From an ethical documentary maker to a home-grown workwear business, we spoke to some of the standout brands at this year’s feel-good craft festival.
Build your own bike, wear clothes made to last or eat chocolate sourced directly from an indigenous tribe in Peru. Today the most interesting brands don’t just sell products – they sell ideals and a particular way of life.
The Good Life Experience, an annual craft festival that took place at Hawarden farm estate, North Wales last weekend (15-17 September) hosts a diverse array of such brands each year. In tents dotted across the sprawling grounds, traders specialising in everything from food, fashion and literature exhibit their goods and services, all with the promise of helping people live ‘the good life’.
Some common values run throughout – most notably a clear rejection of consumerist culture in favour of sustainability and healthier living. This involves selling quality, naturally sourced products that prioritise physical and mental wellbeing.
JADED toured the market areas at this year’s The Good Life Experience, speaking to the founders, creators and craftspeople behind some of these brands to get a sense of how – both individually and collectively – they are striving to reshape our lives, and our world.
Love and pride
One consistent message from the brands on show was their deep-rooted love for what they do, and their desire to impart that love to consumers. Andrew Denham, founder of The Bicycle Academy, was effusive about the benefits of crafting and building something from scratch, rather than just accepting the conformity of mass-produced goods.
His Somerset-based business teaches courses on how to build bicycles to anyone who is interested, from people working in the profession to complete amateurs. Those who enrol on a course learn intricate craft skills, while also getting to keep their own self-built, high spec bike at the end of it.
Denham believes The Bicycle Academy, which has been running for five years, is tapping into a desire from certain people for greater fulfilment in their lives, including a more emotional attachment to the products they buy and use. “I’ve seen plenty of grown men cry – purely from that feeling of making something that’s legitimate and recognisable,” he says.
“Lots of people work in jobs where they can’t explain to their parents what they do. What underpins [what we do] is a desire from people to make something tangible with a direct and immediate application, and where you can experience a sense of mastery.”
Pablo Spaull, founder of artisan chocolate brand Forever Cacao, is also building a community of customers based around their passion for a particular product. He began developing the award-winning brand five years ago after learning through a friend about the Asháninka tribe in Peru, which grows both coffee and cacao beans sustainably within its community.
Spaull sources his cacao direct from the indigenous people, skirting middle-men who might trade unfairly with the tribe. Forever Cacao is sold in both independent shops and online, including the subscription service Cocoa Runners, an online community for people seeking specialist high quality and ethical chocolate.
“Buying the beans from the Asháninka people helps to safeguard their way of life, so it’s a win-win for conservation and for Forever Cacao,” he says.
Spaull also spoke about his passion for the product at a ‘chocoate meditation’ tasting session during the festival. Indeed traders of all varieties hosted demonstrations to encourage people to experience the skill and craft behind their products first-hand. Gail Bryson, a designer and screen-printer who applies her colourful geometric patterns to limited edition prints, ran a workshop from her stand to give people an insight into the manufacturing process.
“It’s the first [workshop] I’ve ever done and I’ve really enjoyed it,” she says. “People get excited about learning something different and doing it for themselves. It’s more of an experience – the whole ethos of the festival is about trying different things and something new.”
Developing quality products invariably means sourcing the best possible raw materials. Old Faithful, a natural skincare brand based in South Wales, uses high quality unrefined natural ingredients and essential oils from reputable growers and suppliers, shunning the lab-based formulations used by big FMCG conglomerates.
Founder Gareth Daniel started the business after discovering the therapeutic benefits of essential oils during a period of ill health. Daniel decided to teach himself how to use and mix different skincare ingredients, which included taking an aromatherapy diploma.
Having launched full-time last year, Old Faithful is now stocked in a range of independent stores and premium online retailers such as The Future Kept. “There’s a revolution going on at the moment with artisan skincare in a similar way to craft beer,” says Daniel.
“It’s about using natural, high quality ingredients and using older processes rather than everything being done with synthetic chemicals in the lab.”
