Earlier this month, I met with Francesca Baur, founder of Fable & Base, to hear more about the story that sits behind Fable & Base, a new studio producing carefully sourced, hand-printed, stunning textiles. I was won over by Francesca’s pitch at a recent RSA Engage event, where Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts have a chance to pitch their ideas and offer the chance to get involved. A sort of gentle Dragon’s Den, though just as nerve-wracking on the podium. While trooping round various design events during London Design Festival, I was often drawn to fresh, botanical prints, either a contemporary twist on florals or channelling a cool, contemporay Scandi look. However, ask about the materials and inks and often the link with the environment is swiftly severed. Fable & Base has its firmly roots in the Kent countryside, where Francesca is based.
One evening last week in the heart of the City a bunch of bright minds gathered to find out about “Impact Investing: What you need to know in 90 minutes” at an event by Finance Matters at Escape the City. Escape the City and Finance Matters are new, fast-growing communities that inspire and connect young professionals who want to match their considerable talents to opportunities that deliver positive, social or environmental impacts. Escape the City itself helps young professionals broadly make a career change into entrepreneurial, adventure or impact-led opportunities., where as Finance Matters specialises in helping people in finance put sustainability at the heart of their career – whether that means through moving into a new role, re-designing their day job, or investing their time and capital for greater impact.
The recent report from the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, “Impact Investment: the Invisible Heart of the Markets” defines impact investments as, “those that intentionally target specific social objectives along with a financial return and measure the achievement of both”. While growing, impact investments are only a tiny fraction of the $210 trillion invested in global financial markets, and of the $100trillion (OECD estimate) global community of long-term asset owners (endowments, family offices, insurance companies, pension holders). However, impact investing is gathering momentum as the public and private sector recognise that addressing key societal challenges such as environmental, life (such as health and longevity), or socio-economic risks are too large and too complex to be tackled by cash-strapped governments alone. In 2013, several new institutional investors declared their interest in impact investments, as outlined in the J.P. Morgan/GIIN report: Spotlight on the Market: The Impact Investor Survey. Bon-mots from the great and the good were pasted to the walls of the stairway up to the event urging attendees to take broader look at the meaning of success. The very embodiment of assertions that Millenials expect business to be responsible, and profitable, or perhaps the micro version of macro discussions about moving beyond GDP for better a measure of prosperity or progress.
“Doing good and doing well are no longer seen as incompatible. There is a growing desire to reconnect work with meaning and purpose, to make a difference.” Social Impact Investment Taskforce
Brief introductions described a corps of finance professionals with some representation from business school graduates, existing impact investors and a couple from not-for-profits. Then the speaker, Dara Nikolova kicked off with an exercise asking small groups to decide which of five case studies to invest in. Several finance professionals immediately focused on the financial returns of the case studies. Yet the case studies presented investments in different sectors and geographies, reflecting the more complex and nuanced equation of risk, return and intended outcome of impact investing.
Intention (to have impact) is one of the key criteria that the Global Impact Investment Network uses to define impact investing. Impact investing also has to deliver a financial return on capital, and measurable impact – but it can be executed across a range of asset classes and with a range of return expectations.
The relative balance of these characteristics determines an invest’s location on the continuum shown right (courtesy of Finance Matters, adapted from Bridges Ventures). There is a spectrum of investment strategies that stretches from purely financial to pure philanthropy, defined by the investor’s relative emphasis on social & environmental factors, intention to have impact, and willingness to sacrifice financial returns relative to risk.
