SuppHER is a Manchester-based supper club powered by women, which has been running events around the city for the past two years.
Founders Anna Søgaard, sous chef at Erst and Kim McBride, former sommelier at Erst and The Creameries and now support worker in the Social Care sector, wanted to create a platform for celebrating female talent in the hospitality industry, whilst also using their skills to raise money for charities supporting women.
We recently caught up with Anna and Kim to find out about creating spaces for women in hospitality, supporting communities and what people can expect from their upcoming International Women’s Day event.
What inspired you to create SuppHER?
A: When Kim and I met while working at Erst, we would often speak about issues affecting women in our community. Eventually we decided to throw a charity dinner to support Trafford rape crisis which is where Kim was volunteering at the time. We wanted to use our skills to bring people together over food and wine and shed light on the issues we cared about while trying to make a difference in any way we could. Later on, SuppHER grew into the collaborative events that they are now that allows us to showcase the many female talents in hospitality.
You donate your profits to a number of women’s charities, can you tell us a bit about the charities that you’re raising funds for?
K: We donate predominantly to small, local women’s charities. When we started SuppHER I was volunteering for Trafford Rape Crisis and just wanted to tell the world about the amazing work that they do, that’s why TRC were the first charity that we donated to. Since then, we have raised money for MASH, who support sex workers in Manchester with provisions, counselling, a needle exchange and so much more. We have donated to Women for Women International who support female survivors of war to rebuild their lives; HostNation UK who are a refugee-befriending charity and our IWD event will raise money for Manchester Women’s Aid who support victims of Domestic Abuse.
One of the main goals of SuppHER is to create a space for women, who are the some of the women you would like to platform?
A: After the first couple of supper clubs we hosted, we had a huge outpour of women contacting us asking if they could get involved. I think that says everything about the women in our industry. They all wanted an opportunity to support not only the women struggling in our community, but also each other. We were so overwhelmed by it and that’s when SuppHER became collaborative dinners. It’s amazing getting to show people how much female talent our industry has. Women in general are so often overlooked and don’t get the same exposure that men do in hospitality.
Can you tell us about the supper clubs you have hosted to date?
K: SuppHER started out as just me and Anna serving 15 guests at Trove but it instantly grew when women in hospitality offered to help out. The wonderful Maya from Breadflower and incredibly talented Jane Walton volunteered at our second event and then women wanted to collaborate with us from Where The Light Gets In, The Creameries, Flawd, Erst and so many other fabulous restaurants and bars in Manchester. As SuppHER has grown we have managed to maintain the initial ethos; we bring talented women together to create a space where they can shine, whilst raising money and awareness for issues affecting women.
What can people expect from your upcoming International Women’s Day supper club?
A: This will be our first all day event. We’ll be hosting a series of hour long workshops with some of our favourite local creatives. Then in the evening we will be serving a four-course dinner with wine pairings. We’ve put together an incredible line up of chefs in Manchester doing amazing things. They’ll each be doing a course. I’m extremely excited for this menu. Anna Carmichael, Zara Hussain, Caroline Martins and I have put a lot of thought into how we can make this one extra special. And Kim has put together a wine list along with two other talented women in wine, Meg Williams and Emily-Rose Lucas. Well be showcasing some very exciting wines made by some pretty impressive women. All of our profits for this event will go to women’s aid.
Can you tell us about the workshops at your supper clubs as well?
K: At our event for International Women’s Day, we have an afternoon of workshops planned by some of our favourite female creatives in Manchester at the minute. At 11am Hannah Elizabeth Flowers is hosting a wreath making workshop using gorgeous dried flowers, at 1pm Kat Wood is hosting a printing with plants cyanotype workshop, at 2.30pm Meg Beamish is teaching a group to make their own plant pots and at 4.30pm Jo Payne from Platt Fields Market Garden is going to teach her group to save tomato seeds, sow them and grow them.
Hospitality is often presented as a male-dominated industry, but there are many talented women within it, do you think supper clubs such as SuppHer have the power to reset the balance?
A: Our hope is that SuppHER and other women-led projects like this will have an impact on the imbalance in power in our industry. We would love for it to have a ripple effect and that exposure will lead to more women in senior roles in food and wine. Until we have more women leading kitchens and restaurants, the industry continues to be a place of inequality that is built from the male view point which simply isn’t sustainable.
What can we expect next from SuppHER?
Honestly, who knows?! We have more exciting supper clubs in the planning for later in the year and we sell wines for local delivery through our website. We both really just want to keep on supporting women and perhaps we will start taking SuppHER outside of Manchester soon too.
This week we talk to Manchester-based creatives Laura Frances Heitzman and Foxanne about navigating freelance life, female friendships and working in North.
Lovely to speak with you both, can you tell us a bit about yourselves, what you do and how did you meet?
L: I’m from Manchester, I’m a freelance illustrator, mural artist and designer. I currently work from home, but I’m hoping to get into a really cool studio sometime soon.
F: I’m also from Manchester, I’m an artist, illustrator, designer, just an all round creative gal. I always find it weird to introduce myself, if its creative, I’ll give it a go! I currently work from a studio and my little doggo studio assistant, Luna, comes with me.
L: We met online through Instagram. We slid into each others DM’s!
F: A few weeks after meeting on Instagram, we realised we both lived down the road from each other, such a small world!
The podcast sounds like a great idea, how did you come to the decision to make one?
L: Well, we realised we had so much to talk about. We were always talking in depth about the creative industry as we are both freelance designers, problems we’ve faced and great things that have happened to us. We also had loads in common and talked a lot about our lives and realised we were having a LOT of deep chats, so we thought why not have these conversations on a podcast.
F: We wanted to try something new together and we feel like we could help people who are just starting out in the industry. We’re both very open, sometimes too open haha! With being very present on social media, I’ve gotten used to speaking to an audience on my Instagram stories, but I felt like we had a lot to say so long-form content felt like the next step. I’d wanted to start a podcast for a few years now but after a deep FaceTime chat with Laura we both thought it would be nice to do it together.
What would you like listeners to get out of the podcast?
F: When I’m in the studio by myself I stick podcasts on so I feel like I’m not by myself. Working for yourself can be quite lonely. I find educational podcasts super helpful, but sometimes it can be very info heavy, I struggle with my attention, I can’t casually listen to informational podcasts, I have to actively listen to them. But I wanted to create something that is Laura and I waffling about our lives and our careers with little educational tips that people can subconsciously take in.
L: For me, podcasts help me to feel less alone whilst I’m working at home by myself because being self employed can be really lonely. It would be really lovely to know that we could be that for other people in the same situation. We want to be as honest as possible, and for people to know that they will get full transparency when they listen to the podcast so it can be comforting to know that it isn’t all rosey and we have ups and downs too.
What have been some of the positives and drawbacks of making a podcast?
L: For me, I feel like the biggest drawback is the time it takes to plan, produce and edit etc. Its very time consuming but it’s definitely going to be worth it for sure. I’d say the most positive thing is being able to connect with so many people. We’ve already connected with lots of creatives and business owners, and that list is only going to grow, especially when we get more guests on board.
