On the up · 23 October 2017

Stray East: Bringing ethically-sourced home furnishings from India to Europe and the US

STRAY_EAST_logo copy
Stray East donates a percentage of all profits to charities in India

For the founders of Stray East, a brand selling handcrafted home furnishings produced in the Indian town of Pushkar, Rajasthan, giving back to the communities that inspired the brand means as much as business success.

“We feel if we are taking something out of the country, then we should also give back,” explained co-founder Elly Smith. The entrepreneurs ensured they partnered with a supplier committed to ethical practices, and donate a percentage of all profits to children’s charities across India.

Business Advice caught up with Smith to find out more about the brand’s ethical supply chain, as well what the duo’s dream high street partnerships could look like.

  1. Who are you and what’s your business?

We are Martyn White and Elly Smith, co-founders of Stray East.

Earlier this year we set off on a three-month trip exploring India. Whilst there we met our now-supplier, who runs a work-from-home scheme for local women in his town of Pushkar, Rajasthan based around textiles and crafts.

He provides the women with sewing machines so they can make and create the beautiful home furnishing and décor items we sell from the safety of their homes.

We now have an online store and website, and attend various markets and events around the South of England, selling cushion covers, throws, poufs and prints.

  1. How long have you been around for?

We have been around for five and a half months – so still quite new.

  1. What makes you different and why should people take notice?

What makes us different is how we source our products. We never would have started the website if we hadn’t met our manufacturer who creates these products in an ethical and responsible way.

Local markets have been used to help establish the brand
Local markets have been used to help establish the brand

We also give back a percentage of our profits to children’s charities across India as well, so have make the conscious decision not to compromise our conscience for the sake of a lower price and larger profits.

  1. Why did you choose to donate profits to children’s charities in India?

We feel if we are taking something out of the country – we should also give back. We were both very affected by how some children (and adults) live in India, but also knew the best thing to do was to wait, do our research and find a charity/organisation that was putting donations to good use.

  1. How have you been able to grow the business since foundation?

We started with social media, building a subscriber list and in the first few months some paid advertising to help us get going. We focused on paid social media ads, as they gave us a lot more options when it came to visuals and one of our main selling points are the colours and unique designs and patterns of our products.

We also create blog posts which we share on social media to help drive traffic back to our website and boost our SEO.

Then, we got involved with markets in and around Wiltshire and Somerset, where we were based at the time, to get some local interest as well.

Take a look at our guide to setting up a market stall, featuring Stray East co-founder Martyn White

  1. What are the main aims of your social media strategy?

Our main aims when it comes to social media is brand awareness, but also to build a consistent and loyal following.

We do use hashtags to generate new likes and reach new viewers, especially on Instagram, but we are most interested in building a following that stays with us and consistently clicks through to our website – rather than just one-off engagement in a single picture.

We have also paid attention to how people interact with our content on each platform, so post slightly differently across the ones we use (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).    

  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

There have been a couple and since we are still new, we’re still hitting the small ones.

One thing we are particularly proud of is that we have now had international customers – both in Europe and the USA. This tells us that our message and products are high enough quality and unique enough for people to want to wait those extra few days or pay that bit more shipping for the products.    

  1. What setbacks have you had along the way?

Restocking. We didn’t plan for what might happen when a few products sell out really quickly, while others take more time. For example, some of our cushion covers sold out straight away, but the heavier, warmer blankets took a lot longer to sell as we started in May.

As we didn’t have a merchandising plan in place, we’d reorder one item only to have another product sell out a few days after the order arrived.

Also, due to the fact each item is handmade by a woman in her own home, reordering the same products is tricky. Fabrics can be dyed slightly differently or coloured embroidery wool used in different places – so, although we want to do preorders when things run out, we can’t guarantee they will be exactly the same.

However, this does add to the charm of our products and means each new batch is unique.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

We would like to have expanded our product range significantly, whilst keeping to our principles. We are already looking into sourcing some rugs from suppliers with a similar ethos to our friend in India, perhaps from Morocco or Turkey this time?

If we can make that a success, we would love to be at a point where we can regularly travel to all these beautiful countries sourcing goods and helping boost local artisans and crafts people.

  1. Who would you most like to collaborate with in business, and why?

Thinking pretty big here – but in regards to products, partnering with a brand like Paperchase on stationary with our patterns and styles, or John Lewis and Anthropologie on crockery would be the absolute dream.

On a slightly smaller scale, there are so many amazing travel and interior bloggers around that would be great to partner up with on a new product that promotes a wanderlust lifestyle whilst also giving.

Take a look at our guide to setting up a market stall, featuring Stray East co-founder Martyn White

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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