Discussion on which would be the best investment of the case studies, was lively, if inconclusive, and a wonderful introduction to the complexity of impact investing. Dara went on to explore each of GIIN’s principal characteristics. Madeleine Evans, co-Founder of Finance Matters, then described how approaches to due diligence, investment structure, and portfolio management approach may differ for impact investors. One area of particular emphasis for impact investors is the link between revenue drivers and intended outcome in an proposed business model, that is to say whether the company’s target market, cost structure, and operating environment are likely to reward the enterprise for delivering on its intended impact. For The Gym Group, one of the case studies, some argued that target outcome and revenues are aligned, as the more members and gym correlates with greater EBITDA. Those less keen on the Gym Group’s candidature argued that although footfall would be growing is this an adequate measure of wider positive social impact? How do we know that users are not swapping from other facilities on the basis of price? Does it matter?
Measurement is at the heart of impact investing. Balanced Scorecard; Impact Return on Investment; Theory of Change and Logic Model represent some of the most widely recognised tools used by impact investors and social entrepreneurs to structure and track their activities and inputs in order to most efficiently deliver on their target outcomes. Lack of transparency and credible metrics has been a break on the growth of the impact investment industry. Currently, there are a range of impact accounting systems: Global Reporting Initiative, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, GIIN’s Impact Reporting and Investment Standards and Global Impact Investing Ratings System, so we are some way away from being able to present standardised measurement of social impact alongside financial performance data. As well as asking what we can measure, there are questions of whether measurement skews priorities.
The impact investment landscape is complex, fast-changing and set to grow. It is an industry offering opportunities that more than match the ambition of the bright minds that want to Escape the City! Dara Nikolova’s talk set out some first steps for enlightened finance professionals to follow. The full slide deck is available on SlideShare.
There was a real buzz in the air afterwards as attendees talked animatedly about the content, before heading for a drink to ruminate further. A throughly stimulating evening in the heart of the City. If I have whet your appetite, both Escape the City & Finance Matters have a series of interesting events coming up, and on Wednesday 22nd October, Finance Hub from Guardian Sustainable Business will be hosting a live chat, “How to invest in social and environmental change”.
P.S. The Eden Project, the award-winning visitor attraction with internationally recognised biomes. has just broken the record for the quickest Crowdcube Mini-Bond, raising a total of £1.5 million in less than 24 hours from 355 people to develop a new space for its educational programme and give young people their first taste of horticulture. There is certainly an appetite for impact investment!
Campaign for Wool’s fifth annual Wool Week is celebrating the beauty and versatility of wool for fashion and interiors, and where better to hide from the blustery showers than in the pop-up Interiors Collection gallery in Southwark Cathedral. The curated collection of more than fiftyl wool products features fabrics, flooring and furnishings from the high street to bespoke and designer pieces commissioned for commercial clients. Here are my top ten:
Roger Oates Stromness runner (70cm wide x 230cm long) is woven from pure un-dyed Shetland Wool in the UK. Four natural colours, ivory white, light and deep grey and ebony, create bold stripes with a contrasting border. The subtle hues of the un-dyed wool lend themselves perfectly to the geometric and monochrome trends of the moment.
The Røros Tweed storm blanket (120x180cm, £195) from Toast, also uses the natural monochrome tones of un-dyed wool, this time from Norway. Røros, established as a mining town in 1646, is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. In 1789, when the director of the mine, Peder Hiort, died childless, he bequeathed his entire fortune to a foundation set up to provide training to the poor in handicraft and textile production. Røros Tweed was established in 1940 to sell handmade textiles, and continues to ensure the whole process from raw wool to finished product stays in Norway.
For a less energetic seating solution, Galvin Brothers (Completely) Imperfect Day Bed, upholstered in Melton Earth Cobalt and Boutique Islington grey from Abraham Moon would be a very sophisticated place to recline with a good book or simply find a moment of calm. Firm, flat and fit for a daytime ‘power-nap’, it is also a single bed worthy of any overnight guests. Made of solid oak and finished with Danish oil, the bed (180 x 44 x 80cm, £1,985) has the Galvin Brothers signature turned leg. Their partnership with local supplier Abraham Moon, established in 1837 and one of one of Britain’s last remaining vertical woollen mills, means this piece of furniture is Yorkshire through and through.
