Verry Kerry, 10tacled and Magpie’s Loot are the creative trio behind Bamboo & Bee, Roman Road’s ethically-minded designer-maker emporium. We talk to the founders, whose inspiration comes from all over the world, about eucalyptus, bamboo and honeycomb.
Bamboo & Bee is a shop on the central stretch of the Roman Road, next to the popular Peckover Traditional Butchers, that is unusual because it is shared by three creative businesses all working together to create a unique, ethical and sustainable destination store.
Once you walk into the airy, light painted shop, you are hit by a gorgeous explosion of colour from Verry Kerry’s beautifully designed fabric kimonos and dresses, 10tacled’s bright T-shirts and Magpies’ Loot‘s glittering gold-plated and silver jewellery range.
Kerry Mounsey from Verry Kerry: kimonos, India and her inimitable style
Mounsey was fighting off jet lag when she was interviewed, as she had just got back from Delhi where she works with the artisans who hand screen print her vividly patterned fabric designs and make up the clothing designs that she creates.
Despite being tired, she was busy typing up orders and showing customers around the shop. Her accent reflects her upbringing in Zambia, where she lived until she was 10, and later Australia.
She puts her passion for creating things down to her childhood in Zambia. Because it was difficult for them to buy clothes where they lived, her family would go to a local tailor with fabrics and have them made up into clothes – even down to her school uniform.
She remembers this as very exciting and when her family moved to Australia she wanted to find clothes that were still her own style and didn’t make her look like everybody else.
‘It kind of drove my mother nuts because she would say ‘Can’t you just buy something in a shop – can’t you just be normal?’’. Even for school events like proms she preferred to design her own dresses – perfect training for a future in fashion!
She studied graphic design at university and graduated with the top mark in her state for her design folio. After this, she set up a graphic design business but became restless and decided to make use of her dual nationality (her father is English) and try her luck in London.
She worked as a graphic designer in-house for Brora where the founder, Victoria Stapleton, was a very supportive employer. When Mounsey set up her own business creating her own clothing designs to sell on market stalls and trade fairs, Stapleton allowed her to work freelance to give her the flexibility she craved.
However, six years ago Mounsey decided to leave Brora and go full time. She ran her business from her flat (her daughter’s bedroom doubled up as a stock room) and it was a conversation with two other parents while their children were playing in a local park that led her to Bamboo and Bee.
Like her, they were creatives with thriving businesses and small children, working from home, who were desperate for more space and a showroom. They found an empty shop on the Roman Road, and Bamboo and Bee was born in the summer of 2017.
Verry Kerry has some beautiful prints, inspired by the flora and fauna Mounsey grew up with in Zambia and Australia and by patterns and colours she glimpses on her travels in Morocco, India and Ibiza.
“I love all things nature-based – it’s really the focus of everything I do. Nature and being sustainable”. Her patterns are printed on organic cotton and bamboo (more sustainable to produce than cotton) using earth-friendly inks. The colours are mixed by hand and the fabrics are made up by pattern cutters in a factory she has personally visited many times.
Any fabric offcuts go to a charity, Greenthemap, who make them up into bags, wallets, purses and books for sale in the shop. She is also working on a range of eye-masks and slippers to go with her best selling kimonos.
Mounsey loves living and working on the Roman Road and has been involved in several projects to give back to the community. During Black Friday, she donates a large percentage of her profits to homeless organisations, and she has also been involved in the Roman Road Trust since the shop started trading.
Martin Reznik from 10tacled: eco-friendly T-shirts and making your own village
Martin Reznik is a printmaker and illustrator, the creator of a range of music and mythology inspired T-shirts featuring tentacled monsters and sharks called 10tacled which is also part of Bamboo and Bee. When I spoke to him he had just picked up his daughter from her first day at school – he is married to the designer-maker Francesca Castaldo whose business, Magpies Loot, is also based in the shop.
Reznik explained to me that his business began when he started printing a shark design – still one of his best sellers – on T-shirts to sell at music festivals using commercial printmakers and was horrified by the quality of the final products. The quality of the T-shirts was ‘awful’ and the plastic inks meant that the images were unattractive.
Although he managed to sell all of this original batch of T-shirts, he embarked on a one-man mission to find a superior product that would be a fitting complement to his designs. The supply chain for T-shirts is often very complex, passing through many different hands before they reach a retailer.
Reznik found a UK based company that was Fair Wear Foundation certified and that managed the whole process of manufacturing in India from start to finish, ensuring that it was all done to the highest environmental standards.
10tacled T shirts are printed on either bamboo, 100% organic cotton or tencel which is the most environmentally friendly man-made cellulosic fibre available today. It is produced exclusively from the wood pulp of sustainably harvested Eucalyptus trees certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). As Reznik says, you ‘pay a few quid more and you get really good quality’. His inks are Australian water-based inks which are non-toxic and Soil Association approved.
What’s it like working in the Roman Road? ‘Anyone who moves to London finds you have to make your own little village.’ Although he has lived here for twelve years, he was a little concerned that locals might see the shop as too much gentrification, however the opposite has happened with customers telling him that having the shop there brightens up the street.
Francesca Castaldo of Magpie’s Loot: ethical jewellery and saving the bumble bee
Francesca Castaldo’s jewellery business, Magpie’s Loot, is also based in the shop (they all share the same shop floor but have their own offices and stock rooms). Castaldo was born in Italy and as a teenager, loved going to street markets and visiting the jewellery making stalls, full of stones and equipment for people to make their own jewellery. She started making pieces for friends and family and soon realised she had the basis of a business of her own.
She moved to the UK as an adult and started working in a restaurant in Spitalfields market. Watching the market traders at work, she saw a potential opportunity and decided to set up her own jewellery making stall.
However, one difference between Italy and the UK was that people just didn’t have the time to make their own jewellery – they were constantly asking her to make jewellery for them to their own specifications and she realised that this was where her talent lay.
She finished a silver-smithing course with the City Lit but the demand for her designs (some of which she has collaborated with Reznik on) has been so high that she has started working with a small family-run Fair Trade silver workshop in Jaipur to produce them.
Her best selling range is the honeycomb range, which has been extremely popular ever since she started selling it on her regular stall in Spitalfields Market, and for every sale Castaldo donates £1 to the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust.
Working with her husband does have some occasional challenges, Castaldo tells me, but they have learned to leave work behind when she goes home: ‘it’s very important to take time off together for family time.’ Like the other two businesses, Magpie’s Loot donates products to local schools’ fundraising fairs and Castaldo does everything she can to help out in the community as she wants to give something back. ‘I’ve lived here for a long time – nearly 10 years – it’s my community, I know everybody, all the shops around. I love to deal with customers and people. I love it!’.