Shaun Houcke is the founder of Hive Homeware, an online shop and market stall with the ethos that ‘the good design of everyday objects can improve the everyday.’ Hive Dine is Shaun’s latest project, a series of pop-up dining events held in and around Cardiff.
Two years ago, Shaun found himself standing on a slow train, stuck on a two-hour commute back from his work at the audio-visual brand Bang & Olufsen. ‘I’d just had enough’, he remembers. ‘It was too hot. I was standing. There were no toilets, and my phone had died. Even the food carriage was closed.’ Looking around, he saw similar people around him, some twice his age – ‘I thought, I can’t be doing this.’ If there was going to be a change, it would need to happen then.
Shaun left his work, with the support of his husband, and started to build on an idea. Around that time, the couple had been refurbishing their home – ‘We were struggling to find products that fit my criteria – I was looking for objects that were beautifully solid and ethically made.’ Shaun had made some progress in sourcing makers whose products did fit this vision for a home, and in doing so, he realised that other people might be looking for the same products too. ‘Not only could I help people create an ethical home,’ he says. ‘I could also create a platform for producers.’
With the idea of a homeware brand in his head, Shaun began to research and gradually build his collection – ‘I have an aversion to branded things. There were two ends of the non-branded market – plastic stuff so cheap that no one would bother to brand them. And there’s the other end – craft. That was the only option given my desire for simplicity and the absence of visual clutter.’
Paying particular attention to detail, Shaun looked into how his products were made, packaged and even the way they were shipped – whether by sea or air. He also wanted to make sure that the products’ makers were paid fairly – ‘I give them the margin they ask for’. This process took over five months.
As happens when starting a business, the going wasn’t always smooth, from dealings with suppliers to one unfortunate weekend at Roath market in Cardiff when £100 worth of his ceramics were blown off the table and smashed – ‘At that moment I thought, why the hell did I leave a stable job with a paycheck to stand in a carpark in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning?’
Persevering at the markets, the highlight for Shaun has been his customers – ‘I have one in particular customer, he will come to the market every weekend. He won’t always buy something, but he’ll come. He’ll buy me a coffee in bad weather and a beer on my birthday.’ It’s this experience of running a stall and ‘being on the ground’ that has made Shaun feel passionate about bringing other locals together – ‘Nothing beats face to face. I was amazed people could live on the same street and never have met before.’
And this is where Hive Dine comes in. ‘Hive Dine can sound an odd initiative for a homeware brand if you don’t know the story behind it,’ admits Shaun. ‘I love cooking and producing food. At the Hive Dine events I organise, people get together and enjoy the food.’
Cooking the dinners himself, Shaun believes ‘food is important, but that’s all secondary to people having a good time. Food supports conversation.’ That’s why he takes care at the beginning of the night to sit guests together who don’t know each other, but who he thinks will get along – ‘Following the last event I organised, I got an email from a lady who attended who lived on Kimberley Road. It had been her first trip out after having a child. That evening with us, she had made a friend – a woman who was in exactly the same position and had recently had her child. It was brilliant that they could meet.’
This local, face-to-face element is essential to everything Shaun does, and he has plans to open his bricks-and-mortar shop in Cardiff, a venue for food, homeware and workshops with local creatives. Quite simply, Shaun says, ‘I’m happy as long as I can eat good cheese, drink nice wine and have a good quality of life. I want to make sure that everyone who’s part of the journey is being looked after and not stood on. No one should have to stand on that train.’
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