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July 27, 2020 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: Travelling Basket

Beautiful Edinburgh lifestyle store and coffee bar Travelling Basket is the creation of Jacek Hübner and Nathalie Holbrook, who continually inspire their customers with an effortless style based on nature and craft.
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Tell us a little about Travelling Basket…

We’re a curated ethical lifestyle atelier and coffee bar in Edinburgh’s bustling city centre. Our collection is carefully handpicked by our team – we stock quality handmade goods, homewares, gifts and seasonal flowers for a natural living environment. We try to offer a refreshing take on modern retail, supporting considered purchasing investment in skilled artisan pieces and general store wares. It’s an immersive environment where you can learn about the crafts, take part in one of our workshops, meet friends or relax. We work directly with makers across the EU, Canada and Nepal, establishing a marketplace for handmade practical goods honed with beauty and skill, designed to become future heirlooms.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

What’s the story behind the name?

We both travel, and Travelling Basket grew from these pursuits and our love of travelling, traditional crafts, handmade and quality products that we had started collecting on our own travels. The first products we stocked were handmade baskets, which we had found when searching for our own handmade willow log basket. We live with things we love, and that love to be used, so that everyday use becomes part of their story, longevity and beauty. Travelling Basket is really a holistic brand idea, sourcing goods from near and far: a way to live big whilst shopping small.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How did you discover your love for what you do?

Neither of us ever imagined we would run an independent shop in Scotland’s capital, but it’s been a natural journey. We were passionate about investing in handmade wares, and building a life and home whilst both working in creative fields. It was hard to source some of the pieces we wanted around us, and which we now stock. There’s so much out there – some of it hard to find or reach, so we started seeking out makers on our travels and it grew from there. Something good for all is something we stand behind; we don’t make compromises where the well-being of our makers, team, customers or our planet are concerned. It has always been about well-crafted products, excellent service, sustainable business practices and supporting our team with a living wage. All things we looked for in our own lives and work. Put like that it’s simple: showing we care by choosing how we shop – that’s how it became a business.

What inspired the idea of setting up Travelling Basket, and how did you then develop it?

We really needed space! We’d built our own tiny house and were both working for ourselves, as well as for other independent businesses but we’d started to burst at the seams. We had this idea that having our own retail space in the city centre would give us the room we needed to test the water and bring together all the things we loved. If we needed a studio – it could be that, if we wanted to host an event – it could do that too. We’re into coffee in a big way so that was always going to be a partner, and we’d been on this journey with beautifully crafted wares so it all naturally just came together… with a lot of DIY!

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

What did you do before setting up Travelling Basket?

We’d both finished university, where we met – Jacek had studied photography at art school in Poland, then film and television in Scotland, and now works freelance. I had studied fine art and photography at Glasgow School of Art, continuing with environmental sculpture and photography before training as a florist. Travelling Basket was already ticking away in the background as we slowly began consolidating our ideas, interests and skills. It finally became an umbrella for this array of creative work, allowing us the freedom to really push ourselves. A lot of work that we had been doing for other people, other businesses, and now for ourselves all came under one roof and brand identity.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How does a typical working day look?

Running a business yourself, no two days are ever the same. However, living in a tiny house means that a level of organisation is key to surviving (this helps in business too). We’re surrounded by nature so waking up early is a gift. Coffee is Jacek’s first task of the day, which weather permitting, we enjoy on our wooden porch or wandering between the rows of flowers in the shop’s cut flower garden that surrounds the house. Next is mission ‘open the shop on time’. So there’s the bread and milk run, sometimes the flower market run, the post office to ship out orders, fire up the shop’s coffee machines, water plants etc. Each day brings something different along with the everyday shop chores, ordering stock, social media, admin, styling displays and photographing new products. You never know where the day will lead, but that’s part of the excitement of independent shop communities.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Mostly from our travels, and from the stuff of life. Those everyday moments grabbing a coffee on the way to a market, meeting a friend en-route, visiting a studio or staying in unusual places, exploring cities, or in the country and hills. Those quiet things that ‘just work’ get filed away and form part of your repertoire of ideas that make up your style.

We’re both film gobblers, films of all shapes and sizes. Not only are these an incredible source of inspiration with ideas, styles and concepts from around the world, they seem to actually fuel us. Stories can spark life, and films are a great source of stories. A little spark can kindle something that has been smouldering away into flame.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How do you put together your collections?

It often comes down to more of a feeling. When you find something you love, that is well made by people impassioned and empowered by what they do, you just know it’s a good thing. We do have a set of criteria, it comes down to believing in the product, the maker, their practice, and its relativity to our brand and ethos. In business this makes a lot of sense: try selling something you don’t believe in and see how you feel when, and if, you manage to sell it. Whereas speaking passionately with likeminded people about products that we believe in, and live with and use ourselves, most days is the greatest job and joy.

Our curation is practical, natural and liveable. We wanted to create an environment that a customer could envision as their own home or living space, so we built in features such as a living space, the cafe and coffee bar nestled in amongst the maker’s collections, a kitchen with Belfast sink that could become a bathroom or florist’s stand depending on the season’s collection.

Tell us about your neighbourhood…

We’re in Marchmont, in the city centre just around the corner from the Meadows, Edinburgh’s city centre park. It’s a wonderful location, one of those ‘village in the city’ places that has everything you could need, and a lot of independent stores and firms including Edinburgh’s most famous fish market. It’s a wide, sunny street of old tenement buildings, housing a lovely mix of families, couples, students, tourists and elderly citizens who’ve seen the street breathe in and out through the years, and know all the stories. It’s the perfect place to be.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How did you choose Marchmont?

