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My first year in business in my little yellow shed of dreams has been without doubt the best year of my life! I'm incredibly happy to be able to spend time with so many conscious customers who all want to do their bit to save the planet and its inhabitants. Zero waste has rightfully made its way into the spotlight and demand is growing, as is the desire to buy ethical products that harm as little as possible along the supply chain and at end of life.
I'm overwhelmed with the constant love and support my customers have shown me and my business Harmless, and I've felt so proud - and somewhat stunned - to watch the business grow over the last year. That said, I always joke that I grew out of the small space in my shed on my opening day, and as many of you have experienced as you shuffle around me and other customers, it's completely true!
I have been so happy to see my army of plastic-free customers grow, however as demand has grown my stock room and shelf space have inevitably shrunk. For you guys - the intrepid plastic free shoppers - standing in the rain on your day off waiting to be served, as inspirational as it is to see, isn't the way it should be.
So let's get on with it - why are we here?
The time has come for Harmless to upsize - to have a proper stock room with a steady supply, ensuring you can buy what you need when you need it. This will allow me to buy in bigger volumes, reducing the cost of your shop, and broadening my stock list. This will bring the feel good factor to a much bigger audience.
In order to make these ambitions come true, I am looking for some help from my lovely customers. If you think this is a project that North London needs, and if you believe in what I'm trying to do, please keep reading to find out how an act of kindness from you - whether big or small - can help make my shop a reality.
I'd like to start by saying that, while this is a crowdfunder, everything I have, everything that has been saved from Harmless 1, is going to be ploughed into this next step. I've saved as much as possible and that amount will see me through Stage 1 of this process - solicitors, deposits, getting in the door and applying a good lick of paint.
After that, though, I'm asking for your help. To open a store in London, realistically it's a £30k job. I'm often asked why there aren't more shops, and the answer is simple - it's unbelievably expensive, and the grassroots entrepreneurs who want to change the world often don't have the money to open on the high street.
Below is some more information about what I hope to achieve with the new shop, which I hope will convince you of the benefit of being part of this crowdfunder and helping make this shop a reality for our community:
Convenience: With your help I can bring passionate, like-minded people into my business, meaning I can open 7 days a week and stay open later in the evenings. This has been one of the biggest challenges in my first year - Harmless 1, being in a tiny shed with steep stairs, wasn't safe for employees.
Refrigerated products: I'm going to have a fridge! This means plastic & animal product-free cold options on site at all times. This will include artisan cheeses, plant-based salmons, kimchi, tofu and sweet treats, and I'll continue adding delicious cold options as and when they are launched.
Self-serve: The more money I put into the shop, the more scales I can provide. Say goodbye to waiting in the rain and hello to in-and-out shopping in a zen environment!
*Disclaimer: I do plan to keep some of the trickiest products to be served by staff, as I wouldn't wish spilling organic Spanish almonds all over the floor on anyone!
Adoption centre (dishwasher): I will have emergency glasses and containers clean and ready to go if you happen to forget your pots. This also means you can drop off the odd container ready for adoption.
The "Yes" Shop: I want to be the shop that has everything you need, so I am working towards being able to say yes to everything you ask for...Pine nuts? Yes! Brazil, cashew, macadamia? Yes! Cooking oil? Yes!! Citric acid? Yes!! Package free tofu? YES! Gluten free? YES!! Organic? YESS!!! Vegan honey, cheese and yogurt?? YES YES YES!!
Workshops: Providing practical and ethical workshops has been my dream from the beginning. I'd love to arm as many people as possible with the knowledge and skills they need to reduce their impact in ways they haven't even yet considered. Some examples of workshops I plan to offer are below:
- Grow your own plastic free herbs
- Make your own spice mixes
- Switching to British, local or organic produce
- Bread making classes
- Using British beans, pulses and seeds
- Vegan milk & yogurt making
- Plant-based nutrition
- Reducing your impact on the environment
- Children's environmental and litter education (they are the future)
- Mental health and wellbeing sessions, including how to deal with-eco anxiety
As you can see, the possibilities are endless, and I'm also open to any other ideas people have for bringing more super-human eco skills to North London. What would you like to learn?
Ethical shop fit: The shop I have my eye on is currently no less than a dumping ground. The majority of skip services out there put the waste into landfill. I intend to instruct a zero to landfill waste company, and to source materials from ethical local suppliers as far as possible. This will be an added expense but one I will not budge on!
Coffee grinder and nut machine: These are absolutely on the list but can cost thousands. These are two of the top requests and with your help I can purchase these and keep them in service, in order to provide freshly ground coffee and nut butters (yum!).
Kombucha tap: That's right. Locally brewed Kombucha on tap in store.
Alcohol: Anyone who knows me knows I love a glass of vino .... I'm very excited to announce that refills on wine & rum will soon be a reality. Now when you say you only drank one bottle last month, technically you'll be telling the truth!
Overall peace of mind: Ever feel like you're lost in an ethical quagmire? Having the means to employ people means more of my time can be spent digging into the bottom of every single issue, there are hundreds as we all know! This will mean I can make sure that the shop only stores products that meet the high standards you all deserve, so that when you shop at Harmless you can be confident you are putting your money into the most ethical products out there - win win!
And last but not least, a note on costs...
I often have people asking how my prices compare to supermarkets. The short answer is they don't, or rather that they can't. Supermarkets work on the idea of selling as much as possible for a small profit with a maximum number of store's. This translates to lots of unwanted and uneeded consumer purchases which then leads to waste. They also have the power to drive their suppliers' prices down to unrealistic levels. That's not how I operate.
That said, I want my shop to be accessible to everyone, and having a bigger shop is key to lowering prices. Although I might not be undercutting Asda anytime soon, I wholeheartedly believe that the value you gain from shopping at Harmless is worth so much more. I am also always looking for other ways I can help make my customers' pennies go that bit further, such as offering certain particularly expensive products at cost price, to help my customers shop both ethically and affordably.