F: Following on from Laura, the content creation and the planning is very time consuming as we produce, film, plan edit, schedule everything ourselves. Me and Laura are chatting everyday on voice notes about our lives or the podcast. Because we spend so much time together now I really think it has helped our friendship blossom. Crazy to think we only met each other in real life less than a year ago! The positives are definitely meeting so many people through it. The community we are already building through our podcast honestly makes the long nights and frantic FaceTime calls worth it. I couldn’t of chosen a better friend to go on this journey with.
What individual perspectives do you bring to the podcast?
L: We both have different design backgrounds. I studied fashion design at university whereas Foxanne studied contemporary art. I worked in the industry as a designer working for a supplier for two years before going freelance, and Foxanne went straight into freelancing so its great we have those different experiences.
F: Laura creates sassy illustrations of powerful women in fashion, which she then sells products in her shop, whereas I focus more on typography and funky random illustrations and I work with a lot of businesses on their branding, product design, surface pattern design etc. With us both coming from different starting points, Laura with her fashion and me with my painting and contemporary art I think we both give different perspectives. I’ve never worked ‘in industry’ so I find myself invalidating my skill which we’ve found a lot of freelance artists who have never worked in industry feel the same way too. It’s great to have us both share our own views on things.
Outside of that, what are you both currently working on?
L: I’m working on some new products for my shop. I’m also booking in for lots of markets around Manchester too, I want to make sure I have at least one booked every weekend because I love meeting customers and other small business owners, its great to get that social element to the job. I’m working on some t-shirt designs with a new brand that’s soon-to-launch in the next couple of months, I cant wait to share what we’ve been working on soon. I also have a potential mural design in a bakery which is really exciting.
F: I’ve recently shut my online shop after two years to focus on client work. So scary yet so exciting. I’m currently working on my rebrand for my business and I’ve got a few branding projects for clients on the go plus repeat pattern designs for some international clients. I’m also trying to learn how to create art for me again, a big switch up in styles is happening. Its all go go go in the world of Foxanne at the mo!
Both Manchester-based, what are some of your favourite things about the city?
L: Where do I start! I just love it here. It’s a very friendly city, I’d say. Most northern cities are I think. There’s a very arty vibe in Manchester which I love, the street art is incredible. There are loads of really cool independent businesses here. The Northern Quarter is my favourite, there’s so many cool bars, restaurants, coffee shops, vintage shops and boutiques there. I just love it, its amazing.
F: I don’t think I could ever move out of Manchester, when I have days out in different cities by the end of the day I just want to get back here. I love the people, omg the people are so nice! I think Laura has summed it up nicely, there’s something for everyone. There’s so many people from all sorts of walks of life and we all have lobby chats over a nice cold pint of craft beer.
Laura, you recently created illustrated calendar depicting a range of women in different parts of the city, do you find Manchester an inspiring place, creatively speaking?
L: Yes, I feel like every time I walk around town I feel inspired. Like I said earlier, there’s so much street art and there’s so many fabulous people wearing fabulous clothes too, everyone is encouraged to be an individual here. I love the architecture too, which is why I really enjoyed creating the illustrations for the calendar.
How about you Foxanne?
F: Manchester forever inspires me. Manchester celebrates art like no other city (imo). Nothing ever stays the same, I’ve lived here all my life but each time I go into town I always see something new.
Where do you think are some of the best creative places to hang out or work in Manchester?
F: Kiera and Aimie who founded the Feel Good club are amazing. I used to go to the Freelance Fridays they used to host when they had less than 10k followers. What they have built is amazing and if you are in Manchester do go and visit! Everywhere in Manchester is so inclusive and so calming, I suffer with social anxiety but whenever I go anywhere in Manchester I feel like people get it? Myself and Laura have our face-to-face meetings in Sale Foodhall, they always have cool independent food places and they allow doggos. So my little Rescue staffy luna comes along.
What’s next for you both?
L: We actually just released a podcast episode about our goals for 2022. Personally, I want to focus on growing my mural and window art portfolio this year, along with growing my shop and working on a consistent income for myself so I have more stability.
F: I’m really manifesting big things for 2022. This is a big goal of ours but we would love to do a live show of one of our podcasts and have a panel of guests on. How cool would that be????!! Personally, I plan to work with some big brands and add those to my portfolio, I would love to go back to my routes of painting and do some murals, but 2022 is going to be about making money, making friends and building a community we can be proud of.
You can listen, like and subscribe to Laura and Roxanne’s podcast here, and check out their work here and here.
This week we talk to Kohenoor Kamal, a designer and illustrator from the North West on the highs and lows of freelancing, what sparks creativity and her favourite spots for inspiration across the North.
Can I start by asking you a little about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?
Hey Jenna! I’m an illustrator and designer based in the North West of England. I have been freelancing for a few years now and enjoy making bright, colourful works, which are influenced by my passion for colour, texture and detail.
I grew up in a Bangladeshi household surrounded by delicious Bengali food as well as the beautiful culture that comes with it. I think a lot of this has had huge influence on my work, from the intricate and detailed clothes my family wear to the food that my dad (a chef) cooks.
Growing up with a traditional Asian background as a first generation Bengali meant that I grew up with a lot of pressure and expectation of what kind of career I should have been looking at. The kind of person that I am always wanted to reject these expectations and pursue my own path of working in the creative industry.
I had many battles with my family about them supporting me on this journey and I think they found it quite difficult to accept that I wanted to pursue this venture as they are from a working class background and their main focus was to make ends meet. I think since then I have been very fortunate that they have been able to witness my passion for creating art and the work that I have been able to get off the back of this, which I am grateful for.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer and illustrator?
I have always been a creative person, but it was only when I went to university that I felt like I could use that creativity and work within the creative field. The good thing about the university that I went to was that I was able to explore different specialisms outside of design, some of those things included animation, illustration, photography and art direction.
At university I felt like I had the tools and knowledge on how I could pursue working as a designer and illustrator. Even though I had trained and studied within the realm of graphic design, I always had an interest in subjects outside of this, especially illustration. I would go on to embedding this into projects using my knowledge of design principles and experimenting with how I could play around with this hybrid of specialisms and use creative problem solving to answer briefs and produce artwork.
My course emphasised the integration of the contextual nature behind projects and this framework helped form the decisions behind my work, such as thinking about how I can make a meaningful impact with a design with the consideration of aesthetics too. In the past, I would make pieces of work that were visually appealing, but I think this extra consideration has helped me make more meaningful pieces of work.
How did you go about getting into the creative industries?
I think the key thing for me was integrating myself into the creative scene, particularly going to events (even virtual ones) and talking to different people. I used to find this nerve wracking, so to help me get out of my comfort zone I asked a friend if they would want to attend events with me to make things a little less anxiety inducing.