There were areas in the city that we had an affinity with, places where we spent time, met friends, or shopped. We’d chat about them, our minds would race with ideas and we’d develop an entire concept for a store in a few moments whilst waiting to cross the street. We wanted to be in an area with a sense of community with other independent businesses.

Aesthetic was important – we had to see our store concept fitting as part of the building, space and vibe there, so this tended to rule out modern units. Having done a lot of building and renovation work, we were drawn to places that hadn’t already been refurbished as this gives you a cleaner slate to make it yours with a lower price tag, if you’re willing to do the ground work. That’s the exciting part, taking something old and neglected and imagining how you would bring it back to life. When we viewed the place on Roseneath Street everything just clicked and we knew it was for us. It was hot pink and aqua with retro disco lighting, but somehow past all that the concept was clearer than ever.

Has Travelling Basket evolved since you began, and if so, what was the journey?

It’s always evolving. Recent global events, if nothing else, have shown us that businesses, brand identity and even us as individuals have got to become more adaptable. A business to be successful has got to be relevant, to be relevant you’ve got to be needed – which requires us to constantly be alert and tuned in to subtle changes in people’s wants and needs. We are constantly learning from our customers, trialling new ideas, products, workshops and events.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How valuable is the online community to your work?

It’s an incredibly valuable asset; and also an inspiring, motivating and rewarding place to work. We primarily use Instagram for business, plus other platforms to reach our community, as not everyone uses Instagram. Being a lifestyle brand with a focus on aesthetic and ethical choices makes Instagram an ideal partner and it has connected us to customers, makers and likeminded businesses across the world, which is totally mind blowing. Sharing ideas, concepts, challenges and winning moments online helps give real time feedback, and is a reminder that you’re not alone in your failures or triumphs.

Working as an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

Working for yourself is a pretty great way to live, with the freedom to approach each day your own way. Running an independent store is a fabulous adventure. Your triumphs are your own, but so too are your failings, and that’s hard. Working for yourself is a challenge and can be lonely if you don’t work to cultivate relationships beyond the everyday chatter. Ultimately, everything is on your shoulders and each decision you make will determine the course of your business, which in turn affects your personal life and relationships. Educating ourselves in as many aspects of business as we can is our greatest toolkit, but doing so also gives you confidence and empowers your decision-making and direction – that’s pretty motivating.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

How do you approach marketing and PR?

At the moment, all of our marketing and PR is done in-house – social media, our journal, mailing list and online store are the constant streams. With both of us working in visual media, marketing and PR are great opportunities to use our knowledge and skills to communicate our story. Our approach is simple really, we tell the story of the brand, including the work that goes on behind the scenes, the high and the low points keeping it real and relevant. Our brand is very much an extension of our lifestyle, so it’s really a conversation that we’re having with our audience.

What have been your business highlights so far?

Growing a community around the store has been such a gift; we can’t believe that we get to call it work. When your work is creating an environment and someone walks in and tells you they want to live there, it’s the greatest reward you could ask for, this connection with a customer is inspiring and humbling. Of course, the travelling is always a high point too: adventuring to new places and seeking out new wares is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do for work. It’s also the time where we get to unravel the work we’ve done and digest the things we feel are working and true to our ethos.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

What’s in the pipeline for Travelling Basket?

As doors closed across the world during the Covid pandemic, we were working on ‘plan B’ behind the scenes, this work was the foundation of our wellbeing through the difficult days of isolation. Forced to close our shop, studio and postpone indefinitely all photography and videography bookings both of us went home, it’s safe to say, a little lost and heartbroken. We threw ourselves into the unexpected task of building a ‘new normal’ and redefining our businesses.

The first step was overhauling our online store to create a virtual home for our beloved brick and mortar store, so that our customers could continue to engage and shop.The second task was to invest our unspent energy into something that could grow, way beyond any pandemic lockdown.

This we found in the rich soils around our home – establishing our own cut flower garden has been a dream and a soul feeder. We dug our way through lockdown, planted seeds and nurtured nature’s beauty that is now unfolding around us. We focused our energy on hardy perennials and varieties that could stand the harsh Scottish weather in the Pentland hills. The hard work is paying off – there’s been a small army of blooms and buds unfurling around us. We’re lucky enough to be on a plot of land that is managed organically completely by hand, so our cut flower garden is also being managed this way too.

What are your creative pastimes or other passions?

We’re a pretty young business, so days off are still a bit of a concept rather than reality. But just like our store we have an idea of what they look like and our work now is in establishing that balance. Until then, cross country running is a good break where the mind is totally free, as are days in the garden, working on the small holding, outdoor cooking and meeting friends. We have one day a week where we ignore technology, so we don’t hear the notifications or reminders, and the lists and work chores are momentarily irrelevant. That day is ours.

Photography by Jacek Hübner
Photography by Jacek Hübner

Any good advice for aspiring store owners?

Be steady. Never underestimate what the world can throw at you. We started out with a lease being sold from under us on the day we were to be given the keys, and after a nerve-wracking near three months lease negotiation, we instead got landed with a hefty solicitor’s bill and no shop premises to speak of. It was right before Christmas and we had an entire shop (fittings, paint, stock and all) and nowhere to put any of it. Another lease negotiation down, three months renovating and six months of trading later, we were caught by the pandemic, forcing trading to stop, and both of us out of work.

Quite honestly, anything can happen, so there’s very little point in worrying about it. But far more importantly, never underestimate your ability to win at what you love doing. It’s a rocky road, but it’s one with the best views, the greatest friends and wildest soundtrack. Turn it up, roll up your sleeves for some hard work and go on.

Find Travelling Basket at 6 Roseneath St, Edinburgh and online at: www.travellingbasket.co.uk and Instagram.

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