Last month, home and interiors brand House of Hackney appointed two new board members: Mother Nature and Future Generations. Retail Week speaks to co-founder Frieda Gormley about what inspired the move, how it works in practice and the sustainability principles guiding the brand’s retail operations

Frieda Gormley, House of Hackney

Frieda Gormley: ‘We’ve learned a lot from observing nature and how it acts’

What inspired you to create the brand? 

“My husband and I launched the brand back in 2011. I was a fashion buyer for Topshop and my husband Javvy [M Royle] had been a product designer. 

“We bought our first home together and we also had our first child, and I think with that came a rise in consciousness around legacy and the fashion footprint we were contributing to that we no longer wanted to. 

“We had a house in Hackney, which formed the brand name, and we had a little postage stamp of a backyard. We desperately wanted to bring nature into our home but when we looked into what we wanted to decorate with, we couldn’t find it. That conjured up an idea for the brand for me, which would be very much about bringing nature into the home. When we couldn’t find it, we decided to create it ourselves.”

You’ve appointed Mother Nature and Future Generations to your board. Why did you make that decision? And what does it mean in practical terms?

“Our mission was always to bring the beauty of the natural world into our home, but we didn’t expect nature to be our biggest teacher. We’ve learned a lot from observing nature and how it acts, and that’s inspired our organisation more than any seasoned board member.

“Because nature has been this big inspiration, we really felt that we needed to officially let nature take a seat at the board table and bring Mother Nature’s voice into the company. Last autumn, two things happened: [beauty brand] Faith in Nature made Mother Nature a board member and [outdoor specialist] Patagonia made Earth its only shareholder. Both of those big-thinking, pioneering acts were very inspiring to us. We contacted Lawyers For Nature, who worked with Faith in Nature to deliver on its appointment, so they’ve been guiding us over the past year.

House of Hackney wallpaper

House of Hackney was created to ‘bring nature into the home’

“We also identified the growing importance of listening to the voices of future generations, which is something that in business we’re not doing because we’re all very much used to short-term planning that only benefits us. We need to move from that to long-term planning that considers the world that future generations will inherit.

“It’s forced us to leave old practices that we now know don’t align with nature’s interests to make space for new and kinder ones. We’re just starting to operate under this new lens, but it’s making us more innovative and more creative. It comes with a big responsibility. We’ve started to say no more to certain revenue streams, which may impact on short-term profitability, but I think we know in our hearts that what’s best for nature is ultimately best for business.”

How do these principles influence your working practices?

“For people, we were a very early adopter of the four-day week; we’ve been doing that for at least six years now. We’re very much inspired by nature, not just as a designer, but as a living system. We were inspired by the circadian rhythms we’re supposed to be living through, so five months of the year we run a four-day week, during the summer months, and then the rest of the year we do a 4pm finish because it’s a time of wintering.

“From a planetary point of view, it’s been very much a rising consciousness. We used to plant trees with every order; now we’ve learned that actually protecting ancient woodland is more important. So, with every order, we we protect 85 sq m of ancient woodland.

“We were also quite an early adopter of 1% [For the Planet].  So 1% of all sales go into a pot, which goes towards people and planetary initiatives. We only heard about B Corp [certification] about five years ago, and that for us was actually a very simple process because we were already doing the work. So now we’re in a big club and we’re stewards, which is a role that we take quite seriously.”