Social media has played a huge part in where I am now and the kind of work that I have been able to get. Whether that’s posting new work on Instagram or connecting with different pages that promote people’s work or creative resources where I have shared my own personal experiences on how I got into the industry.
How would you define your design style?
My design style is a combination of things , I like to embed texture into my work wherever I can as well as using bright and engaging colours. I have also incorporated illustrative features into my work to resonate with my differing creative qualities that I enjoy working on and combining all of these lovely things.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on a number of projects whilst I have the availability. Last year, I was juggling a number of projects, which was really exciting but also quite time consuming so I am now focusing on developing and experimenting with illustrations of food, portraits and animation.
I have a project that I did early on in the year with Root-ED and I was able to exhibit some of these food illustrations. Here, I illustrated an array of key ingredients featured in recipes which people had contributed to them. After doing this project I played around with more of this in my spare time, such as illustrating a recipe card of my own, which includes the ingredients to a special recipe of mine which my parents had taught me.
Animation has also been something that I have been playing around more with since working with Leeds Inspired to help them produce Call to Action artwork for their grants and website. There is something very fun about working out the logistics behind simple graphics and figuring out how to make something move fluidly.
What have been some of the career high and lows so far?
I am proud of the fact that I have been able to establish a career in an industry which can be quite cut throat especially having had obstacles in my way and out of my control, such as finishing my degree throughout the first lockdown and graduating into a pandemic, which left me and many of my peers with so much anxiety and uncertainty about whether we would be able to pursue this.
I’ve also been able to transition from one industry to another as well as be able to go back and forth between the two. With illustration and design, for a good amount of time I didn’t think I’d be able to pursue any illustration-based work but I think this was more about my lack of self-esteem. With time I’ve started trusting my process and seeing the engagement that I’ve received has proved that I can do both.
Something that I didn’t expect from working as a freelancer, is how much work can fluctuate from one extreme to another and managing my own expectations and setting boundaries. It can make me quite anxious when there are periods where it’s very quiet because it feels as though I won’t pick up any more work, but something that I’ve learnt is to look at this in a more positive light and utilise this time by working on more personal projects and refining my skills.
Also, I didn’t expect how reliant I would be on social media for getting new clients and also putting myself out there. It can be a double edged sword using social media as a freelancer and in your spare time, as well as the blurred lines between being on Instagram all the time and checking how much engagement you might get on a post or stories. I think it can become quite consuming when you fall into that state and I know that many people, myself included, still feel this way. But, I’m still thankful for having access to things like Instagram and Twitter where, even though I don’t have that many followers, I’ve been able to find so many more creative friends who are dotted all over the place.
I think another aspect I’m really quite proud of is the fact that I’ve been able to transition from one creative industry to another as although I studied a graphic design union, I actually wanted to study illustration but I wasn’t able to get onto this course at my university so I made use of what things I could learn on my course and then carried this through to what I was actually passionate about and I ended up creating this sort of hybrid of illustration work, which has subtle tones of design principles behind it and I think that’s what makes my work stand out. I’ve always found it tough to pinpoint myself because I have this multidisciplinary practice, which is inspired by so many different creative fields and it’s hard to say oh yes I’m this one particular thing but I think that’s just the nature of creativity.
What inspires you as a designer?
I feel like at the moment I am fluctuating between lots of different things I would love to work on or people I would like to work with. I have always admired the work of Studio Moross and I have been following the work of Aries Moross since I was in college. I love their use of experimental components using colour and texture. As well as this I love the work of Sha’an d’Anthes. The friends that I have made over the course of this journey have also played a large part into what I’m inspired by as the work they do motivates me to see the kinds of things that they are getting up to.
What would be your ideal project to work on?
My ideal project at the moment would be to work with more musicians. Whether that’s in the capacity of producing albums or single artwork or being able to work on print-based ephemera, as I have always had a passion for tactile things such as screen printing and making things with my hands. I think something that I’ve found since making the transition to making more work digitally, using programs such as Procreate, is that I don’t use many handmade processes anymore but this used to be something that was the key focus behind my work.
Could you tell us a bit more about the poster you created for In Good Company Leeds’ poster campaign?
Being able to work with Laura Wellington, my good friend George Brown and Kate Phipps on producing this poster design, as well as being able to see it large-scale plastered all over the UK to celebrate key workers — this poster design was probably one of the most exciting projects that I worked on last year.
I wanted to highlight some of these key workers and I illustrated a few people from mine and George’s family who are key workers. For example, I included a small illustration of my mum into this project and as a nod to many key workers who have worked really hard throughout the pandemic. In the design I wanted to portray a sense of empowerment and feeling proud that these people have worked really hard, and all sorts of colours are used to make it eye-catching so it could be visible in a variety of environments. I’ve actually had nurses, paramedics and teachers get in touch saying thank you for being part of the design.
At the time, George and I had just graduated from the same course and while both of us are very passionate about the work that we do, we were finding it hard to land design roles and jobs because of the uncertainty during the pandemic, so we were really grateful to have this opportunity to work with Laura and to make this poster design because it’s not often you get to go straight from university to having your work displayed on a mass scale, whilst also raising money for a good cause.
How has the North shaped you both personally and professionally?
I think the people have definitely had a huge influence over who I am today. I have met so many wonderful creative people in all kinds of industries and being able to learn about different people’s perspectives has only helped me become more open minded as a person as well being there to push me when I’ve needed it to pursue a project that I’ve wanted to do and put off.
As well as this, going to university in Leeds where there is an amazing network of creative people as well as the city in itself. I regularly go to exhibitions and meet up with creatives who are based there. Leeds has been the apex for a lot of things for me and I consider it a second home for me just as it has allowed me to find the confidence I needed to push the boundaries of what I could make and beyond.
Where are some of your favourite places in the North?
There’s too many to count but some of my favourite things to do in the North include popping into local independents to do some work and also catching some downtime with friends. Some of my favourite restaurants in the North can include Bundobust, Cafe 164 and Rudy’s Pizza as well as galleries such as The Whitworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where I go to get inspiration for new work.
What do you like to do outside of work?
This is a tough one as a lot of the things I love doing surround creativity in some form or another. I think my favourite thing is to go exploring or to see friends. Working as a freelancer, I find that often I’m either swamped with work or I have much quieter periods, so I like to use the most of my time to catch up with friends and go to galleries, cinemas and restaurants. I also enjoy cooking when I can. I grew up with Bengali food with my dad being a chef and I think that’s where I get my love for food from, I find it the most soothing thing to do when I feel stressed.
2021 was an incredible year of publishing for women. From the Northern writers making their mark on the Women’s Prize Futures Award to the authors dominating 2021’s Portico Prize Shortlist, there’s no doubting the talent that continues to emerge from our region.
Creating a list like this isn’t always the easiest task. While Northern women are still drastically underrepresented in literary publishing, narrowing our selection down to such a small number this time was the most challenging part.
We’ll continue to share the latest publications throughout the coming months, but for now, here are 10 books by northern women to read in 2022.
