Aerende is an old English word meaning care, or message. And that’s exactly why Emily Mathieson chose it as the name of her business, which focuses on employing people who face barriers to the workplace.
“The values of the word Aerende run through everything we do, from how we source materials or treat our makers to the provider of our electricity and business banking,” says Mathieson.
The 43-year-old launched her company in 2016, as an “antidote to the lack of individuality, ethics and transparency in the interior retail sector”.
“Initially we wanted to use the exciting possibilities of the direct-to-consumer retail model pioneered by the likes of Warby Parker, Allbirds or Leesa by linking it with non-profit trading for the benefit of people and the environment,” Mathieson explains. “Now, we are looking more into wholesaling as we diversify and expand.”
Aerende produces homeware in low volume batches, and sells everything from pillow cases and candles to crockery and spatulas.
“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,” Mathieson recalls. “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.”
Although the non-profit is now self-sustaining through sales, it receives funding through Lloyds Bank, WeWork, the St Albans Enterprise Agency and Big Issue Invest.
“Funding has been really challenging,” says Mathieson. “We don’t offer shares in the company because we don’t want to focus on profit for personal gain, but it’s not a charity because we think enterprise is a more constructive way to support people and make long-term differences.
“This means we can’t attract typical investors and we’re not eligible for many grants. So, we’re always on the look out for philanthropists who want to invest in interiors and social purpose companies.”
The entrepreneur sources craftmakers through Googling, word of mouth, and local media.
“I’m always scouring newspapers for articles about therapeutic craft groups and working out if those might be a good fit for us, or if the skills might be there for us to commission a product,” she explains. “And then, because we want the products to be desirable and to fit with the collection we work out color schemes and shapes and sizes that would work well, and create each product in collaboration with the makers – so they can explore their skills and we can ensure an ever-changing collection.”
Mathieson works with people from a number of backgrounds via the charities who support them. For example, Aerende sources its bedlinen from FabricWorks, which which supports women who have been trafficked, and its candles from Moments of Sense & Style, a company run by a couple, one of whom suffered a brain hemorrhage and stroke in 2014.
“The idea has always been to challenge stigma, create opportunity and show consumers that you can shop and do good at the same time,” Mathieson says.
“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.”
The homeware sector in the UK is growing, particularly as fashion retailers expand their offerings to include interiors.
“This is problematic as they have introduced the concept of fast homewares,” Mathieson says, “which are every bit as problematic as fast fashion but without the negative image. Alongside this change are businesses like ours, growing organically as more and people start think more consciously about how they furnish their homes.”