By Lexis Place, Mar 17 2017 05:02PM
I often have a lot to say about big corporations and why I am not overly fond of them! Having worked as a chef for many years I got to see some truly remarkable small businesses selling genuinely loved produce, whether it was a veg man that could talk for hours about why Seville Oranges are the only ones for marmalade or the cleaning chemicals man that would mix solutions to suit our particular restaurant, safety being paramount of course. I found sole traders and small businesses to be a group of people you wanted to talk to, it often felt more like mutual brainstorming than a necessity preferably avoided.
It would be wrong of me to wax lyrical from a one sided opinion, so I was also fortunate enough to work for a larger business that had more corporate traders, still from an independent position but as a high quantity buyer looking for the perks that come from larger companies. The experience was frustrating and mildly tenebrous, small ‘perks’ were laden with minute changes of cost that when spread through thousands of items ultimately added up to thousands. To keep on top of each daily financial change could have been a full time job and thats before taking into account “sales”, flash specials and substitutes. Don’t get me wrong some of the sales people we had visit were really friendly and a joy to know, but the subtle inner workings had to be checked and double checked at every turn. If they could cut a corner and save a few pence, regardless of the consequences, they would. For example I regularly had to check that meat products weren't Halal because it was cheaper to buy and could be sold for a similar price of it’s more ethically sound equivalent. The same applies for non perishable products too, the small glass vials that cost about £2.00 for twenty are a wonderful price for an independent trader, but if it comes from a distant land where a six year old is stood for fourteen hours over burning stove making them, I have to question whether thats a faceless cooperation looking to make better margins from exploitation or whether it’s legitimately providing an income for desperately impoverished families.
I learned to respect that such companies had their place in business, they do employ a lot of people and they do give businesses a regular sustainable supply chain for higher volumes of turn out, businesses can only grow as fast they can replenish goods and services. On occasion they may even help with cash flow and allow you to borrow from ‘Paul to pay Paul’ to turn a phrase, making the whole process easier all round.
However, I feel like there is a disconnect happening with ‘big business’, they’re no longer trading goods for money, they’re trading money for more money. It’s not even hard cash anymore, it’s just an infinitely evolving series of numbers being shot through rubber bound wires, anchored by decimal points and being regurgitated thousands of miles away as binary glimpses from that hours action. It’s a cold way of dealing with products that go to people, products that can be life changing, life affirming or just a moments respite from the world around them. A good example of this disconnect is Coke, it takes three litres of water to make one litre of Coke, that water has to come from somewhere and more recently it’s coming from large lakes in Canada and America, but there is a lesser known story of a village in India that is in the process of court proceedings against Coke because they drained the entire water supply through bore holes and wells. This case has been rumbling since 2001 and only as recently as 2014 had some form of result, all be it nothing quite as substantial as the losses the villagers suffered. Coke Cola has repeatedly denied any wrong doing, but have provided little conversation on the subject. I cant help but feel had the process not been so ‘black and white’ a solution more mutually beneficial could have been found and the suffering avoided.
Small and Local business have a fairly symbiotic relationship with both customers and the surrounding area. An Art shop in a south western UK town for example is a place where passionate conversations can be had over meanings and uses of colour. The local coffee shop in a rural village can be a place where people get together in a warm welcoming environment, feeling better connected in an otherwise isolated environment. The independent hardware shop that if they don't have it will get you the best one all while sharing with you the little tips that are like finding gold nuggets in a panning dish. First hand opinions and experiences with products where they may advocate not for the most expensive item, but the one that best suits the person or situation. Captivating stories about how a piece was made take it from being just another self soothing purchase to something incredible, inspiring and uniquely fit for purpose, it’s value in years to come may not be enough to buy a new car or family holiday, but it will hold an eternal spirit that money doesn’t understand or hold court over. It can become something that will be passed along with subtle changes to its story until eventually it has a life all of its own, one day that story might inspire a young ‘daydreaming’ soul to break their shackles and make something amazing themselves. I doubt that will come from poorly re-printed, painfully generic, few quid knock offs that can be found almost anywhere with more than twenty parking spaces on the doorstep!
My good fortune is that I get to photograph these incredible pieces, lovingly made and uniquely presented. So I can say from the heart and after minute levels of inspection they are worth every penny!
Handmade is generally more expensive it’s worth questioning why though, is it expensive because the maker drives a Bentley and their children all go to Eton? Is it expensive because they go home and sit on a toilet of fine bone china, using gold leaf toilet paper? Is it expensive because they were watching X Factor and so charged you for the inconvenience of coming out? No, its expensive because it pays for a family to eat, stay warm, buy school shoes, go swimming, holiday and live. It’s expensive because it took time to imagine, research, learn, create, present and distribute, it’s expensive because it has care and attention to detail at it’s heart and whatever form taken it will be awe inspiring for years to come in ways unimaginable to us now. It’s also expensive because of customers, the fewer customers the extra a seller needs to charge in order to make ends meet. The more people that buy into artists, crafters, bakers, restaurants, builders, plumbers, carpenters, tailors and independent traders alike the cheaper they can get because of financial security and even just the drive to make and do. Most people selling their wears want to keep selling what they make whist providing for whomever relies on them, paying their way, living a normal life, and contributing something thats special and time immortal.
Supporting Small and local business can bring people together in a way that oligarchs playing real time Monopoly will take them apart; to support small/local business is to breathe new life, inspiration and connection to a society thats being prised apart by the unemphatic surge for bigger margins with relentless sales.
If you have a small business or would like to recommend one then please let us know, we love finding out about new sellers and service providers.