When Cat and I first started having ideas about Denys & Fielding, we wanted to create a range of products for the home and garden that was a little different from the norm. Something that had colour, personality and style. Above all, we wanted our range to be joyful – a little escape from the hard work, long hours and the stresses and strains of life.
This train of thought very quickly led us onto how we wanted our products to be made. A much bigger question. I’ll be honest, it’s not been easy. It took six months for a British manufacturer to even speak to us about producing our fabrics. We’ve had suppliers approach to work with us on the basis that they offer a sustainable solution, only to find out that their interpretation of ‘sustainable’ isn’t quite the same as ours. It’s not that they have been deliberately vague, it is just that there are so many grey areas. Sustainability is a word that has a really wide interpretation. Making decisions about new product lines is always difficult, as quite often, there is some kind of compromise. For example, our new range of serving trays are made in the UK, made from recycled materials and recyclable themselves. However, at the moment, most of the UK recycling facilities wouldn’t be able to recycle them. So, while we hope the recycling industry continues to develop new techniques and facilities to process more and more materials, we’re working with our supplier on ways to enable customers to send back their tray in years to come, so that the tray can be recycled and the customer can claim some kind of reward for their efforts. This is not easy when you are a small company, just starting out, with little ‘clout’. These challenges are continual, but for me, it is extremely important that we keep doing our best and keep trying to make the best decisions possible. It also has helped us shape our own definition of ‘sustainable’ and how it applies to our product development. We’ve kept it simple and have two overriding criteria.
Firstly, a love of making things is one of the defining characteristics of being human. The simple act of making something keeps people, communities and societies happy. While the UK is a mature market, we need to keep productive and keep making. Aside from the obvious carbon footprint savings, I’ve learned so much by being able to work closely with suppliers that we can meet or ring at the drop of a hat. It creates an energy which is wholly positive, no matter the inevitable failures, and problems along the way. Offshoring manufacturing may provide financial gain and a cheaper product for your pound, but I think we lose in other ways, some of which are far more long reaching than we might first suspect. So, where we can, we’ll always try and make everything in the UK. The only exception to this is our deckchair frames. It just wasn’t possible for us to source UK made frames, and believe me, we tried! The wood is imported but sourced as ethically as possible. It is PEFC certified, meaning it is from well-managed, sustainable forests. The frames aside, all of our products, packaging, even our cushion fillers, are made in the UK.
Secondly, our original intention – to produce home and garden wares that add a little colour and joy, still stands. The thought of having them made by people working in conditions which are the opposite of ‘joy’ just feels completely wrong. Now, clearly, not everyone working in factories overseas are in sweatshops! Nor is everyone working in the UK having a jolly good time. But, by ensuring that the majority of our goods are made here, and all are hand finished by us in the UK, we feel that we can maintain a more transparent supply chain. As a small business, with little time or resources to double check factories and environments around the world, this is important. We want to be open and confident about the provenance and creation of our products. And by hand making what we can, and sticking to local suppliers for the rest, we can do just that.
Have we got it right? I doubt it. But, as a small company, it’s within our gift to keep moving forward, keep positive and keep challenging the status quo.
Visit our website to view our products and to find out more.
Liz Ridgway, Co-Founder and Owner of Denys & Fielding