From the author of prize-winning Saltwater comes Milk Teeth, one of our most anticipated books of 2022. A story about love, identity and sensuality, Andrews’ next novel feels like the natural progression from her debut. Centred around a young woman from the North of England, Milk Teeth is set to be another powerful tale about taking up space, navigating the world and the people we meet along the way.
If you’re into literary biographies, cultish creativity and the world of alternative music, you’re going to love Ten Thousand Apologies. Co-written by singer Lias Saoudi and the acclaimed Yorkshire-based author Adelle Stripe, the book offers an in-depth exploration of the UK’s most notorious cult band – Fat White Family. Promising lucidity, humour and a definitive account of the era, this seems to be a must-read for music enthusiasts and culture fiends alike.
For avid non-fiction readers comes a disruptive, powerful and influential read from Bradford-born writer Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan: Tangled in Terror. In a bid to unpack the intrinsic narratives of Islamophobia from our history, society and daily lives, the book shows that until the most marginalised Muslims are safe, nobody is safe. If you’re passionate about current affairs, political meditations and looking past the surface level story, this is definitely one for your reading list.
January marks the publication of the long-anticipated debut from writer Lauren Brown. Hands, a memoir that offers ‘an anxious mind unpicked’, explores a whole host of themes alongside a central desire to uncover the roots of compulsive skin-picking. In the process, the book’s weaving narratives take readers on a journey through a young woman’s life, presenting joy, healing and a love song to the North.
Fitzcarraldo Editions are constantly serving up fresh and thought-provoking literature for their readership to enjoy, and 2022 is no different. York-based Daisy Hildyard’s Emergencyarrives in April, a novel about the dissolving boundaries between all life on earth. Stuck at home alone under lockdown, a woman recounts her 1990s childhood in rural Yorkshire. Dubbed as a reinvention of the pastoral novel for the climate change era, this one is undoubtedly topping our TBRs.
When Danielle Jawando’s powerful And the Stars Were Burning Brightly was published in 2020, it took the YA book world by storm. This year marks the arrival of her next novel, a powerful coming-of-age story about chance encounters, injustice and how the choices we make can completely change our future. When Our Worlds Collided explores the deep-rooted prejudice that exists within the police, media and our society today.
From the prize-winning author of the inimitable Treats and Supper Club comes The Odyssey, a book that promises a satire of modern life. Lara Williams’ latest novel follows Ingrid, a luxury cruise ship worker who is selected for the employee mentorship scheme that pushes her further than she thought possible. Exploring themes of class, consumer capitalism and unexpected voyages, this book is certainly set to cause a stir this spring.
Lovers of crime, take note: Manchester-based Stephanie Sowden’s debut is on its way. Set in modern America, this suspenseful story centres on Reeta Doe, who wakes up in hospital to be told she is responsible for the brutal murder of two women. She cannot answer the FBI’s questions – her only hope is Carol, a journalist who must follow the trail of devastation Reeta left in her wake. If you can’t get enough of a thriller, After Everything You Did is definitely one for the list.
Pragya Agarwal’s non-fiction work is some of the best there is, especially if you appreciate well-researched, fact-driven mediations alongside personal reflections. After the success of (M)otherhood: On the Choices of Being a Woman in 2021, this year offers Hysterical: The Gendered Nature of Emotions. Casting her astute gaze to another angle of feminist thought, the behavioural scientist sets out to chart how emotions really came to be so gendered.
After the storm of a debut that was Ariadne comes Jennifer Saint’s next mythological rewriting, this time bringing the tragic heroine Elektra to life. While focusing on the origins of the Trojan War and the dreadful curse blighting the House of Atreus, Saint is set to take readers on another female-dominated Greek adventure. If you enjoy the likes of Madeleine Millar, Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes, you’ll want to add this one to your 2022 stack.
Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England.
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.
For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.
As the year draws to a close and the nights draw in, candlelit reading becomes an absolute essential. November marks the launch of the perfect accompaniment: Sarah Schofield’sSafely Gathered In. Published by the incredible Manchester-based Comma Press, this electric short story collection is definitely one to add to your winter reading list.
“A woman grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails, offering advice and reminders even months after his death… A taxidermist dreams of preserving one of his clients after she takes him out for a coffee… A grieving nurse is troubled by her daughter’s fascination with The Iron Lady…”
With style comparable to Sarah Moss and the ability to evoke unease like Naomi Booth, Schofield’s storytelling certainly leaves a mark on her readers. One of the potent threads running through the collection is an obsession with objects. Schofield interrogates how they define us, our relationship to them and what they can eventually come to represent. This is the feeling delivered by the title story – Safely Gathered In – crafted in list formation to depict the contents of a series of storage units. While the idea seems simple, I loved how these inventories brought people and personalities to life without making their presence known. Powerful and unsettling, this story really sets the tone for the whole collection.
My favourite story opens the collection, cleverly entitled Dead Man’s Switch. Emmy, the plot’s protagonist, grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails offering advice and reminders even months after his death. Whether it’s home insurance or her upcoming MOT, David’s words of wisdom continue to arrive in her inbox. Sharing the annoyance with her sister Kath as she tries to move on with new partner Gary, the speight of emails allow Emmy to reflect on her old relationship as well as the new. I loved how this story sparked thoughts about technology and how the modern age we’re living in allows us to extend our lives beyond expiration. Schofield also played with objects in this story to experiment with ideas of memory, loss and grief. Fisherman’s Friends, knitting needles, old books. All of these objects define something, and the author allows the reader enough space to decide what that is.
“It’s their last day on the beach and Emmy slips out her phone while Gary goes to get ice creams. There is another email from David. It is a reminder to cancel or renew their wine subscription. She scrunches her toes into the sand, heat flashing behind her eyes. She presses reply.”
Another critical theme reflected in Schofield’s stories is motherhood. Keenly observed and told with captivating honesty, she captures the trials and tribulations of family life. In Termination Happy Meal, a mother takes her teenage daughter to a McDonalds, presumably after visiting the abortion clinic. Told over less than two pages, the story casts a searing light on the wrought
nature of mother-daughter relationships. Again explored through objects in the story, Schofield brings to life the conflicts of growing up and the decisions that define our lives. For a story of so few words, it really is a triumph.
I was lucky enough to hear Sarah read from her collection at a pre-launch event: a short story salon hosted by Blackwell’s Manchester. Reading alongside the incredible Lucie McKnight Hardy and Vanessa Onwuemezi, it was a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the collection in real life after such a long time without in-person book events. Schofield read eloquently and gave some key insights about her craft, particularly how she likes to write and how her stories come together. If you’re looking for a true example of how to create haunting, bold and brilliant short fiction, Sarah Schofield is the beacon to look to.
Safely Gathered In was published in early November 2021 by Comma Press. Support your local bookshop or buy your copy here.
Words: Beth Barker
Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England.
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.
For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.
This week, we speak to Kelly Bishop, Musician and Editor at Confidentials about growing up in the North, the women who have inspired her and her favourite places to eat in Manchester.
