Indie Oxford Interview: Rainbow & Spoon
On the blog today, Harry McNeil, a Media, Journalism and Publishing student at Oxford Brookes, interviews Amanda Suliman Bell, owner of Oxford boutique Rainbow & Spoon, to find out more about her award winning business and the importance of community support for indie business owners. >>
Earlier this month I met with Amanda from Rainbow & Spoon to discuss her family-owned boutique. Amanda and I discussed why Rainbow & Spoon is so special to its community, and why it deserves to be highlighted as one of Oxford’s most charming independent businesses.
Tell me about yourself and the history of the business?
I came from a background in Graphic Design, which is what I did at college in Cornwall, but even then, I knew I wanted to do something more three dimensional. So, I went into surface printing fabrics. My parents have always been designers and they’re both artists. They set up
business with their own label in Oxford in 1982, whilst I was still in Cornwall. When I left college, I came to Oxford and started working in the family business. Then eventually my father retired, and I began working with my mother. When she retired, I was fortunate enough to inherit Rainbow and Spoon as it was and began to turn it into the business it is now. These days we mostly buy in, and I love sourcing goods that have an artistic and creative edge, with a lot of handmade and local artist produced items.
Congratulations on your recent award! What does it mean to you?
I think Covid-19 galvanised everyone into thinking small and looking to support local businesses so I got a lot of good feeling from my existing customers and new custom that we picked up from Facebook and social media. Being recognised by the industry is heart-warming. Your customers obviously love you but not from the rest of the world so when someone recognises you for the hard work you’ve put in it’s great.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
Not the things that people think, free time and being your own boss, not that! But interaction with my suppliers, my customers, everybody really, seeing people walk through my door is always a thrill. You get lots of people that drop in to say hello and have a sweet, when we could have sweets! We are on the route into town, so we are kind of a stop-off community, pop in and say hi shop. We have been at it for so long that our clients become friends after a while, you get to know their history, their story, their life, loves, family, and everything, you grow up with these people. I’ve grown up with many of them and they’ve grown up with me. It builds a lot of trust that way, they know I’m not going to steer them in the wrong direction, having a successful business is not just about sales, it’s about building relationships.
It says on your website, ‘PROUD TO SELL FAIRTRADE’, tell us more
I’m pleased to have found a good range of Fairtrade products and I’m proud to sell them. It’s important because more and more people are asking questions and starting to care about where things come from, how workers are treated and how they can help protect the environment as it is. It’s really, really at the forefront of everything, and it should be, everybody does their bit, but we have all got to do that little bit more.
How important is sustainability within the Rainbow & Spoon range?
Very, very important now. Oxford has always been aware, and we’ve always had people question where things come from and the industry
itself is becoming more sustainable or trying. I’ve picked up a lot of new labels for this season that are wholly sustainable, recycled and ethically sourced. They do know their supply chains; they make sure people get fair wages and you just feel better selling something that’s not been produced in factories using underage workers and slave labour, harmful chemicals, or environmentally unsustainable practices.
You have excellent online reviews! Do you feel you have transferred the loyal customer base in the shop onto an online platform?
A lot of them, yes! Nobody was going out but since we have reopened a lot are still choosing to just shop online. I write good descriptions on the website, and customers can always call me if they want any more information. There are customers who I would normally expect to see in the shop, but people have not fully returned to their previous shopping habits, and footfall in the city is still not quite back to pre-pandemic time.
Have you noticed any familiar names of customers from the online reviews?
Yeah! It’s always nice when you get a surprise one. I had a lovely review on Facebook, a couple of girls came in a few months ago, we had a nice chat
and she did such a wonderful review afterwards. It’s a lovely feeling, you feel really touched, acknowledged and as a small business owner its very good. You do occasionally need something to boost you because it can be difficult doing it on your own!
A huge thanks to Harry for this Indie Oxford interview and photos.