Different Kind is a new kind of online store. It sources products from ethically lead and socially-minded producers to create a destination store for design-conscious shoppers. Different Kind buy and pay for all their stock upfront, whilst offering mentoring and support to brands, and ensuring a fair price to operate with integrity. Melanie Sykes talked to co-founder Liz Warner about their start-up journey.
We love your online shop, Liz. Tell us why and how this idea came to being?
Liz Warner, Different Kind: The idea came about whilst I worked at Comic Relief as CEO and was visiting some social enterprise producers that Comic Relief had helped to fund and I thought we should source Sir Lenny Henry’s 60th birthday presents from projects and producers Comic Relief had supported. The Luminary Bakery was one (we sell their brilliant cookery book) and we also sourced recycled glassware from a producer in South Africa called Ngwenya for Lenny’s birthday gifts (their glasses are coming onto the site in the New Year with some exciting new ‘social” drinks to go in them).
I thought these products are amazingly high quality, well made and deserve a stylish showcase/store where customers know the producers are all businesses with a kinder model – all giving back or contributing to society in some way. So Different Kind was born as an idea and we opened our thedifferentkind.com online last October. Orders are fulfilled by a warehouse in London called Mail Out, which is a training programme for adults with Autism and learning disabilities.
As co-founders, we are four women who all wanted to make ethical and social shopping easier, more trusted. We knew from customer research that people want to buy ethically but it is often hard. We wanted a site and customer experience that is as good as shopping for any other high-quality goods online – but everything in the store does well.
How easy was it to start sourcing the products?
Liz Warner, Different Kind: Sourcing the 60-70 producers on our site has been an absolute pleasure, and it was one of the great silver linings of lockdown. Ethical sourcing expert Vik Anderson and I spent hours of lockdown searching online, researching and then meeting all our prospective producers. We interviewed the founders of all of our producers in our pilot and wanted to really find the best in their ranges to highlight as well as highlighting the causes they back or the issues their products highlight. We have loved meeting so many people who are such encouraging new models of kinder businesses.
The brands we have chosen are there first and foremost for the quality and style and for the unique story behind each one. Lots of our brands have been started by women, often wanting to put some strong campaigning into a brand from the get go or because they want to see change and the only way is to do it yourself.
We are finding emerging brands all the time. Some cities like Bristol are becoming centres for kinder businesses. Stationery company Vent for Change makes notebooks from upcycled coffee waste and even waste from the lavender industry and they donate a proportion of all sales to children’s education. Girls who Grind are feminist coffee roasters is just outside Bristol in Wiltshire and employ women through the whole production of their delicious coffees – even from sourcing the beans from female farmers.
Scotland has a great culture of businesses that want to combine purpose into their brand and that has been a rich hunting ground for products too – one of our first discoveries was the Shetland Soap Company – which does beautiful products, hand scented and employing adults with learning difficulties. We have 80 per cent of our brands from the UK and others are from Bangladesh, Uganda, Eswatini, Ghana, Malawi, India and more.
At Frank, we always encourage conscious shopping which is why we were so excited about your mission. What areas of sustainability (product-wise) are struggling to catch up in, your opinion?
Liz Warner, Different Kind: The areas of sustainability that are hard to find good authentic suppliers are beauty products, and we are always looking for more food suppliers that have a kind model and some very basic household items.