Hello Anna! How would you describe SMALL-FOLK, in a nutshell?
SMALL-FOLK is an online and bricks and mortar shop, focusing on high quality products for women and children that are made by people who have been paid fairly and treated respectfully. We aim to promote both social and environmental sustainability, looking for products that are not only made to last and made fairly, but also look and feel beautiful to use.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
I started small, in a shop a third or less of the size of the one I’m in now (in fact it’s opposite the current shop!). What initially made me want to set up SMALL-FOLK was a need for somewhere to go and buy my daughter shoes which were good quality, and not highly gendered in design. The only local option to us was Clarks which didn’t tick either of those boxes, as well as being further to drive than I really wanted to.
The idea developed as I also considered that there wasn’t anywhere to buy the kind of children’s clothes locally that I wanted to, and from there it’s spiralled into a one–stop for all things children, as well as introducing the womenswear and lifestyle sections to the shop.
What did you do before setting up your business?
Directly before, I was a full–time mum to our now six-year–old daughter Fearne. Prior to this, I have always worked in retail, starting out when I was 17 working in the most wonderful womenswear boutique, Antony Sheppard, in Ludlow, Shropshire (where I grew up). From here I was completely inspired by the act of curating selections of clothing, accessories, and shop fittings to create an interesting and appealing environment in which customers old and new can discover new treasures. I’ve never tired of it yet.
How would you describe your style?
I often feel like I don’t know my style, but then I buy something I wouldn’t usually buy and realise that I do. I would say in terms of shop design, I like the juxtaposition of new product and old fittings. I enjoy a mix of antique and industrial. In terms of curation, I like rich colour tones and generally natural materials (though I am a fan of the longevity of silicone products for kids).
In general, I love simple shapes, jewel and earthy shades, classic design. Clothes need to fit well, be made to last and be repaired, and be functional as well as beautiful. Books – I am all about the illustration, half of a story for children is in the pictures so they need to be captivating and beautiful. For toys, I love open–ended toys and small world play, things that kids can really get involved in, and can be endlessly changed in the manner of play or the storyline each time.
Tell us about your curation – how do you source items…
Word of mouth is fantastic, with a bricks and mortar shop you get chatting to people about their favourite brands and inevitably this often leads to them appearing in the shop! The longer we have been going, the more we get small brands approaching us which is nice, and social media is also a winner in terms of finding out about new brands.
How did you approach the design of your space?
It’s a work in progress! I’m constantly changing things, and it’s never ‘done’. Currently I’m looking to panel some walls and change the lighting! I’m very much a ‘try it and see’ type of person, so I didn’t really design, I just brought in everything I had to work with and have been shuffling things around ever since. As the shop grows and develops there’s always a need to have more space in one department and less in another, so it helps to be fluid and open to change… though I would really like to get rid of that woodchip wallpaper!
What is the ethos behind your business?
In terms of product, we are keen to ensure things are made fairly, and consciousness of the environmental impact that making things has is key when we are choosing brands. In terms of people, as well as the people behind the products, we are also very conscious of being fair, flexible and paying the living wage when it comes to staff. I value all the people who I work with and want to ensure that working at SMALL-FOLK is nothing but beneficial to them.
Could you tell us about your location and community?
We are based in Totnes, Devon. Totnes is a thriving market town, about 30 minutes from the sea, with an amazing local community of very varied people. The high street benefits from the fact that people support local and shop small. We also have a wonderful amount of holidaymakers discovering the joys of Devon year–round, which also supports local business.
Pinpointing further, we are based in the Narrows area of Totnes, which is right at the top of town and boasts the most wonderful selection of independent shops from the great coffee at the Hairy Barista as you enter the Narrows, up to the excellent food at The Bull Inn and the handmade crafts in Me And East as you cross the Rotherfold Square at the top. We all support each other and have the most excellent community feel.
How has your business evolved since you launched?
The journey from where I started to where we are now has been quite something! I started out in my little shop, having got a small loan to start things, I didn’t have a huge amount of stock and worked on my own opening Wednesday through to Saturday each week, and otherwise spending time with my small daughter. From there, I went through having another baby just before lockdown (hello Heath!), to pulling late nights packing orders at home with a newborn baby through Covid times, surrounded by all the stock from my shop!
I then moved into bigger premises across the road from my original shop and expanded into womenswear. I now have a team of eight staff, who are all absolutely amazing, and support me so well – as well as being lucky enough to work with my husband on the logistics and finance side of things. He’s a whizz with a spreadsheet, being a scientist, so I feel very lucky that he’s able to help!
Is the online community important to your work?
I find the Instagram community uplifting and supportive and have made many friends through it. With having an online store comes the need for online presence, and I feel very lucky to be part of a community online which I can only say positive things about.
Working as an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
I find the joys are being able to be flexible with myself and others, and as an employer being able to support people where support is needed. I LOVE the buying and curating side of things, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that as I’m always amazed by the talent in the design of products and collections, it blows me away every season. Working with other small brands is amazing, and the communities I’ve become part of are a daily joy.
I find the main challenge is stopping working, as there’s always so much to get done, and I rarely don’t work in the evening. Having said that, I work in the evening because I have lots of time in the day when I am not working, with the kids, and being able to have time at home. It’s swings and roundabouts! Cashflow too, is a challenge, always, and I’m sure every other small business owner will agree!
How do you approach marketing and PR?
I do some myself, but I have relatively recently started working with the lovely Louise Honey, who is fantastic at marketing and helps me no end – it’s been amazing having someone else to ease the load and to bounce ideas off and plan.
Favourite makers or products that you sell?
Oooh, tricky! In the childrenswear line my kids are always in MarMar Copenhagen and Vivobarefoot shoes. Super high–quality stuff, and Heath now wears bits from these brands which once were Fearne’s, which I think always shows the true test of a children’s brand… is it child proof?! For toys I love the French Brin d’Ours animals, which all have such unique character and the skill invested in making each one makes them works of art, as well as play things. For womenswear, it’s got to be the amazing Kaely Russell, whose clothing is timeless, beautiful and easy to wear, and made three minutes down the road from the shop!
What have been your business highlights so far?
Highlights are definitely moving into a bigger premises and being able to expand the range of sectors we cater for. And on a personal level, being able to continue the business whilst having a second child has been so good, though definitely a test of the juggling abilities! As well, there are many mini–highlights every day, when people choose to shop with us, pay compliments on my buying choices, and are generally super–kind!
What does your ideal day off look like?
Staying at home with my family, wider family visiting from afar, and being in the garden eating good food and enjoying the company of those I love.
Any good advice for aspiring store owners?
It can seem like SO much to do, to open a shop, but everything doesn’t have to happen at once. The shop doesn’t have to open with a bang and be perfect from the word go –goodness knows mine is constantly a work in progress. Start small, but dream big and things will all come together over time, you’ve just got to take the first step.
Find SMALL-FOLK at 76 High St, Totnes, Devon.