Could I start by asking you a little bit about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?
I was born in Lancashire but have lived in Manchester now for nearly 24 years. I’ve tried to leave many times, but it lures me back like a siren every time. It’s truly an addictive city. I’m Executive Editor at Confidentials which is a fun, irreverent, hyper-local lifestyle website covering mainly food and drink but also news, property, events, arts and anything else relevant and interesting in the local area. We have individual sites for Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. We are also just about to launch Confidential Guides which is a curated and super helpful restaurant directory that will eventually cover the whole of the North West.
I’m also an indie musician and have played in bands for about 25 years. I sing, write songs and play bass and guitar and rudimentary piano. My current band is a fuzzy, 90s alt influences power trio called The Empty Page. You can find us on Spotify.
What are your memories of growing up in the North?
Sitting in the back of my parent’s car driving down to Blackpool in the rain to see the illuminations – all the more dazzling through a drizzle-flecked windscreen at night. Walking, ruddy cheeked in the rolling, cut grass and manure scented Lancashire countryside with my dad and the dog.
My first visit to Manchester with my mum and being absolutely mind blown by Affleck’s Palace and The Corn Exchange, resulting in a lifelong love of incense, rosewood oil and tie dye.
Hanging out with punks on the monument that used to be on Market Street. Record shopping for hours on end at X Records, Bolton. Many breathless train rides after legging it to catch the train from platform 14 at Piccadilly. Playing some of my sweaty palmed first gigs at The Roadhouse and The Met in Bury and spending half my life in a musty scented rehearsal room plastered with posters of Bob Marley and cult films on an industrial estate in Radcliffe. Almost fainting as I lost my shit about seeing the firebrand Courtney Love in her torn nighty and smeared lipstick with her band Hole (and many other bands) live at Manchester Academy when it was quite a bit smaller. I could go on.
Which women have inspired you as a writer and a musician?
The aforementioned Courtney Love whose intelligence, confidence and massive talent left an indelible impression for life. Kate Bush when I was tiny, listening to my dad’s copy of Hounds of Love and yodelling along. Whitney Houston who taught me to belt my heart out via much hairbrush/mirror practise. Patti Smith whose poetry gives me shivers and whose androgynous cool empowers me. The holy trinity of the 90s: PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos for their absolute commitment to being their authentic selves. Skin from Skunk Anansie for reinventing what a rock frontperson could be and bringing ballsy political fire into the Dawson’s Creek schmaltz of the decade.
I was also a big fan of Sylvia Plath, Poppy Z Brite, Elizabeth Wurtzel and Margaret Atwood growing up. Later on, discovering Charlotte Perkins Gilman whose book The Yellow Wallpaper massively inspired me lyrically. As far as food writers go, I love Marina O Loughlin’s scathing and sarcastic Scottish tones and who doesn’t adore Nigella?
Do you see yourself as a creative individual?
Yes. I don’t like being too tunnel visioned and most of my life I have had at least two jobs at once for variety and flexibility around my music life. I like to escape as often as possible; few feelings are better than being in a van or on a train heading somewhere, anywhere. That gets the cogs turning. I often write on trains. I was a creative kid that spent a lot of time alone, reading and making up songs. For a long time, I didn’t have the opportunity to utilise my creativity at work, but I definitely do now. Looking after four websites and a large team of writers as well as writing myself as much as possible keeps me busy and allows me to push myself creatively. I try and write non-work stuff at least weekly if not daily too. I think it’s a good habit to be in. Creativity is a really transferable skill in the workplace and should not be underestimated.
How did you first get into journalism?
It wasn’t so much journalism that interested me, more creative writing. What I do now I guess is a light form of journalism but there’s not as much pressure as if I worked for a newspaper and I have a lot more freedom of expression. I had a pretty sketchy CV – because I mainly focused on my music for my 20s and early 30s – but I knew I had writing and creative skills so I started doing a bit of freelance copywriting to show my ability. I actually wormed my way into the place I work now by taking on a minimum wage Xmas internship calling up restaurants to ask about their upcoming January deals. I was in my 30s and working as an EFL teacher at the time. I didn’t enjoy the call-centre type role at all but I slowly got to know the team and kept pestering the then editor to let me do some writing. It’s funny because in my interview I remember him saying, you never know, you might be editor one day. And I laughed, thinking, I’ll be lucky if they even publish any of my writing. Well, the rest is history.
Did you ever have a mentor or someone to help you get into this field of work?
I didn’t have a journalistic or writing mentor, but I had a few friends that were much more experienced than me in getting “proper jobs”. My friends Sam and Issy taught me how to make my CV pop and how to fill in the gaps in experience or skills by doing some courses or getting a bit of work experience. They taught me that all my transferable skills from doing band stuff for years were really valuable in the workplace. They were basically amazing cheerleaders and helped boost my confidence at a time when I wasn’t feeling too great actually. The best kind of female friends. After that I suppose it was all me pushing to prove myself to myself as much as anyone.
As Executive Editor of Manchester Confidential, what does a typical workday look like?
Days vary quite a lot, but I usually start work before I get to the office, checking a few emails and Trello and doing some social media posts. At the office, I check in with my core writers and freelancers to see what they are working on and where they are up to, giving them whatever support they need.
If I have time, I try and do as much writing as possible myself too because I love it. Daily tasks can include brainstorming ideas, editing and subbing writers’ work and giving constructive feedback, making calls about which of the many, many stories that come to our inbox should be covered that week and which ones should be prioritised. Keeping an eye on Google Analytics and other stats. Social media. Lots of meetings. Editing and resizing photos. Several times a week there are restaurant or bar launches to attend – sometimes on the hoof – and we try to get out and about as much as possible to see what’s happening in the city. My team and I also spend time interviewing people that are doing exciting things in the North. Another big part of the job is restaurant reviews which we all do once or twice a month. It’s a pretty varied role to say the least.
What do enjoy most about working in journalism?
I just really love writing, so wherever I get to flex my creative muscles on that front I am happy. I’m also hugely passionate about food and wine (I am Level 3 WSET qualified) so I consider myself ridiculously lucky that a large part of my job involves eating everything from burgers to Michelin tasting menus and drinking everything from coffee to cocktails.
The hard part of being a critic is that people react really emotionally sometimes in response to reviews and all of our writers have had personal attacks on social media whenever they have published a particularly critical restaurant review which can be hard to process sometimes. But it’s really important to us to be honest when we review a restaurant. We pay our bill, don’t announce that we will be coming and have an experience like any random customer would have. Sometimes, that’s unfortunately not a good one and our readers trust us to give them the truthful lowdown. In a world of endless PR gush, I’m proud that we tell it how it is and that we have high standards of writing that make everything we write entertaining in some way too.
What are you most excited about doing in your new role as Executive Editor?
