Q&A with Onome, Founder of Fairly Square
Q: What makes you stand out?
A: The Fairly Square bar has a European vibe, combining food and drink. Our primary focus is customer enjoyment but we have a strong ethos of fair trade produce. We’ve extended this ethos into how we furnished the place. We invested a lot of time at the beginning, researching for example community projects selling reclaimed furniture that we wanted to support. There have been challenges too. It took a while to find eco paints; you can’t just go down to B&Q. And the tradespeople hadn’t worked with these paints before, so weren’t familiar with how many coats were needed, for example. We talk to customers about what we stand for if they ask but you can’t be heavy-handed about it. We also encourage like-minded organisations and businesses to host their events at Fairly Square.
Q: Why do you care?
A: I have always wanted to see a place like this where strong values combine with a fun place. There’s a lot of power in how we purchase yet companies often hold this power. It’s about building a relationship between the buyers and the suppliers; about working together to see what is viable for companies. Too much engagement on every aspect of every product is not achievable. You’ve got to be realistic. And it’s tiring negotiating on every detail; for consumers too. We do engage with companies more than most and customers interested in fair trade can rest assured that we have asked questions for them.
Q: Is being responsible good for business?
A: In some ways what we stand for is helpful – particularly in terms of the kind of organisations and businesses that come to us to host their events. But it’s also a hindrance; we don’t offer products that are as easy to understand. For example we don’t offer JD whisky or coca cola, rather a similar whisky and cola. But people aren’t familiar with these and branding can be very powerful.
Q: Has the business changed you?
A: I’ve always thought about my purchasing, asking myself ‘is this helping others or causing problems’? My challenge now is making products that many are unfamiliar with, more accessible.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Our customers. They are very loyal – we’re very lucky. We have a high rate of repeat visiting. Many take an interest in what we’re trying to achieve, whether they are first timers or repeat customers.
Q: Plans for the future?
A: Most immediately, I want to make Fairly Square viable. We need to spread the word and have a stronger marketing focus. Then I want to open more locations; to inspire others to use the same business model.