Handmade accessories brand Rural Kind similarly takes pride in the quality of the materials and the craft that goes into its products. All goods are designed and made by the business’s two co-founders Nia Wood and Mike Watt in a small workshop in rural Wales. Products include bags and glasses cases made from leather sourced within the British Isles and traditional materials such as solid glassware and copper rivets.
One of the brand’s stated aims is to return to a more sustainable time when quality and craftsmanship were valued over the mass produced and poorly constructed. “Our main aim is to make products well so that they last – to do everything well, rather than quickly,” says Wood.
Meanwhile workwear and fashion brand Spry Workwear sources hard-wearing fabrics from its base in Great Yarmouth. Founded last year by journalist Daisy Bridgewater, the brand offers a line of stylish women’s workwear that it describes as a celebration of the many disparate roles of modern working women.
Molly Wickens, sales assistant for Spry Workwear, believes the brand fits perfectly with The Good Life Experience festival. “It’s very cultural and everyone here is so different,” she says. “With a business like this you might think that a particular type of person will buy it, but then a completely different type comes along and buys some [items]. There are so many different cultures and ways of life represented.”
Creative and curated
The desire to offer something crafted and unique extends to the arts and startup media brands too. Love Nature, a broadcaster that offers on-demand streaming of family-friendly nature documentaries, set up a tent in the heart of the festival to showcase some of its latest films.
Director of international marketing Chiara McKee explains that as “the new kids on the block in natural history production”, Love Nature is a challenger to the more established players and TV networks.
“We’re probably the largest producers of 4K natural history content in the world at the moment,” she says. “What makes us different from the National Geographics of the world is that they’ve started to go down the reality TV route somewhat – it’s becoming more about infotainment and drama now. We are proper blue chip natural history content.”
Love Nature combines this challenger mindset with ethical principles that include donating a percentage of its revenues to charity partners such as WWF and Game Rangers International, some of whom it partners with on its documentaries. The business states that it is now producing about 200 hours of nature documentaries a year.
In the realm of books, meanwhile, The Do Book Company was spreading its positive vibes in various guises across the festival. The business produces a series of inspirational guidebooks, each one authored by a speaker from its sister Do Lectures series.
These cover a wide range of topics including smart working (Do Disrupt by Mark Shayler) and slow living (Do Wild Baking by Tom Herbert). “It’s very much based in this idea of inspiring people to make changes in their life,” explains publishing assistant Caleb Fanshawe.
“We’ve got a good mix of everything from making bread, which is very hands-on, to how to set up your business and make your brand stand out.”
This eclectic approach is mirrored by Newland Supply Co. The adventure-inspired apparel and accessories brand was founded in 2015 by Joe D’Arcy and Will Parsons with the aim of bringing together exclusive handpicked collections sourced from companies around the world.
The Oxfordshire-based business curates and sells items from specialist suppliers such as Sanborn Canoe and Topo Designs. This collaborative, open approach to retail is becoming more popular as consumers seek access to high quality specialist goods and services.
It felt like a good fit with the community feel at the festival, too. Indeed when JADED went in search of the people behind Newland, one of its co-founders was found helping out on another brand’s stall.
“[The festival] is family-friendly – it’s one of those places where we could almost leave our stall unattended and you know people aren’t going to come up and take things,” said Parsons. “Everyone looks out for each other.”
Perhaps the best example of this community ethos is Anthony Oram, print designer and founder of outdoor apparel brand Auxiliary Outside Projects. He explains that he came to exhibit at The Good Life Experience after winning a competition run by Pedlars, the vintage marketplace owned by two of the festival’s co-founders Charlie and Caroline Gladstone.
The prize saw Oram and his partner join the Gladstones on a buying trip to the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts, USA in 2014. The Gladstones launched the first Good Life Experience event later that year and asked Oram to participate. The rest, as they say, is history.
It seems like a fitting tale to sum up a festival built on entrepreneurial spirit, market disruption and steadfast ethical values. “[The festival] has grown a lot in four years, but at the same time it still feels small,” notes Oram.
“That’s one of the things I really like about it.”