I’ve been in this role for four months now so not much is going to change but I am excited that the pandemic is starting to seem like it could be in the rear-view mirror soon. So much of our job is social, it’s been tough not having that side of it for 18 months or so. I’m excited to be able to move around the country a bit more, get over to Leeds and Liverpool more, things like that. What also excites me is finding new, talented writers. I’m always on the lookout for more of those and I love mentoring them to be the absolute best they can be.
Who will you be working with?
A lot of people think Manchester Confidential is a load of dusty old blokes because we have been around for almost 20 years now as a publication and our published Mark Gordo Garner has, shall we say, a strong personality.
Actually, my current team is largely female. Aside from me, there’s Vicky Andrews who is our Liverpool Editor. Vicky had freelanced for us for several years but when we decided to take on a full time Liverpool editor this year, she was my first choice. I was so pleased she accepted the role and she is absolutely smashing it.
We also have Sophie Rahnema who was brought in to be the editor of our new Confidential Guides site. She looks after that and also contributes to Manchester Confidential as a restaurant reviewer and feature writer. Sophie is a presenter on our video reels too. She’s doing a cracking job too in such a varied role, nothing is too much trouble for her. A real can-do gal.
Lucy Tomlinson is our News Editor and one of the smartest, sharpest women I know, she manages to balance motherhood (she has two kids under five) with eyeballing Andy Burnham, reporting on societal issues and waxing lyrical about baked goods – we’re so food focused that everyone has to write about food too. Lucy has been a restaurant reviewer for Confidentials for many years and her reviews always make me laugh, without fail. Our office in general is full of big, varied, diverse personalities. We have a lot of fun.
How do you balance your work as an editor alongside being a member of The Empty Page?
To be honest, I haven’t been able to tour since the pandemic started so it’s hard to say how difficult that balance will be now I have more responsibility at work. I’ve always managed by using my holiday allowance to go on tour or play one off shows so not much is likely to change on that front. I’ll just probably be checking emails in the van a bit more than I used to. My employer is really supportive. I’ve been in the recording studio for the past few weekends which has been a massive tonic after a year of not much music action but I do tend to burn the candle at both ends so my main focus is to stay healthy and not completely wear myself out.
When you’re not working, where can we find you?
At home in my city centre apartment watching John Waters films with my two cats and long-suffering partner. Watching live bands at one of the many cool music venues in Manchester or further afield. Rehearsing or playing live with my own band. Doing a bit of yoga, weights or cardio down the gym. Cooking far too much food on a Sunday afternoon. Having breakfast with my mates whenever we can synchronise diaries. And hopefully travelling the world again when it’s allowed.
In your opinion, where are some of the best places to eat and drink in Manchester?
THAT is a really difficult question because I could list 50 or so easily and because new places are opening every week. I’m a massive fan of Erst’s inventive, perfectly executed small plates, I love Indian food so cafe Marhaba for a fresh naan and old school rice and three or Mughli, Asha’s or Bundobust for something more modern, The Creameries for comfort food and great wine, Tast Enxaneta for a special occasion, Siam Smiles for face melting Thai food, Ca Phe Viet or Pho Cue for restorative broths. But this really is just scratching the surface. There is a preposterous amount of good food here.
If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
You never have to get a normal hairstyle or start wearing grey suits to get a good job – do things on your own terms. Stop dropping out of college, your brain is a great asset and studying is fun if you pick the right subjects. Travel, read, make music, dream and don’t worry about being ‘grown up’, it’s overrated.
Interview: Jenna Campbell Band images: Debbie Ellis/A Supreme Shot
To kick off our new series spotlighting the women creating the next generation of Northern brands, we spoke with Em and Jess, creators of Ellis and Low, a Manchester-based start-up that makes conceptual pieces for bold, contemporary women looking to shop small and sustainably. Named after the pair’s two glamorous Grandma’s, and with all the designing, making and packaging overseen by Em and Jess, we were keen to find out a little bit more about Manchester’s latest fashion design duo.
Tell us a bit about Ellis and Low, what is your USP?
We’re a startup luxury knitwear brand that creates conceptual pieces for bold, contemporary women looking to shop slow, small and sustainably. We love using colour and pattern to tell stories through our handmade knitwear, including tales from our own family history. Vintage knitwear and history in general really inspire us.
How did the two of you meet and how did you come to the decision to work together?
Believe it or not, we met at nursery so we’ve grown up together from the age of two! We’ve always wanted a business together and had many different, sometimes far-fetched, ideas. But, after university we realised knitwear was our passion and thus, Ellis and Low was born.
What was the inspiration behind Ellis and Low?
Audrie Ellis and Lily Low are our glamorous Grandmas. They taught us to knit and crochet at a young age so it’s only right we named our brand after them. We saw a gap in the market for fun, eye-catching sustainable knitwear and with our design styles being very different from each other, the juxtaposition makes for even more interesting designs.
Tell us about how you created your last collection?
We used our uni work as a starting point for our first two collections, the last of which was inspired by Jess’ textile designs based on the natural textures of wood and the cold-blooded nature of reptiles. We used a mix of handknit, crochet and wooden pieces to create a range of textures and the ideas for the shapes came from vintage knit patterns that our grandmas passed onto us.
What is something you both love about the North?
Other than the brill weather (!), our favourite thing about the North is definitely the people. There’s a real friendly vibe up here, you can spark a conversation with almost anyone. It’s full of creative minds so it’s a constantly inspiring place to live and work!
What can we expect next from Ellis and Low?
We want to grow our brand and get out there, attending maker’s markets and seeing our knitwear in stores. We hope to build our customer base so we can offer our bespoke heirloom knitwear service. This is where we’d use people’s family history and the stories they tell to design and make personalised pieces that can be passed onto future generations. We also have lots of exciting ideas for new collections so keep your eyes peeled!
Most business owners will tell you that the first year in business is the hardest. Creating a product is just the start; being able to align your own values and capture an audience in the depths of social media is no mean feat. Where ordinarily support and sales may spring from in-person networking and browsing customers, for the businesses starting in lockdown, their entire base has been enclosed within the four walls of home.
Eleanor Churchill, a fibre artist based in Manchester, is now the owner and designer at Ellamé Designs. What started as a way to keep her plants away from her cats and to decorate a newly purchased home, has led to an influx of macrame orders from eager shoppers. But, Eleanor’s business seems to have popped up at the right time – not only are her customers making a space for themselves that’s practical for working and comfortable for living, Eleanor’s seen a huge shift in her own wellbeing through its creation.
Could you tell me a bit about your background first of all?
Yes! I’m Eleanor (Ellie) – I’m a fibre artist, drummer and cat enthusiast from Manchester.
Of course, we have to hear more about your feline friends…
Sure! I have one very fluffy ragdoll called Avalon, he loves eating peppers. He’s also the size of a small dog. My other cat is a European shorthair called Jefferson Bootsie Collins (Boots), he’s an absolute terrorist to be honest, but incredibly affectionate and cute. It’s lovely having them as work companions.
How did you go from a genius hack to setting up your business?
