Homeware brand LIGA (pronounced Leega) produce contemporary eco-friendly pieces including cork placemats and coasters, tableware and kitchen textiles. Set up by couple Jennie and David Elderkin, LIGA uses sustainable cork as one of the main ingredients for their affordable and elegant designs. FRANK talks to Jennie about their journey from sustainable start-up to growing green business.
Jennie, what started you on your journey with LIGA?
Jennie Elderkin: With a background in interior design, project management and retail – all self-taught – I set up my own interiors store in Fowey, Cornwall in 2004. It was around 2015 that I started to become really interested in working more with sustainable materials and began exploring what was available.
Discovering that I wasn’t able to source what I was looking for – affordable and simple pieces in natural sustainable materials, designed for everyday use – I was inspired to start my own collection, LIGA.
What drew you to cork as a material?
Jennie Elderkin: Nostalgia, I guess! I remember loving cork as a child. We had placemats from Portugal and cork tiling in the bathroom. It felt warm and comforting. I obviously didn’t know what an amazing material it was back then, but I’ve learnt in recent years that it is truly incredible in so many ways.
What is cork and why is it so sustainable?
Jennie Elderkin: Cork is the bark from the cork oak tree, which is stripped naturally by hand using traditional skills without harming the tree. The bark is harvested every nine years, a process that has remained unchanged for centuries and is one of the best paid agricultural work in the world. They’re grown in forests known as Montados, home to many endangered species of animals, birds and plants. It’s an important infrastructure to preserve and support. The cork we use is grown in Portugal.
Cork is sustainable in the way it is grown, harvested, manufactured and even continues to absorb CO2 as a product – so it truly is a wonder material.
Tell us about Beach Clean material.
Jennie Elderkin: It is so important to LIGA that we design products that use waste to create – rather than create more waste. The ingredients in our Beach Clean material include recycled EVA plastics, which enables the mats to be food-safe, and sustainable cork to create a beautiful multi-coloured mix. Due to the popularity of materials like Beach Clean, the once considered ‘waste’ components are now a valuable commodity, so are saved from landfill and sent straight to be used in manufacturing.
We are experiencing a sustainable revolution. It is becoming vital to look at inventing different materials to make our everyday products; to be able to do this from waste is a brilliant development that we are proud to be part of. This is an innovative and exciting time in our evolution and it will take all of us to be onboard in different ways to be successful.
How hard was it to get the business off the ground?
Jennie Elderkin: It was super hard. The first couple of years we were such a small team trying to achieve so much and on a huge learning curve. We had to borrow money to provide cash flow and buy stock. Everything had to be invented from scratch – software chosen, ways of doing business honed, products designed. It was largely down to gut feeling and not being afraid to take risks that we survived at all. Then the first lockdown hit. The first few months were the hardest time of our lives. We really thought we were going to lose everything – our home, our business, all our hopes and integrity. It was painful but we looked hard at the business and started to focus on the financials and made it through. It wasn’t easy and we were super grateful to have support from our business coach via Zoom to keep us questioning and on track.
What are the hardest elements of the business and the most enjoyable?
Jennie Elderkin: The hardest element is to put trust in other people, that they will do a good enough job in whatever it is they are doing and it’s really hard to replace them when they don’t. The most enjoyable element is sharing others’ joy in our products – hearing feedback, seeing photos, reading comments.
You work with your husband David. How is your working relationship? How do you complement each other?
Jennie Elderkin: As a couple, we have learnt how to work well together. It can be challenging and sometimes we have to be reminded to always treat each other with kindness as we can be each other’s biggest support and biggest critic. I guess the fact that we have trust in each other is everything. We have different areas of the business that we focus on and as LIGA has grown we work with different teams – so that helps a lot!
How do you stay positive in a world that just is taking so long to catch onto climate change?
Jennie Elderkin: I am careful about what I think and what I allow in. I’m not an expert but the way I see it is if it makes money then the people who can make a difference fast, will act. As individuals we can apply pressure by how we spend our money – we have a choice and ultimately power. We have to believe in humanity and acknowledge and understand its weaknesses to enable change.
How do you bring your sustainable living to your own home?
Jennie Elderkin: We are learning how to live a more sustainable lifestyle in many ways and constantly looking to improve. Our electricity is sourced from wind power, we recycle and are much more conscious of what we buy – questioning if we need it and where it is from.
We are getting rid of grass in our garden, growing flowers for bees, vegetables for us and planting fruit trees. There are so many small ways that we can make a difference and it’s interesting and fun to make the changes as a family together.
What simple changes can people make with LIGA products?
Jennie Elderkin: Choosing cork is positive in so many ways. The more we use, the more cork oak trees will be planted. Our dishcloths are eco and compostable – they do a great job and don’t end up in landfill. By using organic cotton in our tea towels we are looking after farmers and also saving gallons of water. Our refill notebooks can be used for years – refilling the paper inside and saving the need to create new covers from plastic.
I’ve always loved placemats and have collected far too many over the years. I love changing the look of a table setting for an occasion or even just a family supper. All of our placemats are sustainable so you can enjoy – guilt-free – making your home look beautiful, adding nature and greenery to the table.
What do you think will make the world take note properly and start making environmental changes?
Jennie Elderkin: Public opinion has the power to change the world. It takes all of us to change how we live, how we view the world and ’to do our bit’. Governments and big businesses will follow public opinion if it keeps them in power and or makes them money. Every one of us has a part to play in our future survival.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Jennie Elderkin: Inspiration comes from everywhere around us. Our designs are all inspired by nature and our own experience living in Cornwall. I’m always taking photos on my phone – shapes, colours, moments – looking to capture that magic and joy. The ideas come at unexpected times. Some start as one thing and lead to another but our overriding ethos is that all pieces must be created from sustainable materials, be affordable and designed for everyday use – that is the way to encourage eco-living and what LIGA stands for.