At just 23 years old, MOOand BOOM founder Maddie Ashbrook is already proving herself to be a retail force to be reckoned with. Since opening her first shop in 2020, she has built up a strong customer base, impressive supplier list and won two separate industry awards including Boutique Star Awards New Independent of the Year 2022. Now as we enter the new year, her sustainable retail concept has expanded into the men’s arena with a second bricks-and-mortar store led by brother Jonjo Benjamin Ashbrook. Here she reveals the story behind her eco-friendly retail group…
What is your career background?
I left collage at 18 years old to go to New York for a fashion internship. Afterwards I worked in London in product co-ordination for cashmere brand Duffy. I was with the company for about two years, and it was an all-round position working on the process of the new collections and what our customers wanted to see in upcoming seasons. I used to attend the shows in Paris and Scoop and assist the sales team while I also worked with designers and warehousing.
What led to the opening of MOOand BOOM?
In the March 2020 I sadly lost my job as the company ceased trading. My mum was made redundant at the beginning of the pandemic too. During the first lockdown we got enthusiastic about sustainability and ethics. I become very passionate about fast fashion brands paying their workers fairly and using materials that weren’t destroying the planet. I stopped buying high street brands and started going down the independent route for my own wardrobe. This inspired me to start selling second-hand clothing and it all grew from there. I quickly realised that it wasn’t just fast fashion destroying our planet – it was mass production of many products. So, my mum and I started researching and selling eco alternatives online from a tiny little office and began to imagine getting it out to a wider audience with a store front.
Why did you choose the location and unit?
I moved back home after losing my job, which was five minutes away from the shop’s location in Whitchurch, Shropshire. Growing up it had always been a town we shopped in, however at that time there were a lot of empty units. I wasn’t able to get help with funding as it was such a new business, so we tested the water first with a pop-up shop. After the four-month trial period was over we had lots of good feedback, so I signed a more permanent lease. It was just four days before my twenty-first birthday and the unit is huge. Whitchurch is now such a thriving town – there are so many independents and great businesses for shoppers to visit.
How difficult was it opening a new shop in the middle of the pandemic?
Opening a new shop in the middle of the pandemic was hard because of restrictions, but I had so much support from family and friends who helped decorate and build. I am always a great believer in positive thinking so I thought if I can survive a pandemic, I can make the business work long-term. We tried to use the lockdowns to our advantage by doing all the renovations throughout the four months before opening.
How would you describe your ethos and what the store offers?
MOOand BOOM is a sustainable lifestyle store. I only work with suppliers who are ethical and have sustainable morals. We offer a wide range of homeware and gift ideas and I try to be as unique as possible. I personally love being different, and I want our customers to walk out with something unique. I want every worker in the supply chain to be paid fairly and for my products to be helping the planet in some way.
How important is sustainability to you personally?
I’m very passionate about sustainability and personally don’t buy into high street brands at all anymore. I spend a lot of time researching before I buy anything and I purchase a lot of things second-hand. When starting the business I really wanted to help educate people on looking after the planet and paying people fairly. Some countries don’t have a minimum wage and workers are often paid pennies to make a polyester top that will go into landfill. Plastics used in the process also go into our water streams and damage wildlife. For me it’s about building a platform where I can talk about these issues and make it fun without being too preachy is great. I try to just give facts on what my products do and how they help others.
What sort of products can shoppers buy at MOOand BOOM?
We sell everything including gifts, home interiors, soft furnishings, clothing, accessories, beauty, jewellery, stationery! We also sell antique furniture and re-upholstered furniture, giving it a new lease of life.
What percentage of your product line-up is fashion?
I would say around 30 per cent of my product line is fashion. I already work with different brands, but I am still looking for some more that will fit in well to my ethos.
Which womenswear brands do you stock in particular?
We have worked with B Young and Fransa picking up sustainable items made with eco vera viscose and BCI cotton. I also work with Pachamama, which is super fair-trade and works with 100 per cent wool and sustainable outerwear brand Passenger. I’d like to be even more sustainable with my clothing and that is something I’m working towards.
Which fashion categories sell well at MOOand BOOM?
Outerwear and accessories do really well. My customers love a story behind a product and I have a lot of those as I source everything myself. I know who has made everything we sell and where they have come from.
Where do you do your buying and how do you find sustainable brands?
I go to trade shows regularly and have good relationships with suppliers and people I used to work with. I try to source different products that other shops around me won’t have – this is really important to me.
How easy is it finding suitable products and brands?
Finding the right brands can be hard because they have to be sustainable and ethical too.I’m finding that alot of companies do greenwash and I’m not 100 per cent there yet on how sustainable I want to be. My focus is on fair trade, sustainability and the supplier’s ethical standards, so I go through a process of asking questions to determine if it’s the right fit. It can be like a game of 20 questions! I make sure all my beauty products are natural and use sustainably sourced essential oils so there are no paraffins or synthetics in the products. I make sure all my homeware is ethically made, so I get a lot from India. My suppliers are great – they have good working conditions and use small groups who are given a fair wage.
How would you describe the physical store to someone who’s never visited?
The shop is full of colour and smells gorgeous with all our natural aromatherapy products. The team is so friendly and we have a café kiosk at the back of the store and selling vegan and gluten free cakes and light bites. We have a cosy wood burner, so it’s great for the winter. We also have a studio where we hold classes such as yoga and Pilates as well as creative and holistic workshops such as journaling, wreath making and pottery. It’s a very inviting space where anyone can find something unique.
What kind of shoppers do you get visiting the store?
We get all kinds of people across all ages. I have a lot of young people who love the crystals and the holistic side of the business then I get older people who love visiting the café. Our café is great because a lot of people come in by themselves and they always come out having chatted to a like-minded person. My store isn’t for everyone – and I fully appreciate that – but I have some amazing loyal customers who support me and spread the word.
How is the online side of the business?
This year and winning both my awards have really helped spread the word for my online business. I relaunched the website this year, which took a good few months but was worth it. I am constantly pushing to expand online. We do a lot of sales through Instagram and Facebook too – our social media really helps.
How involved has the rest of your family been in the business?
My family is very involved we class ourselves as a family business. I have two brothers and one is now working in the business running the male side and the other brother and dad help me decorate, move the store around and are very hands on. My mum is definitely my rock in the business. She has a strong retail background and used to be an auctioneer, so she helps me with buying antiques and furniture. She always has an amazing vision and we work well together as I love seeing and making those visions come to life. My brother who is running the male side is only 18 so he is very new to retail. However, he’s just as passionate as me on sustainability and is so great at finding new brands.
What is the men’s store like?
Our new menswear store is called JB and Boom after my brother’s name (Jonjo Benjamin) and boomerang, meaning ‘what goes around comes around’. We opened the shop on Friday 9 December and it is just up the high street from our original store. It is exactly like MOOand BOOM but for the male side, so we are doing homeware, soft furnishings, antiques, men’s clothing, grooming, accessories and leather goods. We have had such a good response so far as there is a lot lacking in terms of sustainable menswear stores.
What’s been the most challenging thing so far about running your own business?
I think the most challenging thing is cost. We are in such a big building and we have rates on top of a high rent, so I always have to be very aware of that. With heating bills increasing it was hard but having a wood burner installed (using sustainably sourced wood) in the café has really helped. I believe I can do it and I will keep working hard to achieve my bigger goals.
What will be your main focus for 2023?
This year is going to be really exciting. I love going to the first few shows in the new year and finding something completely different for my customers. I have a lot of ideas and my main focus will be becoming more sustainable and growing the male side of the business. I love achieving and growing as a business and 2022 was absolutely incredible – winning two awards made me so proud.