WHAT WE LOVE: A unique selection of Internationally-sourced gifts and homewares, presented by country of origin as well as by category. With a loving attention to detail, Foundland delivers their beautifully packaged products around the world.
WHO: Sarah & Arthur, retail veterans with a penchant for felines and a wicked sense of humour.
WHERE: Established in 2018, Foundland is online shop based in London.
THE SHOP: FOUNDLAND
What is Foundland known for? We’re an online store known for our contemporary handcrafted gifts from Japan and Korea. Most of these finds are exclusive to us in the UK. We’ve also started working with some brilliant fairtrade companies in Tanzania and Malawi, and emerging designers in Taiwan, the U.K. and across the Nordic countries.
Our customers also love anything cat-related. If you had a Venn diagram of cats and Japan, we’d probably sit in the middle. Our feline garden-seed collections are always popular: catnip and cat grass seeds in psychedelic Louis Wain packaging. Our cats love them too.
We also gift-wrap and wax stamp all orders for free (that’s the Japanese influence).
What do you look for when sourcing products for Foundland? We love pieces with personality. We are particular about design, about craftsmanship, about materials and sustainability. And we meet most of our independent makers first in person, to know their story.
We’ve also managed to get our cheeky little mitts on some rare vintage pieces- silk kimonos, maekake aprons, old crates from Japanese noodle shops, Tokyo subway signage- and we always add these to the store as soon as we find them.
What are the challenges selling online compared to a physical store? It’s a challenge to communicate all the great stuff about a product on a small screen. Photography is a big part of this, and you can have a lot of fun when describing the goodies.
As an online store we take our environmental impact seriously, and so we use recycled, recyclable or biodegradable packaging wherever possible.
What are the advantages of being an online shopkeeper? We’re open all hours, which is good for our customers. We’ve worked hard to foster a personal customer service and we offer ‘live chat’, to make sure our customers can ask questions like you would over the shop counter.
There’s also delivery to your door, how easy is that?
But we guess the main advantage of shopping online is that no-ones gonna look you straight in the eyes when you buy that copy of Venga Boys Greatest Hits on CD.
Who are your customers? We’d like to think they’ve an eye for good design and obviously share our sense of humour. It’s no accident that we’ve cultivated an audience of fellow cat (and animal) lovers.
THE FOUNDLAND SHOPKEEPERS
Arthur & Sarah
What inspires you? We’re both in awe of Korean and Japanese design and culture, doing our best to emulate the attentive experience you’d expect from the top-notch stores and ateliers of Kyoto and Seoul.
Before we were shopkeepers, we…. Sarah was inspired to start Foundland after a career creating and sourcing beautiful products for some of London’s major gallery shops.
Arthur previously ran the web team at Monocle Magazine where he honed his skills in online merchandising, and nurtured an interest in Japanese design.
And following a trip to Japan, Foundland was born.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open an online shop? Start by getting the building blocks right. An online store should be accessible like any physical store- easy to get in, easy to get around, then a smooth checkout.
And build your community, create a space for like-minded people who will love your products as much as you do.
Getting these right should help you stand out from the crowd.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? Well, running a shop means we can effectively buy all the stuff that we find and love. So if we weren’t shopkeepers…We’d still be shopaholics and probably broke.
What are your favourite shops: Shiroikuro near Roppongi, Tokyo, a wagashi sweet shop where true to their name (it means ‘WhiteandBlack’ in Japanese) everything is monochrome: the decor, the plates and even the delicious cakes.
Yanekado, a shop selling nothing but cat figurines. Real-life cats hang out outside the store too.
Amezaiku Yoshihara, a candy shop where you can watch practical magicians hand-make detailed animal-shaped lollipops from heated icing sugar in just a matter of seconds. And then you get to eat the lollipops.
Inkstand by Kakimori, for custom made-to-order inks. A session there is like being in the salon of a very upmarket parfumier.
D47 Design Store, a beautiful place to shop Japanese crafts and food selected from the 47 prefectures of Japan. Run by the team behind D&Department whose design-focussed travel guides we stock in store.
Haibara, for very strokable Japanese papers and stationery. They’ve been going for around 200 years.
Found Muji; it’s Muji but just limited edition pieces by selected handmade makers. Drool.
And RIP Recofan– which sadly closed its doors in 2020- a cavernous vintage record shop spanning multiple floors of a Shibuya tower block. Spent many, many hours there when we probably should have been working.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
@nekotofurukagu for posh cats sitting on even posher antique Japanese furniture.
@tanaka_tatsuya for a daily trip into his miniature world (we sell his books in-store too – they’re great!)
@paul_danan_official because we miss the 90s.
@onigirigekijo rice sculptures. Including cats made of rice.
@buaisou_i, indigo farmers and dyers in rural Tokushima.
@therock for the daily pep talks.
@catmooreprintmaker for the storytelling and beautiful prints. And more cats.
We wish we could… We always wish for more time. We have lots of plans for the site but it’s always a case of having the resources…So much of our travel research – photos, maps, meeting craftspeople, the best spas near Tokyo and the biggest portions of ramen – we’d love to share. All in good time!
(But if you are looking for a fun spa near Tokyo, try Hakone’s Yunessun. It’s somewhere between a hot spring and an amusement park, where you can bathe in green tea, coffee, red wine or even sake. Surprisingly great for the skin).
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“We expect pop-ups and shared spaces will play a big part in the evolution of the high street, and we hope to see more space out there for independent shops that offer something truly unique. The trend for shopping online will continue and just get better and better, emulating the visceral experience you’d associate with physical stores: fun, surprising, with theatre, storytelling and personal customer service.”