Lewis, who’s doing brilliantly now, played at the bar just before getting signed.
LIZZIE OWEN ART
In 2018, after years of ignoring my calling and pushing on through a PR career, I decided to pursue art. I took a course on oil painting at Henley School of Art and combined this with my existing experience in fashion. I haven’t looked back since! As I go on, the mix of fashion illustration and oil painting is beginning to bleed together into something really unique. Having had to initially push to overcome my own lack of self confidence, it’s amazing to see my pieces bringing people joy, and to read each enthusiastic comment. In Marlow, I’m part of a fantastically supportive community, full of foodies and fashion-lovers and creatives. It feels great to work within this network, as well as more nationally. One of my favourite things to do is to work local weddings: Hedsor House often brings me in as an illustrator, and I love producing these charming, lively illustrations of each guest, marking a special day.
BY JANE STUDIO
Always picky about candles, I took a course on candle-making to try to find the elusive, perfect candle. Initially this was just for myself, but friends were keen for their own, so just like that I had started a business. Lockdown meant my little cottage industry could grow — it was lovely to watch people buying my candles for loved ones as gifts. A well-scented candle is one of the easiest ways to make a home feel special. Selling something with a scent online was at first a challenge, but I started sending out samples of other options with each candle bought, to give people a sense of the range. I only craft candles that I like (I have to run everything by my mum, too!), and I have been careful to produce unique, androgynous scents. Not mass-producing my candles means that I don’t have to cut corners, and can make each candle extra fragrant. I used to hate buying scented candles that faded almost immediately! Now that I’m no longer commuting every day, I’ve been able to get to know my local area of Gerrard’s Cross much better. With everything opening, I’m keen to get my products into lovely little local boutiques soon.
We started Beerginvino to fill the gap for a company that delivered craft alcohol without limiting you to one type. From the off, we wanted to champion local, selling products developed within 70 miles of Thame, rather than things you could buy in a supermarket. Moving to Thame was one of our best life decisions; we were attracted by the variety of great, independent businesses here, and the strong sense of support from the people. By bolstering local brands, we hope to give back some of what we’ve enjoyed in living here. But we’re not just about products that are geographically local: we support producers that are small and heartfelt and not available in supermarkets, wherever they come from. This means we can source genuine products from a range of places when our customers request them, such as a lovely Chianti from Italy.