‘It’s the Norwegian word for friends,’ says Lucie Ellen, referring to the name of the sustainable gifts and homewares store she started with her mate Tiff Howick.
‘I’m half-Norwegian too,’ adds Tiff, ‘and so it also references our shared fondness for Scandi design. The word ‘Venner’ perfectly describes us, our suppliers, neighbours and customers: it’s basically the ethos of our business – being kind and friendly to the planet as well.”
With that in mind, everything the pair stock in the boutique on Leyton’s independent shopping haven, Francis Road, is handpicked and ethically (not to mention meticulously) made, from ceramics to jewellery, prints to skincare products. ‘There are over a hundred different micro businesses that we work with,’ says Lucie, proudly.
Rewind to the early 2010s and the friends’ paths first crossed while selling their own work – Lucie jewellery, Tiff screenprints – at designer-maker markets across London. ‘Over the years we had both met lots of lovely people who create the most wonderful treasures,’ says Tiff, and it was these diverse contacts who formed the backbone of the store.
Lucie had moved to Leyton in 2012, while Tiff’s history with the area goes back a couple of decades. By spring 2017 it therefore seemed natural to be talking about doing a local pop-up – which led to the friends stumbling across a property on Francis Road that had lain empty for six years. The pop-up idea was soon abandoned – and a bricks-and-mortar vision took hold.
What do you love most?
1. Sourcing stock
‘We’re meticulous in choosing products, and when we find something that ticks all the boxes it’s a great feeling. We ask a lot of questions about the production methods and materials. We love things with a minimal but fun Scandi aesthetic, and things made locally are a huge plus.’
2. Being part of the community of Francis Road
‘It’s a hub of independent businesses, we’ve become great friends with other business owners and our lovely customers. There’s always someone to wave to and have a chat with.’
3. Getting to know our makers and suppliers
‘It’s been a joy stocking work by a whole bunch of talented makers and seeing their business grow and flourish alongside our own.’
They managed to track down the landlord, swiftly agreed a contract, and then set about restoring it. ‘Previously it had been a newsagent, a wine shop and an office,’ says Lucie. ‘We found beautiful floorboards underneath piles and piles of lino. We scrubbed, stained and varnished them, had to make all of our fixtures and fittings, put a kitchen in, and even make the counter: in fact, we did everything, pretty much.’ Lucky they’re both self-confessed DIY nuts.
Finally flinging open the doors on October 12th that year, from the start they wanted ‘to make sure that the things we’re selling do have the lightest impact. Shopping with us helps support our brilliant suppliers too, a fantastic bunch mostly based in the UK, who care about sustainability as much as we do. We’re proud to be part of the growing trend for conscious consumerism.’
Lucie’s guided stroll round Venner
‘Step inside and on the left is the skincare and bathroom section: things like face cream, deodorant, soap, bath salts, face masks, shampoo, candles and fragrance; we try and make sure it’s as plastic-free as possible. And we offer refill options. Most of it is completely natural, made from organic ingredients.
Then we have the ceramics, my favourite corner. We work with some really wonderful potters everywhere from Bristol to Leyton. Adjoining this is paper and stationery: cards are what we sell the most of, so we always have a changing selection. Prints and artworks, many by local East London artists, are here too.
Our most popular section is kids’ gifts. We ensure it’s either plastic-free or recycled, like the Greta The Great turtles made from recycled ocean plastic, which is absolutely brilliant. Everything’s really cute – like the guinea pig, which we literally can’t keep on the shelves – and it’s all got a Scandi vibe. We source products that are gender neutral, we don’t really like the whole pink-for-girls thing.
Next to this in the right hand corner are the gardening and zero waste eco-friendly cleaning products. Again, just try and make sure that everything is plastic-free, so all the brushes have natural bristles and we’ve got sustainable alternatives to a lot of everyday stuff.
And then the jewellery. We work with many different suppliers; my own pieces, which I make in my garden studio in Leyton, will also be back on sale soon.
Finally, on the centre table is a mix of items, from beautiful recycled glassware, made in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, to stylish water bottles – and, of course, socks. We sell a lot of socks. What else do you get for someone who’s got everything?’
Visit now and, to celebrate the store’s 4th birthday, you can enjoy 10% off all products until October 31st. Just quote Leytonstoner at the till or online as a discount code. Follow @venner_leyton on Instagram and Twitter.
Find Venner at 200 Francis Road, E10 6PR, open daily 10-5pm (Sundays 10-4pm). To explore the range and shop online from the comfort of your sofa click here.
Main image: Garry MacLennan.
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