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  • #givegoodgifts - a handy resource for better shopping this Christmas

    Wrapping paper made in the UK

    As the festive season draws closer and thoughts turn to presents (both what to give and what to ask for), it can be hard to know how to make sure your gift giving will have a positive impact on the world around you.

    We all know about the problems of high street shopping. Yet Christmas can be an odd time for conscious retailers because we know that the conflation of a spiritual/religious festival with consumerism is counter to the real meaning of the season, yet we still want to sell our goods. In fact, this time of year is crucial for online independent retailers because for many of us, up to 75% of our annual custom will happen in the next six weeks.

    Short of buying nothing, the main way consumers can make a difference is, of course, by embracing the potential of second-hand and local shops. Though the products themselves might not always tick every ethical box, heading away from the high street provides a chance to buy really individual gifts often with a great back story. The community and economic benefits of supporting local have been well documented, plus you get the added bonus of a really personal experience from someone who really cares. For those trying to rid themselves of stuff, there are lots of schemes in which you can donate to local projects and campaigns that will bring pleasure for years to come. In my case, this is asking for contributions to a new museum for my city (St Albans) designed by the architects behind Kings Cross, a truly inspiring London spot.

    Yet even those committed to supporting independent business and buying hand-made, can find it hard to know exactly where to start looking. That’s why we love (and support) the #GiveGoodGifts campaign, recently initiated by one of our suppliers, The Soap Co. The premise is to showcase the stories and sentiments behind companies that are doing good things via The Soap Co blog. Entries range from heritage present suggestions to guest posts from sustainability bloggers and the brands themselves. One of the best things about the #givegoodgifts idea is that it’s not just about creating a practical tick list of things to buy (though it does help with that). It’s also a movement towards making the world a little more beautiful, sustainable and kind, a little at a time, by helping consumers realise the power their spending decisions can have. So, we’re starting the beginning of the festive season with this collaborative celebration of ethical business to make sure that the goodwill and love we feel at this time of year spreads far and wide, and lasts well beyond Christmas day.

  • The refugee crisis – and why speaking out is vital

    Watching Lily Allen’s broadcast from the refugee camp at Calais today has got me thinking. Not just about the tragedy of people being forced into even further uncertainty and poverty by the French government's destruction agenda, but about how we speak out about social inequality. Is there ever a right way of doing it? A way that can have an impact without inviting accusations of self-righteousness, self-promotion or ingenuity?

    Of course there is an uncomfortable dichotomy in watching a celebrity being trailed by a film crew through the midst of humanitarian crises. But, having seen and heard first-hand stories from the Jungle, I can’t imagine that anyone would choose to go there if they didn’t care. Allen showed huge compassion as she apologised on behalf of her country for the numerous incidences that have led so many children to becoming trapped in the camp. And what she got in return was a shedload of abuse for daring to express her opinion.

    Many of the most vocal responders seemed to advocate, at best (you can imagine the worst), doing nothing; that children, stuck without clean water, proper food or shelter are not our responsibility. But how does that help? At some point, our individual ability to turn a blind eye becomes complicity in the death and destruction that so many people are facing. So I'll posit that we should always applaud those who choose to use their voice to try and affect change. Allen’s words may have lacked finesse, she could have chosen them with more care, but acknowledging (and feeling terrible about) the problem is surely the start of doing something about trying to fix it.

    When we see inequality or cruelty or outrageously unfair lack of opportunity, it’s a natural response to feel impotent. To think there’s nothing we can do. That we don’t understand the issues enough to be able to do the ‘right thing’. To push those things to the back of our minds with a justification that individuals really can’t make a difference anyway. But what if we all did do something? And what if that something started with saying what we think? Of asking some difficult questions? Of expecting our politicians to engage with issues of social justice in a meaningful way? Putting your head above the parapet can feel scary, not least because there will always be someone who tries to knock you down. But surely doing nothing is never the answer. By beginning the conversation about difficult issues, we move towards knowledge and understanding, and then, hopefully, towards action and positive impact. 

    We might not always get it right. We might not always have the solution to these complex situations. But we do all have a voice. We have to do something. Let's not criticise people for saying the 'wrong' thing. Let's not hide from the problem. Let's keep talking until the noise is too loud to ignore.

