I’m fizzing over with excitement to share this interview and house tour with you. Former Conde Nast Traveller & Guardian commissioning & travel editor Emily Mathieson launched her interiors & homewares brand Aerende last autumn curating the most beautiful pieces…
I had a wonderful day recently getting to know all about Emily’s brand and photographing her wonderful St Alban’s house in all its exquisite glory (the result of Emily’s own aesthetic combined with her husband, creative director at Net-a-Porter). I fell in love with it all – including my favourites, the espadrilles made from waste leather and hand-stitched by women in east London, the handmade stoneware coffee cup & sauce made at The Grange and an organic cotton & linen cushion sewn by rehoused refugee women.
Anyway, Emily explains it all much better than me – including why the name. She explains, “Aerende (pronounced air-en-day) is an Olde English word that means care or message. It references our commitment to heritage skills as well as our business intentions. These are brand values not just from a marketing perspective but because I genuinely believe in them and wanted to enshrine them in the name!” and an insight into her values, “I’m a big believer in the idea that spending money is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in and that business can be a great driving force behind social change. Social enterprises like mine are a showcase for a new kind of model that uses capitalism to solve some of the problems it creates and recognising that business can be a huge force for good, not just in the way a company is run but in how it can influence consumers to think more deeply about their purchasing habits.”
So have a read, and I hope you fall in love with the brand (and Emily!) as much as I have, and enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!
Find Aerende on Instagram
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired the move from travel journalism to launching an interiors brand?
For most of my career I’ve worked in travel and lifestyle publishing (including as commissioning editor of Condé Nast Traveller and travel editor at The Guardian and Red). I loved my job but was finding it hard to manage alongside my family’s needs and felt increasingly uneasy about the environmental and social impact of my work so I started thinking about ways to balance a desire to make a difference with a love of life’s finer things. I mulled over charity and voluntary work but in the end felt I wanted to start something up, so that I could run a business that I could really feel proud of and whose impact I could see and feel.
As interiors have always been a passion, the idea to combine the two resulted in Aerende, a homewares shop selling products made by people facing social challenges. The idea is to challenge stigma, create opportunity and show consumers that you can shop and do good at the same time. Also, as there is a growing awareness among conscious consumers about ethical fashion and food, I spotted a gap in the market for a truly ethical British interiors brand. I wanted to be at the forefront of that movement and to act as a benchmark for good business.
When and how did you conceive your vision for the business?
The idea for Aerende really came to fruition when I bought an amazing wicker basket, made by people with learning disabilities, at a craft fair near my home in St Albans in Summer 2015. They explained that they had only sold one that day and I knew that if they could reach a wider audience the baskets would sell really well, raising the makers’ self-esteem and increasing revenue for the charity that supports and teaches these meaningful activities.
I spoke to a number of other charities and organisations who felt passionate about the benefits of their creative work but lacked the skills or inclination to create a brand and sell online in a more organised and up-market way. So began the Aerende journey. The combination of our makers’ amazing techniques and products and my enthusiasm for telling their stories has come to fruition in the store you see today, which launched in autumn last year. I crowdfunded the initial funds and now Aerende is coming up for its first birthday.
The makers and their stories are a huge part of Aerende, how did you connect with them?
Finding the makers is the result of lots of Googling, word of mouth and research. One of the really uplifting things about running an interiors social enterprise is how much people want to help, so I’ve had lots of people and places recommended to me – for example, it was someone at Crisis that introduced me to FabricWorks, which supports women who have been trafficked, and which now make our bedlinen and plant hangers. And I met the woodsman, the talented artist behind our screen prints, while volunteering in a homeless shelter. The idea is to celebrate their achievements and tell positive stories while also acknowledging the challenges they face in terms of stigma, discrimination, access or practical. You can read more about them on the Makers page of our website.
What challenges do you face making the business work?
So many! Retail is so much more demanding than I could have imagined. You have all the normal requirements of running a business but now have to be great bloggers and social media masters too. I don’t have a background in manufacturing or design so product development though wildly exciting can be a tricky process and, of course, many of my makers face so many of their own challenges that volume and deadlines are often hard to meet. Building a loyal customer base takes tie too, and keeping the shop going outside of the busy Christmas period. That’s why I’ve launched a bespoke arm with our refugee sewers – to ensure we can keep them in work year-round by taking orders from big restaurants (like Petersham, see below) and interiors designers. Being picked by StudioIlse to supply Massimo Bottura’s community kitchen in Earl’s Court was a huge thrill for everyone involved in the project.
What skills as a journalist have been most useful to you in creating Aerende?
Tenacity to get things going and think of new ways of doing business. Curiosity and a genuine interest in people, plus the ability to ask A LOT of questions. Of everyone, All the time. I think you have to be a bit forward if you’re trying to launch a new business, and luckily being a journalist helped with the ability to loosen up and put myself out there.
What do you love to furnish your own home with?
I like old things, my husband likes a more contemporary look but we are both fascinated with quality and craftmanship. That means we end up with a lot of midcentury items because it’s the compromise. Left to my own devices I would have a ramshackle old place full of antiques and painted in moody Georgian colours. But I like how the combination of our tastes has resulted in a look that is sometimes a bit rustic, sometimes more modern, but always evolving.
Any top tips for making a home look beautiful without spending a fortune?
eBay! Honestly, pretty much everything you see in these photos is from there. Discovering Shiply means you can get in on all the cheap stuff outside of main cities because delivery is so much cheaper and easier.
Any new or favourite pieces on the site you’d like to tell us about?
I love all of them – I won’t stock anything that I wouldn’t buy or use myself – but I’ve been really enjoying wearing our leather espadrilles this summer as they are super comfy and go with everything. The pink stripe linen tea towels are popular at the moment (and have been chosen by Petersham Nurseries to feature as part of the uniform at their new venue in Covent Garden). And the chopping boards, which are made by people recovering from mental health illnesses and inspired by a vintage French board we were given as a wedding present seem to sell out quickly. I think customers love the connection they make with items that are made in the UK out of local materials and that have a heart-warming back story as well as simply looking and feeling great. Oh, and everything comes wrapped in compostable packaging, too.
THE HOUSE TOUR
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