I hope you’re all enjoying the long Easter weekend. The weather is beautiful and I can’t wait to head out for a walk after lunch.
I want to kick-start the new week with a Behind the Biz interview.
Today we’re keeping things local with Small Stuff, a Sheffield based ethical and eco-friendly children’s shop. I chat with Hellen, the founder, about her business journey and her passion for a sustainable lifestyle.
Please tell us about Small Stuff, how did it all begin?
When I had my son in 2016! Small Stuff started very differently; I wanted to create clothes and accessories for children knowing where I sourced the material and wanted each piece to tell a story. I created a website an Instagram and started selling these organic cotton creations that really meant something to me – it really took off very quickly and I soon started to sell out of things and then trying to balance being creative, creating and a newborn was a little bit of a struggle – so I had abit of a break and a rethink and enjoyed the time I could with my son.
Then in Jan 2018 I was made redundant from a casual job I had, and it was like a light switch moment – probably the kick up the bum I needed! I decided in that moment I really wanted to create something that worked for me and for my family – I knew I wasn’t going to work for anyone again. So I started researching eco-friendly, ethical, well-made children’s clothing and product designers and suppliers with a story to tell and well – it just kind of all fell in to place. I had a huge rejig of the website, curated a long list of new stock and my had a relook at my branding – that became my creative outlet. In Feb 2018 Small Stuff was relaunched as an eco-conscious lifestylestore!
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
A lot of brain storming (!) at the time I think I used a huge piece of paper and just wrote down every word that reminded me of my son – and small stuff stuck.
How did you source your first selection of products for Small Stuff?
I tirelessly researched designers and brands – I wanted to find out exactly where the products were made, who made them and what their story was. If there was a supplier that couldn’t give me any of that information – I didn’t choose them. It was a long process and I’m still learning so much about it all today.
Your business is built on ethics and sustainability. Please tell us how this has developed and been put into practice.
It started when I was researching online in to children’s clothes and making them. I knew I wanted to use organic cotton as it’s softer and keeps for longer – I wanted things that I could get a lot of wear out of for my own son but also that was kind to his skin and could be put away and kept as a keepsake for memories. I researched textiles that I wanted to use and started to realise how many chemicals and wastage are part and parcel in the creation of textile garments – which was actually really shocking. The more I opened up this box of worms the more I hated it – I wanted to make sure that each item I made or sold would be traceable, minimal chemicals and had minimum wastage – I wanted to make sure that everyone had received a fair wage for what they had created too.
This spilled over when I relaunched Small Stuff and although I wasn’t creating the items anymore – I knew that I wanted to be comfortable and confident in everything that I sell. That’s why I only stock certified organic cotton items that have come from checked and certified factories. I only sell items that have been made for a fair wage and I work closely with my suppliers to understand their processes too. Even the bamboo ranges come from a managed Bamboo farm rather than a Bamboo forest so nothing is taken, but hopefully a lot given back.
It’s all about the detail. I know what my own limitations are for running a store that is eco-conscious, but I try and push them all the time; sending plastic wrappers back to suppliers, encouraging less single use plastics in packaging to begin with, recycling all the packaging I can for postage, offering a free recycling service for single use baby food pouches. When I worked out of the office of my house we changed our utilities suppliers to Green Energy and it’s something I’ve brought to my permanent store too. I want to be able to do every part that I can to run a sustainable and ethical business, even in the background.
Big congratulations on opening up your first brick and mortar store. How did you know it was the right time to make the step into the world of retail?
Thank you! To be honest, I didn’t. I mean, I knew I loved working out of the pop-up store, sharing my stories and curating my visuals for customers to see, meeting new people and I genuinely love what I do, but I never imagined doing what I’m doing today. I had in the back of my mind the shop should come at some point, but I also knew I couldn’t rush it. Then I was walking passed the store I am in now, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about the space – I knew it would be perfect for my business to move forward.
What did you do before setting up Small Stuff?
I have had lots of different jobs and tried most things to be honest, from a veterinary nurse assistant, to working as an admin for a large technology company to a tattoo shop manager and pretty much everything in between. My background is photography though, and I had a successful photography business and studio which I ran for about 8 years, where I specialised in product photography. My creativity has always tried to surface itself though in whatever I’ve been doing as a job, and I am proud that I have skills from so many different types of jobs.
Did you always have your heart set on the journey of self-employment?
I think so, I was always looking for something that I could make my mark on throughout my whole working life and specifically something I could have the freedom to make all the decisions I wanted within. This shop has definitely opened the door to that!
Please share a business high and low with us.
Launching the online store was amazing, I had so much amazing feedback about the stock and my ideas and then being able to open a store almost exactly a year on is amazing – especially with the amazing feedback I’ve been given about the store as well as the space I have created for others to use.
I do however, really struggle to switch off, I try and balance my time with having me time, family time and work time and unfortunately they can all slide in to the same time, luckily I have a hugely supportive family – but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get lonely sometimes – wearing all the hats can be draining and although I love what I do, I am human and sometimes wishing I could give a job to someone else does cross my mind.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
You know when something is right – it’s your dream and vision. Plus it’s totally fine to make mistakes, but make sure you make mistakes based on your own actions – this will make those mistakes easier to learn from. I of course still take advice from people that have done it before, but I do so now with a pinch of salt – after all they haven’t done exactly what I’m doing.
Where do you hope to take your business in the year ahead?
I hope to really get the event side of my business flourishing. I have specifically opened up a part of the store that can be used my groups, events, workshops etc and so far, so good. I want to really try and concentrate working on that side of the business to get more footfall, meet more people and get the community buzzing about this little indie store, small stuff!
I want to say a massive thank you to Hellen for taking the time out to be involved with Behind the Biz. I love having local businesses as part of the series and can’t wait to visit Small Stuff (170 Crookes, Sheffield, S10 1UH).
Hellen offers excellent advice for aspiring entrepreneurs – “it’s totally fine to make mistakes” – I couldn’t agree with this more. Just because something doesn’t work out or you have to change your path slightly it shouldn’t hold you back.
Hellen’s passion for creating an ethical and sustainable business shines through in this interview. It’s truly inspiring and I can’t wait to see Small Stuff continue to grow in the year ahead.