Thursday 28 July 2016

2inspire Inspirational Woman: Louise Davies, Founder of Eighteen Rabbit

Meet the founder of ethical retail business, Eighteen Rabbit, Louise Davies and be inspired to change the world from wherever you are!

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?

The shop opens at 9.30am so I'm lucky that I can have a leisurely start to the day. I'm usually up at 7.30 and check my emails, over a cup of Grumpy Mule fairtrade coffee. I’ll then print any postage details for any online orders that have come in over the last 24 hours. I try to get to the store early and drive the mile or so from my rural house in my hybrid car. I like to make sure it's clean and tidy and stock is replenished before the doors open. Then it's a hopefully busy day in the shop, chatting to customers and explaining the stories behind our unique products. I also keep on top of our social media, place orders for new stock or check in with our supplier organisations, and keep our website up to date.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?

The retail business is a sort of evolution of sustainable business that began in 2006. After spending a year in Mexico and Central America, I decided I needed to do something that had a positive impact on the world. This started by using my expertise in event management, and creating an events agency that focussed on delivering environmentally friendly events. When this peaked in 2012, I wanted to do something with a focus on people, and that's where the idea of a shop supporting fair trade producers started. It tied in with a desire to leave London and get a better work life balance. My husband and I moved to the fantastic book town of Hay-on-Wye, which is packed with interesting, creative people, and it seemed like the perfect spot to try out our new retail idea.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?

Opening the doors to our 'high street' store last summer. We'd spent a couple of years building the brand from a pop up shop, to a more permanent offering in a poor location, and the move to a great spot in the heart of a wonderful town really proved that we'd hit on something good.

It has also been a brilliant experience becoming part of the community here in Hay-on-Wye. I’ve been involved in a number of charitable projects, including Hay2Timbuktu and Fairtrade Hay which has helped me meet new people and do something worthwhile. I also DJ now and then at local gigs, and with two amazing festivals on our doorstep (Hay Literature Festival and Green Man) there’s really never a dull moment here! 

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?

 The big move from London to rural Wales was a challenge in many ways - a complete life change, leaving a successful business for a new venture, and not knowing what lay ahead. But I gave it my all, and dived in to the new business and community head first, and haven't looked back.

What are your future plans for the business?

I would love for fair trade to not exist to be honest! Wouldn't it be great if all those involved in making the products we buy were treated fairly as a matter of course? Sadly, that's unlikely to happen in the near future, so I want to spread the message of fair trade far and wide. We plan to build up our online business and have just started selling internationally. I'd also love to open a second store in Bristol or Glasgow, and hope to have a handful of shops on British high streets by 2021.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

It's hard to say - I'm not one for regrets. Arguably, the slow, organic development of the shop may have hampered our growth, and perhaps spending more time developing the brand and stock range and launching with a bang would have been a quicker route to success.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?

 Sadly, even in 2016, there are still many barriers facing women whatever career path they follow. Seeing women in a variety of roles - from politics, to business, or the creative industries - should hopefully help those lacking support or confidence feel that there are opportunities and a need for their skills.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?

I see myself as straddling two industries - ethical business and retail. I'd say absolutely go for it with an ethical business, this area will only grow and there are so many opportunities to grab hold of. And of course all the people in this industry are absolutely wonderful! Retail, however, is a tougher space right now. I would say start online to test your idea and keep your overheads low. We really need innovative retail to start reviving our high streets, but what we really need is investment from the Government - both from Westminster and locally - to make that a possibility.

What or who inspires you in business and why?

 I'm genuinely inspired by the suppliers we work with on a daily basis. Whether it's UK based jewellery designers commissioning amazing pieces from their partners in India, or workers directly in Cambodia crafting beautiful accessories, working from home and suffering from HIV. It's inspiring to see the dedication and artistry and it gets me out of bed every morning to know that my business is helping to improve their lives.

What is your favourite inspirational quote?

 "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead


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