I’ve worked in Digital Content Production in various places including the BBC and Hull City of Culture 2017 and I fancied a change. I worked a couple of very different roles whilst at the BBC and the one left me feeling a bit deflated as it was in Production Management and to be honest, it was draining and a bit boring. I preferred my time working on CBeebies and in my previous Digital Content roles. Because of this, I ended up being even more creative than I was and I tried out making a plant hanger for the first time; it went well, so I made more.
I eventually moved on to wall hangings, and everyday accessories which led me to setting up my Etsy shop. I worked a full time job and came home to work on my macrame every night, most lunches were spent in the post office! I found the response to my work overwhelming and by October last year I left my Content Producer job at the British Council as I felt ready to take the plunge.
How did it feel to receive your first commission or sell your first piece?
The first time I sold something was actually on Facebook marketplace, I couldn’t believe somebody wanted to actually buy it! The first time I was asked to do a commission I actually felt really confident because I’d been knotting away for so long I felt comfortable doing it. It felt great though.
How have you found the physical act of crafting and making during the pandemic? Has it contributed to your wellbeing?
Yes, so much. I can be a very anxious person at times even when I don’t necessarily show it. Macrame helped me relax when I felt stressed in my last BBC role, it gave me more of a sense of purpose a little like my drumming does and it helped keep my mind from overthinking about everything. I’ve certainly had my dose of anxiety over lockdown, but if I didn’t have my business keeping my brain occupied I’m not sure what I would be like right now.
How do your products make a difference to people’s spaces now we’re spending so much time living and working in the same area?
It gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that people are buying my products during lockdown especially. Their home is their personal space that I’m helping to make a brighter one for them. Whether it’s a guitar hanger, wall hanging or even a small plant hanger, I like the thought that someone will be looking up at it everyday and it could make them smile.
What challenges and successes have you faced developing a new business during the pandemic?
It’s been a year since I first started selling my products and I’ve already gone full-time with it, which to be honest I didn’t think would happen this early. So I would say that’s a success.
The challenge I had was working a full-time job to support what I was doing in the early stages as I was literally working all the time, day and night, I was very tired but I just persisted with it and knew I could succeed in it if I kept trying. I did a lot of research into Etsy as well, I don’t think a lot of people realise that it’s pretty much a big search engine so it operates differently to how they might think it does. In order to sell on there it isn’t enough to have great products, you have to understand its thinking and how to get your products seen. I find stuff like that really fun though, thankfully!
If you had free reign to create one mega bespoke design for a northern business which would you choose and why?
There’s a really lovely bar I like to drink at in Manchester called Wolf at the Door, it’s a pretty boho kind of place with heaps of plants and I love the interior, it’s really cosy. Upstairs they have a large piece of art that covers the whole wall and I remember thinking I would love to create something that huge for that space when I was last there. Perhaps something geometric and modern with some of my metallic rope.
You can find Eleanor @ellamedesigns on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.
What does it mean to be influential in today’s digital world? Is success only measured by how you’re perceived online? And if you have influence, how do you use it for good?
In the midst of lockdown and eager to find out the answers to these questions, journalist and broadcaster L’Oréal Blackett, created her own podcast, The Edit, which delves into the world of influencer culture. Unpacking the truth behind the likes, shares and hashtags, L’Oréal is using her voice to find out what it’s really like to have a personal brand, exploring the impact of having a popular presence online and how this has affected the individuals and brands dominating our social media feeds.
Having worked for the likes of the BBC, Bustle and Body Confidential, in a variety of reporting and broadcasting roles, alongside a number of gigs as an ambassador and presenter for businesses including Bumble, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, L’Oréal is by some people’s definition an “influencer”. However, like many women in journalism, she sometimes struggles with the idea of curating her own brand. Hence the creation of The Edit, a way to better understand the realities and expectations of influencer culture and the role that we all play in this shifting digital narrative.
Born and bred in Manchester, L’Oréal knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the media, “I was just set on it, it was either that or be a dancer”, she tells me over zoom, seemingly the most popular medium for conducting interviews, podcasts and webinars under lockdown. Taking a traditional route into the industry, she studied Broadcast Journalism at the University of Leeds before landing a placement aged 21 at MediaCity, the BBC’s Salfordian home, and as they say, the rest is history.
Well not quite, because to gloss over L’Oréal’s various career achievements, which include an editorship at Body Confidential, would diminish the hard work and determination that she, and many other women working in journalism – an industry dominated by white males – have put in over the years.
According to a report written for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism by Suzanne Franks, a professor of Journalism at City University London, women substantially outnumber men in media training but very few secure senior jobs and the pay gap between female and male journalists remains considerable. In another study by Reuters, released in 2016, it was reported that journalists were 94% white. Whilst publications such as gal-dem, Black Ballad, FEM Zine and Yellowzine have sought to make media and its reporting more diverse, recent events show just how much work still needs to be done in order to create a more representative media landscape.
For L’Oréal, a regular contributor to online platform Bustle, the roadblocks to success were apparent very early on. “It took me a while to really understand that media is a business before anything else,” she says. “From the SEO, to the clicks and links and everything like that, as much as some media organisations want to show themselves as quite radical, or tell the kind of taboo stories, you know the reality is they’re quite scared – scared of offending their core audience.”
Just a few weeks earlier, L’Oréal had written a piece for Bustle, who she credits as one of a number of platforms giving writers such as herself, a space to write about her own experiences and those of other women of colour, about the lack of mental health provision for black women and why it is imperative that this is put on the agenda. Exploring the narrative that Black women are stronger than others, L’Oréal sought to show that this doesn’t tell the whole story and that provision, access and representation with regards to mental health services is simply not where it needs to be to positively help and support women of colour.
L’Oréal explains that she feels now is the time to delve deeper into these subjects, which, in the past, she didn’t feel she could because the conversation wasn’t yet open enough. “Obviously the industry has changed. I would still write about mental health but in a broad way, but as a journalist it now feels like the right time to talk about something that does resonate with me but also with a lot of people,” she explains. “It’s great when I’m working with Bustle or other womens’ magazines, they’re open to sharing a wealth of stories, so I feel empowered by that. I feel comfortable writing about those things. I’m pleased to be able to speak about something that can be quite difficult in the black community.”
Part of the reason L’Oréal remains hopeful – in spite of both the racism and sexism she has faced in the industry – is because of her strong relationship with her family, who have always supported her dream to be journalist or fashion editor. “Maybe it’s a weird naivety in me but sometimes I feel I will always succeed, it’s been drummed into my head from my parents,” she says with a smile. “I never thought I couldn’t do something, but I did realize soon enough that it might be slightly more difficult. I wouldn’t say I’m thick skinned but I am so determined.” This dedication to her craft is supported wholeheartedly by her family who she credits for always inspiring and uplifting her, especially during the earlier phases of lockdown – a time that gave her the chance to press pause and consider her next steps.
Despite her year not getting off to the start that she had planned, the arrival of lockdown set off something inside of L’Oréal, who after taking some time out to focus on her health and wellbeing, through running and outdoor workouts, began to consider new ways to channel her media skills, which eventually resulted in the creation of The Edit podcast.