  • Bed linen - everything you need to know

    Bed linen - everything you need to know
    Bed linen is not an item that probably elicits much thought, unless you’re looking for a new set. But for Aerende, every product on sale is the result of careful consideration – of style, of practicality and of material sustainability. We’ve chosen linen because it’s made from the hardy flax, a plant that has minimal water requirements and requires few or no chemicals to thrive (compared with cotton which uses 10% of the world’s pesticides and 22% of the world’s insecticides). Its is said to aid temperature regulation at night and is naturally anti-bacterial as well as looking fantastic when you don’t bother to iron it.
    Our buttons are made from wood because although we want our linens to last for as long as you want to keep them for, we don’t think they should mark this earth forever. If the first small test batch sells well, we’re looking at alternative button options, including wool, for the next order.
    Most importantly, the duvet cover and pillow cases made by hand, not machine. They truly express the skill and personalities of their makers – finished with care and attention but with natural variation that means no two are exactly the same. Imagine just two hands dealing with all the metres of fabric required to make a duvet cover. Imagine how long it takes to line up the stripes perfectly so that the set looks perfect when you make your bed. Imagine someone caring enough about what they make to create a unique fold-over flap so you can hide your buttons and to sew those buttons on so thoroughly they won’t get lost in the washing machine. Those are all the things that our wonderful makers Fatheha and Malika at FabricWorks have thought about so you don’t have to. All you have to do is dream (hopefully about the new bed linen that you’re going to buy as soon as you wake up).
  • Getting closer to launch...

    Two months on from the success of our crowdfunding campaign, we thought it was about time for an update on how things are going.

    Following the receipt of all the funding (a more difficult process than you might imagine), it was very exciting to get started making our first orders. These included a range of chopping boards and wooden utensils from Fruitful Woods in Edinburgh; some beautiful ceramic vases and tealights from Studio 306 in London, all of which have been made by people recovering from mental health illnesses; soap and moisturiser from visually impaired employees at The Soap Co, and cushions embroidered by prisoners from Fine Cell Work. All of these charities and social enterprises are well set up to support both their service users and the needs of emerging businesses so working with them has been a pleasure (and a handy learning process).

    With other organisations and individuals we’ve been experimenting more with commissioning – working out through trial, error and many discussions, products that we think are practically achievable and desirable for volunteers and service users to create, and that customers will want to buy. The samples are now complete, which means we’ll have glazed bowls and hopefully some baskets made by residents with learning disabilities at Camphill Community, and hanging plant holders and bed linen from the ladies at FabricWorks, a social enterprise providing employment for victims of trafficking. I have had some original drawings by Ivan the Woodsman (who is homeless) printed and they are now ready for people’s walls. On the way are candles from Wales, all made in a factory that provides jobs and support for people with learning disabilities and, soon, some knitted and hand-sewn items from some Syrian refugees who have recently arrived in the UK.

    Of course there have been delays and challenges. But the positive stories from people who are relishing the creative process, in some cases for the first time since childhood, are a good motivator, as is the growing launch collection of products, which are testament to a more considerate way to shop. And we are proud to be able, in a small way (for now), to help charities and social enterprises who are doing an excellent and valuable job of supporting vulnerable people but need revenue to be able to continue their work. By providing them with an online retail outlet, we are able to remove the stress/resources of online sales from them, allowing them to facilitate support that is given in the right way to the right people. The nature of the business means I’m usually dealing with representative and advocates for the makers rather than the makers themselves, but the feedback has been brilliant and we’re excited to build on all the many relationships we’ve begun so far.

    To all of you who helped Aerende get to this point, by funding us, talking about us, and following us on social media thank you. Please do follow us on Facebool ( and Instagram ( to be kept up to date with product and supplier information and news of our launch, coming soon...





  • What do ethical labels really mean?

    What do ethical labels really mean?

    Last night Aerende took part in a Twitter chat hashtagged #ethicalhour. It’s a subject that has really got me thinking. What does the word ethical really mean?

     I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it thus: “Of or relating to moral principles, esp. as forming a system, or the branch of knowledge or study dealing with these.” But moral principles are pretty broad. And one person’s moral compass will not be the same as another’s; few vegans will want to buy our leather-bound notebooks, even if they provide employment for out-of-work veterans and are made from offcuts of British grown and tanned skins.

    So many organisations, websites and shops use the word ethical without any indication of what those ethics may entail (is it local, fair trade, recyclable, biodegradable?) that the word’s meaning has been diluted. If I’m honest, I’m often cynical when I do see something described as ethical/sustainable. It’s hard not to wonder what is being covered up by the use of some SEO-friendly words rather than a more transparent description. Official accreditations don’t help much, given that they are often paid for rather than awarded.

    For our part at Aerende, we feel being ethical is not only about being true to our main goals – to create a truly desirable homewares collection that champions marginalised makers and craftspeople. It’s about honesty. It won’t always be possible to adopt the most environmentally friendly or fairly traded way of doing things (anyone who has ever looked into the cost/complications of eco buttons, or of paying people who are not legally allowed to live in the UK, as I have been doing this week, will vouch for that). But we do pledge to be clear and transparent about what our products are made from. We will tell you where they are made and who by. We will engage with you if you ask us a question about provenance or process. And we’ll always try to do better. To us, that is what ethical means.

    But what does it mean to you? We’d love to hear your views. Do you care about the ethical label? Does it add value to the product, even without any other info? Do you wonder about whether ceramics are bad for the world? And whether wood is always good (hint: no)? Would you prioritise organic materials over local ones? We are working on our product descriptions now and would love to incorporate your feedback into them. Just hashtag #lifeimprovinghomewares and we can all be part of the conversation.