We’re onto our third Inspiration interview! I’m delighted to be talking to Leone Botes this time round. Leone is the founder of The Natural Living Company, a digital eco-lifestyle boutique which launched earlier this year.
As with any start-up, there’s risk involved: will anyone hear about you? What will they think? Will they buy anything? And the risk is doubled when you apply it to a niche such as eco living, with a smaller marketplace and a need for transparency with all the suppliers you work with. (Click here if you need some mindful tips on being your own boss).
So I was really inspired to see how Leone’s business has grown since its launch, and that her drive to curate an eco brand has remained true to its word! She has successfully sustained her business despite giving herself serious hoops to jump through: only eco-friendly goods, only sourced from British enterprises, and only packaged using 100% recyclable materials. Serious inspiration!
1. What sparked your ambition to start living in a more natural way?
I think it all started with education. It’s easy to go about your daily life as a consumer without thinking too much about where products come from and what they are made of, especially because big corporations have a way to market things in a certain way, which often omits vital information to the consumer. As more research and information has become available to us in a factual and digestible way with the likes of shows such as ‘The True Cost’, ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘Before the Flood’ it certainly makes you think, how have we let it get this bad? You then see how the predictions for our future that these shows are depicting have become a reality sooner than anyone had imagined.
What dawned on me was that there is a way to live that doesn’t mitigate the finer things in life (which I as most people are partial to!), but can help preserve the beauty of our planet. Simply swapping everyday items for eco-friendly alternatives has been an easy and interesting experiment for me. Some take a little more research (e.g. finding a deodorant that actually works!), but in general I’ve found going green has meant I’m using products that are better quality, last longer and are kinder to my body. It can also be a fun challenge.
2. Prior to starting The Natural Living Company, what career did you pursue? Does it have any influence on your business now?
I studied Business Management with Entrepreneurship at The University of Southampton, graduating in the summer of 2013. I have come from a family of entrepreneurs and so starting a business didn’t daunt me as much as maybe it should have!
I didn’t really know what to do when I graduated so did a stint in a Fleet Street bank and then went travelling for ten months to ‘find myself’ haha. Apart from having an incredible time and seeing some unforgettable sights, what I promised myself was that I wanted to do something I enjoyed, as you spend such an incredibly large amount of your life at work!
I have always loved interior design and architecture, so after turning down a full time role at a bank on my return, I started working for a large fabrics and wallpaper company in Chelsea Harbour. I learnt a huge amount working in their PR team, it was important to see the operational side of business and the growing influence of digital marketing. It made me realise that to be successful, you have to be authentic and honest with the consumer.
3. Your eco approach as a small business is surprisingly rigorous – was it difficult to source such eco-friendly products, or even your recyclable packaging?
I felt that if I was going to be an eco-friendly business, I had to have certain standards that I didn’t veer from (and it’s easy to do!).
We only stock clothing either made from organically grown cotton, hemp or bamboo. I decided early on that one of the huge carbon emitters was the fact that we import so many brands from overseas, which of course widens the market hugely, but we have so many wonderful and innovative eco brands in the UK, that we decided to only stock small UK makers.
It has been difficult as sometimes a brand will be 90% there and then part of the packaging is non-recyclable plastic and so we have to say no. It’s about being accountable and keeping to these standards. Luckily many other businesses have the same goal and those are the ones we choose to work with.
We only use 100% recycled paper for our packaging, with a die-cut layout so the box slots together without the need for excessive plastic tape. We use 100% recycled kraft paper to cushion and wrap. Our hand-written cards are also 100% recycled and we use jute string or organic cotton ribbon for gift wrapping.
4. Who do you admire and take inspiration from?
I admire other women, so much. There is a definite movement happening at the moment, women are beginning to be taken seriously in the workplace and are creating opportunities they didn’t have 20 or even 10 years ago. Social media has given many people a voice and that excites me, from all around the world we are connected with every gender, ethnicity and social background. It has got the conversation of change going and is hopefully going to help accelerate equality.
5. Do you have anything exciting planned for the future?
There are many exciting things coming up! We hope to start a men’s range very soon, expand our women’s and baby + child offerings and open a pop-up shop in South West London. Plans are still in the works so this won’t happen before Christmas, but hopefully soon after! Although our online shop is where most of our traffic comes from, it’s nice to have customer interaction and a flagship for those wanting to feel/ try the products before buying.