Indie of the Week #43: Sparrow & Co

Reindeer Skin Rug : sustainably sourced from the Sami people in Scandinavia

Reindeer Skin Rug: sustainably sourced from the Sami people in Scandinavia

Samuel Sparrow runs his online shop Sparrow & Co from Glasgow where he designs and sources items with a utilitarian feel. What started as a concept in 2010 moved fast - so fast that he only had a blog up and running, no proper website, when people started taking an interest. On the day that he was sitting in front of a panel from the Prince's Trust seeking funding for his start-up he was featured on the hugely popular blog Design Sponge: his stats went from 50 a day to around 5000.

He got the cash and subsequently his range of candles was picked up by the American company that owns Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters; they bought his entire collection and stocked them in hip US garden/home store Terrain. He spent his first year in business packing up candles. 

Sparrow remains sanguine about this dramatic beginning; he knew they would only stock them for a short while (they did) and he was keen to diversify into new product areas anyway, in fact they're not a big part of the business any more. The current range is small and ethical sourcing and sustainability are key principles behind it. The reindeer skin rug made by the nomadic Sami people comes from Scandinavia, via a distributor, and he's comfortable stocking it. "There’s sometimes a bit of controversy about animal skins, but I wanted to show the provenance and the story of where and how it's made" he says, "They use every single part of the animal, it’s not just being killed for its skin".

Whereas five or ten years ago people didn't really care where their homewares came from it's a much more commonly asked question today. "Now people are thinking about how they were made and what conditions they were made in" he says, "It's the style of it as well - we're not making it fit any sort of fashion, so it’s got longevity and it won’t date. I don’t want my products to fall apart; I like the idea that they’d be passed down in a family". With his newborn son Elliot and two year old son Rowan, and his photographer wife Laura supporting behind the scenes, he may yet grow a business he can pass on to the next generation. 

Who are you? I’m Samuel Sparrow, the owner and creative director at Sparrow and Co. – a British homeware brand based in Scotland.

Where can we find you?

Describe your store in five words: Simple. Quality. Lifestyle. Uncompromising. Authentic

What makes you different? Our vision at Sparrow & Co. is to design and source products that will stand the test of time, products that aren’t designed to fit a passing fashion. We’re the antithesis of mass produced products and we’re proud of it.

How you decide what makes the cut? At Sparrow & Co. we celebrate the imperfect and inherent beauty that comes with functional, handmade products. Our products need to have provenance - a story to tell and share.

What were you doing before you did this? After graduating from the Glasgow School of Art I cut my teeth working for homeware giants Habitat and Ikea. Uneasy with the throwaway culture synonymous with brands such as Ikea I decided to create my own brand and carve a path based on my own design principles.

If you were starting again what advice would you give yourself? I’ve had to learn that there are certain jobs that require an expert’s help. While it’s important to have a grasp of all the responsibilities associated with running a business – I simply wouldn’t have a business if my time was focused on these tasks. Sparrow & Co. launched November, 2011 - the same month our son Rowan was born - people said we were mad to attempt both at the same time, and there have certainly been some difficult moments, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

What are you most proud of? The Sunday Times listing us in their Top 10 online home stores. 

Do you have a favourite thing in the store right now? Our Reindeer Skin Rugs – they’re warm, soft, durable and perfect at the end of your bed or positioned in front of the fire. Our rugs are sustainably sourced from the Sami people – nomadic tribes who travel across Scandinavia in rhythm with the seasons. The reindeer provide meat, milk and raw materials for clothes and tools.

What's hot for 2014? I’m more interested in what’s not hot! But to answer your question, I do hope that interest in artisanal, ethical products will continue to grow.

'Indie of the week' celebrates the best independent stores around. These places sell interesting and varied collections of design-related things you don't see everywhere else. They may support young or local designers or be great at finding unique things from around the world. By thinking a little more creatively about what they stock they are fighting the bland homogenisation of so much of the high street. And since I'm down with the realities of modern life, online only stores count too, because a beautiful and easy to use website is just as delightful an encounter in cyberspace.

Do you you have a favourite store? I'd love to hear from you.