Shopping Made Ethical – A Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of Malulu.
In this week’s industry interview we get a sneak peek into a unique retail business. Specialising in ethically made gifts, Malulu is the brainchild of Louise Edwards. In our ‘Meet the Retailer’ interview, Louise gives us insight into the inspiration of the company, its ethical philosophy and exciting plans for the future.
Tell us a little about your company.
My parents met and lived in Kenya for several years, though I grew up in the UK but I already had a strong love for Africa even before my first visit in 2006. Having spent time working on the supplier side of the craft industry in both Kenya and Tanzania, I saw first hand the benefits that sustainable employment, particularly of women, brought to impoverished communities. I wanted to apply this experience to a career when I went back to the UK, and in early January 2013 I established Malulu.
The company’s name comes from the combination of my first name ‘Mary’ and my nickname ‘Lulu’, and Malulu just so happened to be an African name too. As the sole director my aim is to enable deprived communities to lift themselves out of poverty through trade, rather than aid. Malulu’s focus on quality ethical gifts aims to give these people not only the hope, but the reality of a brighter and sustainable future.
What is your role in the business?
As I am currently a ‘one-girl-band’, I am everything from the chief boss to the tea girl! If on the rare occasions there is something I can’t do, then I get contractors to assist me. I love the variety each day brings and the fact that I am working towards a sustainable and brighter future for those living in deprived communities.
Is there anyone else in the team?
Not at the moment, but watch this space!
What is a typical day like at your business?
There doesn’t seem to be one typical day as much depends on whether I am exhibiting at a show, or in the office. I love shows as they allow me to get in touch directly with my customer base, which has helped me expand my dog collar range following feedback from clients at such shows. It is also nice to have some quality quiet time behind the desk to plan the next project for Malulu’s development.
What makes your shop special?
What makes Malulu products special are the stories behind the products. There is a real person behind every handmade product. Customers know that when they buy a product from Malulu, they are making their own positive contribution to those living in impoverished communities to enable these people to achieve a brighter future.
Who are your customers?
Anyone who likes fabulous products which are made ethically, particularly anyone with a dog or buying for a dog lover.
What inspires the product lines you choose?
I have experience of working on the supply side within the craft industry in both Tanzania and Kenya, and so I was able to find the most beautifully handmade products that have the most fabulous stories of hope behind them.
I am particularly keen on developing ethical dog accessories as I really love dogs and customers want products which are fun, attractive and practical for their best four-legged friends at the same time.
Tell us about your design style.
Malulu’s handmade products provide a flavour of Africa, and their designs makes them excellent gifts that easily fit in to your home and lifestyle. I love the warmth and contrasting colours in African design, as well as the shapes and inspiration taken from nature. I look for functionality as well as beauty, and they all have to be made ethically as well as give something back to the community where they are manufactured.
Who are your favourite card / gift designers?
Apart from my own suppliers, I love the kitsch quirkiness of Cath Kidston, and how her designs can be applied to almost anything in a fun and practical way.
Are there any other retailers that you admire?
The Co-Op because they source their produce sustainably and give back to society. I also love Green People cosmetics because they make wonderful products, which do not contain any chemical nasties that can harm yours skin in the long term and they promote environmental responsibility.
What is your personal favourite product in your shop?
It has to be my Mombasa Red dog collar, which I designed and looks fantastic on a dog. I was inspired by warm sunsets over the Kenyan horizon when I was creating this design, and I just love the vibrancy of the bright and happy colours.
What are the most popular products in your current range?
This would have to be the Mombasa Red Miniature dog collar (shown below being modelled by a dachshund friend) and also the Mombasa Red Lurcher Collars. Customers just love the colours, which give them that feel of Africa as well as the shapes.
What new products do you have planned for the future?
I do have some new colourful dog accessories on the way, but you’ll have to wait for more news on this one I’m afraid!
What do you look for in the products you choose?
I have specifically chosen Malulu’s suppliers because they make high quality products ethically. Malulu’s suppliers have been hand picked for the sustainability practices they follow, such as the use of local resources, local employment and recycling elements. Malulu’s suppliers also provide additional help for their staff in other ways, e.g. providing financial advice, health treatment and educational sponsorship of their children. This creates the positive dominion affect, where local employment allows money to be invested locally and so the wealth generated spreads further than just those working for Malulu’s suppliers.
Do trends influence the products that you purchase?
Yes, and no. If a something is trendy and ‘works’ with my ethos and design look, then it can influence my decision to purchase, but otherwise no. Fads come and go, plus they often seem to be against my ideas for sustainability. I prefer to have classic products that have lasting appeal.
What would you like to do next with the business?
I am developing my dog accessory side of the business with some new dog related products coming out soon.
I am currently looking for retail outlets to supply (interested parties please contact me!) .
I would also like to eventually have my own physical shop.
Thank you Louise!
You’ve read the interview, now visit the shop … explore the Malulu website.