[6 MINUTE READ]
Happy New Year's Eve everyone! We know many of you will be rejoicing as this very difficult year comes to a close, and we are too. To help set you all on the right path for 2021 (and because New Year’s Day falls on a Friday this year), we have once again brought our Friday Founder interview forward.
This week, we spoke to Paul Firmin and Niko Dafkos, the co-founders of Earl of East, the lifestyle and home fragrance brand that sells everything from candles and books to ceramics.
The Co-Founders reveal how they got the idea for Earl of East and why they favour work/life integration over work/life balance. So, to jump into 2021 with the right mindset and a renewed passion for your work, just grab a cup of coffee and keep reading.
Good morning Paul and Niko and welcome to CAROLINA GMX. So, when did you decide to start up Earl of East and why?
PF: Before we founded Earl of East, Niko and I would spend every weekend doing the typical East London thing of trawling Broadway Market and independent shops, cafes and restaurants. We always wanted to get more involved in that community. We would also spend some time in LA and loved the indie stores there. We felt like no one was really doing the same thing over here. The initial idea was to create a lifestyle store, which we started as a market stall at Netil Market.
"We now have around 230 stockists worldwide, three stores and have extended our range to include bath and body products too."
So you found the gap in the market at the right time. Could you talk a bit about the products you stock and produce?
ND: We began to stock everything from cacti and candles to curiosities and mid-century ceramics. Being surrounded by such talented makers at Netil inspired us to start making our own products, and within a year we had our core line of candles. It took six months of making candles at home, and a lot of trial and error, before we launched the line in July 2014. By that point, we’d gone from being a one-off market trader to a weekly trader to opening a 10ft x 8ft shipping container as a permanent shop.
That must have been such an exciting time for you both! How did Earl of East progress after that point?
PF: So, by September of that year we were working with Selfridges, and by the end of the year we had 25 stockists. We now have around 230 stockists worldwide, three stores (one in London Fields, two in Kings Cross) and have extended our range to include bath and body products too. We also run workshops, events and have released our debut book, The Scented Candle Workshop, which has become an Amazon bestseller. There is a lot going on, so it is funny to think that just five years ago it was only an idea, and not even a fully formed one.
It’s really amazing how a well-built business can flourish so quickly. You know that we are very big on sustainability. How does sustainability factor into Earl of East as a business?
ND: Sustainability is a big part of our business and it always has been. Firstly, all Earl of East products are handmade in our studio in Hackney, which reduces our carbon footprint significantly.
PF: In terms of our products, our candles are made out of 100% eco-soy [non-GMO] wax that is manufactured in the UK and our glass bottles, jars and tubes are fully recyclable too. This year, our refill candles have been extremely popular. We worked with local ceramicists and artists to create bespoke vessels which customers can then return to get refilled. We are looking to extend this scheme next year as there has been a lot of demand for it.
That is great to hear, and I am especially glad that more consumers are demanding these options from the brands they shop with. Do you think people are also more conscious of the ingredients in the products they purchase nowadays? If so, why?
PF: Yes definitely! Equally, I think that brands have a responsibility to be transparent about the ingredients in their products and how and where they have been sourced.
Totally! And what were your biggest challenges in starting up a business?
ND: Both working our day jobs whilst trying to grow the business was probably the biggest challenge, but it did allow us to take risks and put trust in our team from very early on.
I can imagine that being extremely tricky to balance. What is your favourite thing about your job?
PF: The variety; no day is the same!
That always keeps things exciting! Describe your biggest “pinch-me” moment so far with Earl of East.
ND: There have been many moments but it is often a few months after the fact that we really get time to appreciate them. Writing the book has been an incredible experience, and opening our second store in Coal Drops Yard was a game-changer.
PF: We have many facets to our business and we like that diversity. We really want to grow in other markets and are focussed on how we do so in an impactful way.
"If you integrate your work into your life and stop battling with it, it stops feeling like work."
It sounds like you have your feet firmly planted on the ground. What inspires you both?
Both: Travel, creativity, collaboration and other entrepreneurs doing well in their areas.
I love that! So many businesses are focussed on their competitors in a negative way. It is brilliant that you look to others for inspiration. Could you describe what an average day looks like for you?
PF: The beauty is that there is not an average day. We split our time between the shops, the studio and home. We tend to work long days but have managed to rid ourselves of the typical London rush hour commute, in favour of a life that is more about work/life integration rather than balance.
ND: Weekends are our favourite days as we are always in the shops or teaching. It is the peak time for the business and whilst our days start at 7 am and finish at around 9 pm, there is a real buzz that comes with seeing the business functioning and flourishing.
Could you talk a little bit more about the idea of work/life integration as opposed to work/life balance?
PF: We believe in work/life integration, rather than work/life balance because if you integrate your work into your life and stop battling with it, it stops feeling like work. That is the sweet spot.
That is a really interesting approach. Finally, What words do you live by?
Both: Create, curate, collaborate and community.
Liked what you read? Head to the Earl of East site to shop now!
Alternatively, if you fancy checking out some of our previous interviews, you can find them here. Want more from CAROLINAGMX? Check this out: The Ultimate Review of UFO 2 By Foreo Sweden- Is It Worth It?