“Not to diminish what the virus is at all, but lockdown has grounded me and made me think about what I do. I think of ideas all the time and I don’t know where to put it sometimes,” she says taking a sip of her freshly brewed coffee. “You like talking so just do the podcast. I started there and just focused on one project. I centered in on the things I want to do and the podcast has been a natural fit and also a great distraction; what a time to explore another facet of yourself that you’ve never had time to do.”
Applying what she had learnt from her time in broadcasting, L’Oréal began to ask, what does it mean to have an influence in today’s digital world, speaking to guests such as Haçienda legend DJ Paulette, designer of positive vibes Zara Khalique and tech entrepreneur Melissa Snover about their experiences of influence, the sacrifices they have taken to keep up appearances and what it means to have a voice in today’s society. The podcast has also led the esteemed journalist to examine her own online presence and the side effects of time spent online.
“Instagram is a minefield, especially when it’s so image-led. I struggle with that. I love fashion, music, all of it, but I love to write and read, but I don’t always know how to marry it,” explains L’Oréal. “With the podcast, that’s me being me, you have to be yourself. That’s what a personal brand should be.”
Having seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of social media it seems like L’Oréal is already understanding what it means to have a significant degree of influence and has made sure to use it to challenge stereotypes and ask the difficult questions that need to be answered in these particularly polarized times. Meanwhile, she advises those looking to pursue a career in media to use Instagram and other platforms on their own terms. “There’s so many more opportunities for journalists now thanks to social media. Go get more than you ever could, whether it’s talking on panels, speaking, doing courses – you can supplement your income using it,” she concludes. “So don’t be afraid, don’t be controlled by how everyone else is using it, don’t let it be a negative thing, because it doesn’t have to be.”
You can read more of L’Oréal’s articles here and listen to the latest episode of The Edit here.
Rachael Kennedy is the owner of Grönn, one of the only eco hair salons in Greater Manchester. Grönn is self-described as:
‘North Manchester’s own cosy and luxurious community-minded Eco Salon with both hair and tea made with love.’
Rachael started her own micro business in 2011, working for herself but within other salons. She used this time to learn from others, understand what worked and what didn’t, what she would do differently, and how to avoid the mistakes others had made. Rachael shared what it is was that made her decide to finally take the plunge, “I’d been building up to getting my own salon for probably five or six years. Primarily the reason for opening the salon was needing to create some stability for my future. I turned 40 and decided it’s now or never! My parents lent me £3000 and that’s how Grönn was born.”
Rachael went on to explain why it was important to her to set up an eco, green business, “I’d say over the last 15 years, I’ve definitely become more environmentally conscious, becoming a consumer, making sure I knew were everything was coming from. I’ve always had a loathing of plastic bags, things like that. They’re just my real sort of staunch core values and I wanted to make sure my business mirrored those.”
She continued, “The mission and philosophy at Grönn is that we do fantastic hairdressing, but we don’t impact the planet while we’re doing it. I didn’t want it to be just scratching on the surface of being green so when you drill down further into the business commodities, you’ll also see our green credentials showing through. We’re with Ecotricity, which is the only wind powered, vegan society approved electricity and gas company. It was important for me, if I was going to do this and do it well, it really had to match my values and so I could hand on heart say I work with green integrity.”
With increasing national awareness and support for all things eco, a growing trend for going green, and consumers becoming ever more aware of what products they’re using and where they’re coming from, Rachael explains that there has never been a better time to run a green business.
“I think there’s been a massive shift in people finding eco conscious businesses, green products, natural products because I think we’re more aware now than ever about what we’re putting into our bodies, what we’re putting on our skin and how it’s effecting the environment. When I first opened Grönn, people used to ask ‘What’s an Eco Salon? I don’t understand’ but even in those five years it’s been a real upward curve in demand for eco conscious businesses and that just makes my heart swell. There’s a massive increase now in people wanting to do better and behave better.”
Grönn is situated in Bury, which may seem like an unusual first choice as home to a forward thinking eco business but Rachael explains why it was important for her to set up her business here, “Coming back to Bury was like coming home. I’m a Bury born northern lass from Lancashire and it just felt right. I did much of my hairdressing training and apprenticeship in Bury as well.”
After initially starting her micro-business in Chorlton, Rachael made the move back to Bury in 2016 to open her own premises, bringing with her a legion of eco-conscious, loyal clients. Nearby, Ramsbottom is quite an eco-conscious, forward thinking market town with a growing green community. Plentiful, a plastic free refill store, is based on Ramsbottom High Street.
The current world crisis put an abrupt halt to countless businesses and their 2020 plans, with many small business owners being the worst affected. Rachael shared how the initial shut down affected both her and her business,
“At first I felt a little lost and panicked. I started responding to the crisis in a similar way to other businesses around me but then I thought ‘Why am I doing that?’ The entire reason I set up Grönn is because I wanted to do things differently to other people. So, once I remembered that, and went back to doing things my way, I relaxed, and the business is still solid and still strong. I have a very, very loyal clientele. We’ve kept in touch via social media, sending out marketing to them, emailing, keeping in contact any way possible.”
Rachael went on to explain that after the initial shock of the situation, the unrequested break meant that she could take time to do some of the things building up on her salon to-do list. This includes a refresh for the building both indoors and out, so when the salon opens for business again, customers will have a refreshed surrounding. Rachael has even contracted a Vegan Builder to carry out the refit!
“We’ve been closed for 12 weeks. We actually closed before the officially guidelines because I felt increasingly uncomfortable that I may have been adding to the problems by remaining open. It’s been a tough three months for everybody but I’ve got new clients booking in everyday for when we do open with appointments.”
To Rachael, a sustainable business is also about how it operates, and she believes this approach has helped her bridge the COVID-19 crisis. She said, “I always wanted to ensure that the business has been able to run independently so to me that meant never taking out bank loans or business credit cards. I wanted to be able to pay for everything and make it as sustainable as possible. In the past I have had a little bit of debt trouble so I wanted to make sure that whatever happened, and if for any reason on a rainy day, I could make sure that that business survived.”
Grönn is hoping to be back open for business on Saturday 4 July 2020.
Here are three more of Rachael’s top tips for shopping eco and supporting local in Greater Manchester:
Earth Friendly Rocker is run by Lauren, a loyal Grönn client. Earth Friendly Rocker is based in Affleck’s Palace in the Northern Quarter and opened in September 2019. Lauren believes rocking out should not cost the earth! (Quite literally!) and she plants a tree for every purchase you make from them.
Veauty – An online vegan and eco beauty store run by another Grönn client, Kate Coop. Kate is soon to be opening a bricks and mortar refillable shop in Darwen that will be plastic free and entirely vegan.
1 Tree Cards – Rachael stocks 1 Tree Cards at the salon. They are 100% recycled paper and printed using only vegan vegetable-based inks. Plus, they come with a flower seed token inside as well!