Bailey Hills’ Comati Stripe Metallic cushion has the striking motif digitally printed on to 100% wool twill. The metallic shimmer is the perfect complement to Jonathan Adler‘s luxurious handcrafted Ingmar Chair (£2,250) with its shearling-lined seat. What an indulgence. Kit Kemp for Christopher Farr Cloth’s folklore embroidered fabric, 100% wool with cotton embroidery (£280/m), is luxury with a colourful and artisanal flair.
The Tetrahedron and Falling Cubes cushions (£95) made for Pentreath and Hall by Fine Cell Work, a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework, bring colour to geometric designs. Georgia Bosson’s Skeleton ‘Crosses’ cushion is made from industrial wool felt waste material overlaid on linen. From £55 each, the cushions are limited edition, and by the nature of their materials unique.
From the decorative to the utilitarian for the last of my picks, Hey-Sign’s collection of laundry baskets made from 100% wool felt with 30°, 60°, 90° (35 × 27 × 75 cm) motif.
Wool’s versatile aesthetic appeal is long-lasting, as it is a resilient performance fibre. Wool has many virtues being natural, renewable and biodegradable (if pure wool). It is also multi-climatic, keeping you warm in winter, and breathable to keep you cool in summer. In the home, wool is an effective insulator with anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic properties and is naturally fire-retardant.
With such a strong British wool heritage, I look forward to an exhibition that captures stories from native breeds and traditional crafts to outstanding contemporary design and innovative materials.
The Interiors Collection is on display at London’s Southwark Cathedral during Wool Week – open from the 5th – 12th October 10am – 7pm daily (8pm on Thursday). Admission is free. If you can not make it there, then have a look at OneWool, the new online gallery showcasing the largest collection of wool interiors products.
A pitstop at Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street set me buzzing for my favourite London Design Festival destination, Tent London. The more established SuperBrands and international zones on the ground floor soon merge into the fresh, fun and less formal stands typically from younger or emerging designers. My first rendez vous was not with an exhibitor, but with potter and designer Isatu Hyde. I bought some of her medium-sized stoneware bowls, inspired by those from a monastery in Harrogate, at the New Designers show earlier in the year. The bowls are in demand, so much so that Isatu asked to borrow mine for Design-Nation Presents at the Southbank Centre Terrace Shop. Tickets are still available for the Meet the Maker evening on Tuesday 7th October, but you can see the work on show until 31st October. Unburdened, I was free to roam. The understated elegance of Mater immediately caught my eye. Founded in 2006, Mater (Latin for mother) is a high-end Danish furniture and lighting brand with a philosophy based on design, craftsmanship and ethics. Contemporary design is combined with support for local craftsmen, their traditions and careful material selection. A member of the UN Global Compact, and supporter of local sustainable business projects, Mater strive to minimize negative impacts, creating durable and desirable products that they home their customers will cherish. Pictured are the Luiz pendant lamp, made from natural FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) cork, suspended above the Bowl Table. The table top is made mango wood, felled once the tree has reached the end of its productive life, and another planted. The top is hand-turned on a lathe by craftsmen from the Kharadi community. The top is finished with a lead-free, water-based polyurethane lacquer. The hollow steel legs can be removed for more efficient packing and transport. Mater products are stocked by Skandium in the UK. Exploring the story of the object, Second Sitters upholstery installation workshop was a chance to appreciate the skills, techniques and materials of upholstery up close, and hands-on as you could delve into boxes of horsehair, hessian and more. Furniture Magpies revive furniture in a different way. Literally deconstructing unloved pieces and reconfiguring them to more contemporary tastes while retaining their character and story. The coffee table made of cross-sections of banister spindles was particularly striking. Upstairs were two of