For Belfast artisan and business owner Linzi Rooney, it all started with some simple questions.
“What if I start something?” she wonders on her website. “Something for makers like me who work alone? Something for artists who maybe have kids or another job? And something that would bring us all together to help us thrive?”
That something soon became a community of people who felt the same way, coming together in a space they called Studio Souk.
With a background in the creative industry, Rooney started her career as a photographer before retraining as a silversmith. Encouraged by the spirit of Studio Souk, she opened her first store at the age of 28.
“Born and Bred has been in Belfast City Centre since 2016, but it has only been since 2019 that we have had an online presence. However, it was during the 2020 lockdown that our website really took off. Our passion is supporting locally producers and giving them a platform – both online and offline – not only to showcase their craft but to also let their business grow and thrive.”
Since opening, Rooney estimates that her company – which currently employs 6 people, including her brother David – has supported over 300 local makers.
“We are raw, colourful and proud of what we have built,” she shares on the company’s website. “Our plants are real, there is paint on the floor and our stock room could do with a good clean-out. But we are a safe, welcoming space where visitors can come out of the rain to have a look around.”
In time, Rooney’s passion inspired her to develop the company’s own products.
“With an ever-changing environment you are forced to adapt your business – you have to listen to what the customer wants. And by creating our own collection it means we can really do that. As a business owner, I am always pulled in hundreds of different directions, but I love nothing more than getting into the studio to create our products. I can be very messy, and I have a habit of leaving half drunk cups of coffee around my desk with apple cores and banana skins.”
Those in-house products include candles, clothing, mugs, and other homeware accessories.
“It is a fine balance between ‘tacky’ Irish souvenirs and items that have a story and a passion behind them – I feel that we achieve the latter.”
Along with nurturing the business’ bottom line, Rooney stresses sustainability as a motivating factor.
“Our key goals in the company are to zero plastic packaging and cut out any other unnecessary packaging. We use recycled shredded cardboard and starch biodegradable peanuts for our online orders also.”
She is of two minds about the local and international eco-economy.
“Most small companies here are trying to make changes to create more sustainable products and business solutions to help our planet. But unfortunately, until plastic is more expensive than environmentally friendly materials, I feel that the only concern of most large companies across the world is their profit margin. I think there should be heavy penalties on large organizations who use single use plastic. Only when governments have a zero tolerance on this will things really improve.”
Closer to home she keeps an eye on the marketplace.
“The challenge of owning and operating a business is the ever-changing environment; as the world changes, people’s shopping habits change…so its important to stay really focused.”
Despite the obstacles brought on by both Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, Belfast’s economy appears to be booming.
“It seems that tourists actually want to come here now and lots of people are opening more cool restaurants and bars – it has evolved a lot.
“Plus, being born and bred in Belfast myself (see what I did there?), I am dead set on changing the negative attitudes about our wee country by creating a culture where we are proud of the place we call home. Sure, sharing local stories play a huge role in that, but they are not the full solution. That is why over the next few years we are ramping up the mentoring side to what we do.
Like any business, growth is also on the agenda.
“There are 64 million Irish in the Diaspora around the world, and I would love them all to have a wee piece of Born and Bred.”
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