HOW IT ALL BEGAN
We (Ali and Alex) met in London. Ali was working in Corporate Finance and after a brief stint in Interiors I had just completed some voluntary work in Kenya when we decided to head off on around the world trip – this was in 2002. First stop east Africa.
Our travels took us from Africa onto India where we explored more traditional crafts and met with more small businesses. Over the year we were away, we sent numerous purchases home on ‘slow boats from Africa and India with a view to selling them on their return.
The first container of products was delivered to a hayloft on Dartmoor, unloaded by our dear family and friends. All the orders were picked and packed by hand, which meant often working through the night, in freezing cold Dartmoor winter temperatures, to meet deliveries. (Our first child spent a lot of time in a makeshift cardboard cot, kept warm under piles of coats and hats!)
The Hayloft warehouse eventually became a third-party logistics firm, the bedroom office upgraded to a garage, a garden shed and finally a proper office located in an old Mill in Dartington; and the market stalls became a stylish lifestyle store in a conversion of barns, located just outside Totnes.
From the outset we were inspired and humbled by the artisans we met and felt there was something we could do to work and support the artisans as well as providing a business opportunity for ourselves. Our passion for the environment and fair-trade practices as well as an interest in traditional crafts and interiors, combined to form the basis for Nkuku.
The original business plan was jotted down on the back of a paperback on a beach, and the name Nkuku was borrowed from a village we passed through in Zambia. The plan focused on the same core values that are maintained to this day: Ethical, Eco-Friendly and Handmade.
Moving out of London to rural Devon, we started selling ‘our wares’ at markets from Totnes to Portobello, as well as county fairs, using the proceeds to return India to develop our first own designed collection of photo albums, journals, and photo frames. With limited funds for travel, we decided to focus on one country, working with a family business we had met on our trip.
Nkuku started out life as a wholesale business selling to independent stores throughout the UK before developing into a retail brand. Over the years, our dream of creating pieces for the home has become a reality and the collections now included a variety of homewares from tableware and storage, to lighting and furniture. Importantly, the very first journal is still in the collection today.
Our family has grown too, and we now have four children who are brilliant at testing and critiquing our products! They are also lucky enough to visit many of our suppliers and share our love of travel. We have been joined by an incredible team of people, who are helping to continue the journey, and who share our passion for stylish homewares handmade with values in mind.