That’s why we started our Sustainability Series, a collection of articles shining a light on individuals and brands that are leading the way to help the planet. They’re showing that through innovation and ambition, we can all be more proactive about living more sustainably.
Aerende: life-improving homewares
We spoke to Aerende, a sustainable homewares brand started by Emily Mathieson in 2016. The online store stocks ethically made, locally produced products made by people who struggle to access conventional employment.
Aerende connects with makers of these limited edition products through social enterprises and charities, ensuring they’re able to make a living in a sustainable and fair way. In 2020, Aerende’s social and environmental commitments were recognised through being awarded the Homeware Brand of the Year in the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards.
Join us as we speak to founder Emily Mathieson about her inspiration for the brand, corporate sustainability, and the wider homewares industry.
What inspired you to launch Aerende?
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 from scratch, so that I could run a business I could really feel proud of and whose impact I could see and feel, as well as integrating the kind of integrity that I didn’t see in other retailers. As interiors have also always been a passion, the idea to combine the two resulted in Aerende.
The idea has always been to challenge stigma, create opportunity and show consumers that you can shop and do good at the same time. Also, at the time (back in 2015 when the idea started), there was a growing awareness among conscious consumers around ethical fashion and food and 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. Now, of course, these issues are, rightly, top of the retail agenda.
Why is sustainability so important to you personally?
Although I agree with the many commentators who point out that the real issue is massive corporations rather than individuals, I feel personally that I want my impact on the world to be as minimal as possible. There are many ways to be sustainable and we all have to find out own path; for me that means working out where I can make the biggest difference in my personal life (e.g. by divesting my pension from fossil fuels rather than spending hours agonising over a plastic-free scrubbing brush for my bathroom).
We all have different lifestyles and priorities, and I think it’s important to always look at ourselves and see how we can improve while recognising that being sustainable should feel like a positive movement towards a better world – rather than a hairshirt to suffer with.
From a consumer perspective, do you have any practices you adhere to to live more sustainably?
Buy less. Use what you have. Buy pre-loved things. And when you actually need something new, come to Aerende and know that it will be the most thoughtful, socially beneficial and environmentally friendly version of that thing you can buy. Oh, and ditch the harsh chemical cleaners. Dirt is your friend!
Can you tell us a bit about the social enterprise aspect of the business?
Almost all of our makers are supported by wider companies and charities from around the UK, many of whom have not really traded outside of their own doors before. One of the first organisations I approached when researching the business was Studio 306, a creative programme for people recovering from mental health illnesses. They now make our beautiful soap dishes and pottery candle holders and have such a good idea of the things I like that they are always coming up with brilliant new ideas, including some hand-hammered brass dishes that recently arrived in store.
The links between making with our hands and wellbeing are well documented, but craft is not a particularly inclusive sector so it’s rewarding to know we’re helping raise awareness and nudge the dial a little bit. Another of the really rewarding partnerships has been with FabricWorks, which supports marginalised women in East London. They make our bed linen and other textile items and really show the human face behind the products we buy (which should not be unusual but is and reminds us to stop and think about how the linen we sleep under every night might have been made).
Do you think companies have a responsibility to be transparent with their employees and customers?
Absolutely, yes! If more companies were transparent, it would be so much easier for customers to make informed decisions. No one expects perfection but helping consumers to be aware of the challenges and the goals would be a fantastic thing for companies to do. Instead we’re given opaque language and greenwashing which just makes it so difficult to cut through and work out what the business is actually doing to improve.
Lastly, what legacy/widespread change do you want to have in the homewares and retail industry?
I’d like to see a greater recognition that most of us don’t need more stuff. Increasing production creates an inherent conflict with being sustainable and it would be great to see the homewares and retail industry recognise that. So scaling down production, reducing the cycle of trend-led objects and exploring ways to educate and inform would all be lovely things to see. I’d get extra excited if the industry started talking about regrowth and circular economics, but I realise that may be some time away!
Aerende is a fantastic example of a brand that is producing beautiful products while doing good for the planet, and their makers. Focusing on sustainability in both a social and environmental sense is what sets them apart: we recommend having a browse through their ethically made items on their website.
For the first edition in this series, we spoke with Bower Collective, a company creating natural cleaning products – read it here.
Do you know a brand that deserves to be showcased in our Sustainability Series? It could even be your own business! Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured, and keep an eye out on socials for the next instalment.