The TH Interview: Jo and Julian Spector, Founders of Natural Collection

Natural Collection is a web-site and mail-order business featuring everything from recycled aluminium foil to hemp plastic scales. Winner of the Observer's 2006 Ethical Retailer of the Year award, Treehugger was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Julian and Jo Spector, the Oxfordshire-based founders of this small company. A husband and wife team, they started the business six years ago, having been previously involved in publishing and retail with a green bent.

TreeHugger noted that Natural Collection's website is very appealing in its modern, contemporary look. Jo Spector responded that she wanted it to have a friendly positive look; she didn't want it to be apologetic looking just because it was ecological. She wanted it to be as exciting as any other retail site.When asked to define their market, Jo said that they already have the green core market, the majority being female, but she wanted to appeal to the middle market—anyone who was thinking of making a choice beyond themselves. The Spectors believe that the action of choosing something is self transforming. They want people to consider the broader aspect of the product, not just the price. They want consumers to ask themselves what is the added value, to start to ask questions such as "is it fair trade", to think about the world around them.

TH asked whether the ecological movement is growing beyond a small middle class audience. The Spectors emphatically believe that it is. They noted, as an example, how organic used to be considered fringe and now Fair Trade bananas are in the supermarkets, organic is in the news. Six years ago no one was even aware of certified wood. Julian commented that "climate change is not a dress rehearsal", it is real.
TH asked about their products. Their most popular area is household goods, washing up products, diapers and their clothing line is growing in appeal. They try to price things close to main street store prices. They have gone mail order so that they can buy in volume and keep prices down. They have scouts out looking for new items and they have a research department. The hemp scales are new and innovative and may not sell well, but they are a showcase for new ideas and products.
In certain areas they consider themselves to be on the cutting edge. For example, they support a co-op cotton project in India so that it can move to Fair trade and organic. This support is an upfront financial risk for them but they are committed to fostering this kind of project in developing countries.
TH asked the couple to name one thing that they would do to make the world a better place. Julian said his message would be: Small choices make a big difference. Whatever people do, they should start thinking about the benefits and social responsibility it would have for the world community. It is not just money
Jo said that "evolution not revolution" has been the ongoing philosophy of the company. Through small steps and a positive outlook, and people working together, things will change. As Julian commented: "We can create Eden over a long period ". :: Natural Collection

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