my favourite makers, both launching new collections. Galvin Brothers were presenting their new Cross Lap collection. A clean and contemporary collection of tables, benches, consoles and stools in native steamed beech and American black walnut, and finished in water-based lacquers. Described as “modern rustic”, and in colours close to Carefully Curated’s own palette, how could I not be a fan? Here is Matthew Galvin, just completing a piece to camera for Casafina’s round up of Tent London, which also features, Sebastian Cox. London Design Festival was a busy week for Sebastian Cox with the Wish List (and workshop) at the V&A, scorching and swilling pieces for the New Craftsmen, on Radio 4 with Sir Terence Conran, and the nominations for the Wood Awards, and Elle Decoration’s Best British Sustainable Design. In the midst of this exciting flurry, Cox’s stand had an air of calm, matching the quiet serenity of the newly launched Underwood Collection, all made from hand-coppiced Kentish hazel and well-managed British ash. The collection is called ‘Underwood’ as the pieces use coppiced hazel ‘in the round’, that is usually considered waste. In the foreground are pictured the ‘Hewn’ tea table (£195), bench (£300), and trestle (£170 each). The Mop stick ladder (£210), shelves (£790) and Peg hooks (£55) are in the background. A true celebration of British hardwoods. Nearby, Daniel Heath launched his Art Deco collection. The geometric motifs are etched onto reclaimed Welsh roof slates transforming the discarded into decorative interior surface materials. The geometric shapes of Tracey Tubb’s wallpapers are inspired by origami. Each sheet is hand-folded from a single roll of paper. Tracey assures me the paper does not attract dust. The pattern’s on Seascape Curiosities‘ Sealace wallpaper are by their nature more fluid. Hand-drawn illustrations inspired by our beautiful underwater landscapes. Using FSC approved and 100% recycled papers, Sara cuts intricate floating marine forms by hand creating three-dimensional wallpapers. The works drew particular attention from Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors, whose cultures have established traditions of paper-art forms. Paper pulp from old newspapers is the fodder for Crea-Re’s ‘Copermicus’ lighting collection. 100% recycled, the paper mulch is mixed with ochre, or left grey, shaped, and left to dry. The irregular, cracked shape with small holes or craters, means when the “Luna” light is turned on, the light creates a unique, mottled shadow. While I missed the visual impact of the Material Council’s display of material cubes from 2013, this year, ‘Nooks, Niches and Cranniesʼ, featured Trash Glass from Diana Simpson, the first in a series of products developed using reclaimed waste as raw ingredients. With my Welsh connections, I was delighted to catch up with Blodwen‘s founder Denise Lewis. All Blodwen’s new blankets are woven at a 180 year old mill in the Teifi Valley, west Wales, not far from the National Woollen Museum. The Heritage Blanket Collection (£345 each), inspired by a weaver’s pattern book dating from the 1700’s, are woven on the original 1930’s Dobcross looms. The striking patterns caught the eye of recent fashion graduate, Sarah Hellen. Inspired by the traditional skills of Welsh artisans, Hellen used some of Blodwen’s Heritage geometric ‘Hiraeth’ pattern for her menswear collection. From baskets to traditional Welsh clogs, Blodwen is committed to the preserving and reviving the rural crafts and skills of Wales. A last word on some accessories. The beautiful A-Z of edible flowers, A Matter of Taste, from Charlotte Day, which pique interest in some overlooked varieties and remind us of nature’s beauty and bounty. I shall have to invest in one of Mary Goodman‘s Seating Spheres, a large wool covered exercise ball, described as a “sculptural addition to contemporary interiors” for use as a footrest, or seat. I have used an exercise ball as my office chair for years. The subtle instability stops any slump at the computer, and rolling around helps keep the blood flowing. All the yarns are ethically sourced, with hard-wearing British wools such as Herdwick, Swalewick, Jacob and Axminster rug wool used for the spheres. Mary Goodman will be showing her work as part of Campaign for Wool Interiors Collection at Southwark Cathedral, 5th -12th October. London Design Festival ended on a high note at Tent London!