WHAT WE LOVE: Superfolk’s hand-printed seaweed prints on Japanese washi paper. Handmade European ash trivets that articulate in such a pleasing fashion.
WHERE: Online shop, based in Mayo on the West Coast of Ireland.
SHOPKEEPERS: Gearoid Muldowney, a craft designer and Jo Anne Butler, an artist and architect.
Where do you make your products? We make 90% of the products ourselves – All of the prints are handmade in our studio in Westport, Co.Mayo on a Japanese washi paper which is manufactured by Awagami in Japan. We recently collaborated with Princeton Architectural Press to produce the Seaweed prints as a set of notecards. The Trivets are made from European Ash in our workshop and the Brass candleholder is made in our workshop and we send it out to be finished in the UK.
What are the challenges selling online compared to a physical store? We often times get the feedback from our customers that the products are so nice to hold – and nicer in real life than the customer had anticipated. In designing we give lots of thought to how something will feel pleasing to simple hold – dimension, weight, finish, the sound it make when you leave it down…. This is close impossible to convey online.
What are the advantages? We can reach a wide range of people geographically from a rural base, customers in Canada, the US, UK and Australia. We live in a rural area on the west coast of Ireland – we could never sell the fairly niche and high end products we do based purely on passing trade footfall.
Who are your customers? We describe what we do as ‘Homegoods for people who love the Wild Outdoors’. Our customers are people who deeply love and care about both design and nature. They make careful, considered and thoughtful purchases and trust their own sense of discovery. Family and spending time outdoors and exploring culture is more important to them than trend cycles and fast-fashion. This might sound cliched but our customers are always really lovely people – it is a pleasure always to design and make with this person in mind.
The Superfolk Shopkeepers
Jo Anne Butler & Gearoid Muldowney
Who inspires you? Yvon Choinaurd (Founder of Patagonia), Jasper Morrison (designer) and Sian Tucker (co-founder of Fforest in Wales) and Dorothy Cross (artist).
What inspires you? Spending time in outdoors – we live in a very beautiful part of the world. In particular we love exploring the wilds of north Mayo and north Connemara, spending time outdoors, cooking outdoors – watching how the colours and light change with the weather and the seasons. It is infinite – there is always more to see and more to learn.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. was and still am a designer/architect, an artist and an exhibition curator, a mother. Gearoid is a craft designer, a father, a photographer, an angler. I think all of these things continue to feed into what we do. I don’t think you ever stop being any of these things – you just blend and use them in different ways in different moments.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? You can’t do everything yourself.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? We love working with established retailers and are always looking to grow our retail network (for our wholesale lines) but our online shop really helps us to get to know our customers and we start to better understand what they are looking for and see how it is that they really appreciate the work we do.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Get to know and love your customer
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..A design/material culture exhibition curator – I love gathering, collecting, editing – telling stories and constructing environments through the objects you bring together. And I’m a bit shy so I like then to sit back secretly into the shadows and watch how people interact with this world that we have created.
What is your perfect day off? Being prepared and packed the night before – getting up early in the morning and heading out as a family and dog for a long walk exploring a new valley or trail, a picnic – some kind of outdoor cooking and a flask would be involved. And at the end of this dream day there would be a sea swim followed by eating shell-fish while watching a sunset.
Can you share five favorite shops? Coffeewerk + Press, Galway; TwentyTwentyOne, London; Mjolk, Toronto; Lokal, Helsinki; and General Hardware shops when we are traveling – so interesting to get an insight into different cultures through their hardware shops.
Favorite local restaurant? Cafe Rua in Castlebar in County Mayo, Ireland. Great food and great service for their customer – it really contributes to and transforms its neighbourhood.
I wish I could…move faster sometimes. We decided together at the outset to think of our business like a slow growing crop – like planting trees – with strong roots and many of which will will take years to come to maturity. Each year we add slowly to our product offering and our retail network. This goes very much against the ‘move fave and break things’ school of entrepreneurship! Our approach requires patience – so sometimes I wish could leap forward to the future and look back.
Do you participate in events or pop ups? Not so much pop-up shops – if we are already working with a retailer in a city we prioritise building relationships with them. These are established retailers who have invested in their stores and have a loyal, all weather customer base. But we do love to do in store demonstrations and making events – getting to meet people in different cities face to face – we need to do this and always enjoy it so much.
On the Future of Retail
“Sights, sounds, smells, browsing, discovering, being challenged, encountering new ideas and people, bumping into people you know, learning something new. I suppose I see physical retail becoming more like visiting a really good immersive museum or exhibition – it will evolve. Lokal in Helsinki is a shop that walks this line really well.”