Consumer

Small Stuff, big impact

Hellen Stirling-Baker, founder of Small Stuff UK, is an example of an individual who is driving meaningful change not just in her local community but across the UK through her sustainability support for other SMEs.  

Words:
Charlotte Cameron
Images:
Small Stuff UK
Small Stuff logo
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Small Stuff is a design-led, ethical and eco-friendly children’s store, selling high-quality gifts, clothing and books for young children. 

An independent, family-run business based in Sheffield; Small Stuff holds sustainability at its heart. From everything in the shop and online, to the way the business is run behind-the-scenes, Small Stuff are committed to working in a way that is ethical and kind to the planet. 

Hellen set up the business in 2016 when her son was just a few months old. In the early days, it was an online children’s clothing store and she made every product by hand. It was hugely important for her to know where every part of every product came from.   The business grew quickly and in 2018 Hellen made the decision to start sourcing ethical brands to add to the collection, remaining true to her values to know exactly where each product is made – and how.  

Over the years, Small Stuff has grown into a thoughtfully curated lifestyle store, carrying both well-known brands and products made by smaller local businesses. Small Stuff now trades online and from a busy child and parent-friendly shop in Sheffield.   

Identifying opportunities

I see all the steps we have made in store as one big eco-system, there hasn’t been one huge lightbulb moment of change, but instead we have implemented lots of small and positive actions.” said Hellen.  

When starting out, one of her main concerns was ending up with vast amounts of waste packaging – from plastic wraps to excess cardboard. Through working with its supply chain and transparency with customers, Small Stuff has reduced its waste by almost 60% in the last 18-24 months, and from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021 its energy from waste emissions decreased by 9% compared to the previous year.

To achieve this, Small Stuff requests that packages and orders are sent and received in cardboard and reusable materials, with any excess being repurposed in creative ways. For example, shop displays are often made from the remnants of boxes. Small Stuff have also brought this in as part of the in-store experience, removing all paper bags and keeping git wrapping to a minimum. This has sparked some thoughtful zero waste conservations in store with customers.

“This has not only meant a cost reduction but has also crowned us as plastic free champions.” She said.  

Through their latest Planet Mark certification, Small Stuff identified that energy use and travel made up the largest part of the business’ emissions. After identifying this, the organisation has moved to an 100% electric vehicle for local deliveries and a 100% renewable electricity provider.  

In addition to this, the store’s windows have been upgraded to double glazed and all lighting is LED. The next step for the business is to implement its own renewable energy system through PV or solar panels.  

Small Stuff are passionate about involving their wider stakeholders in their sustainability journey and have been encouraging customers to use public transport and cycle to the store.  

Communicating targets and achievements

Small Stuff have found that one of the major challenges for these projects is support and communication. Not only does this apply for customers but for other stakeholders too. For example, as the company leases the building they are in, Small Stuff had to ensure they were communicating the benefits of energy-efficient changes with its landlord, who has been positive and open to the changes needed.  

In terms of communicating sustainability goals and achievements with Small Stuff’s customers and the local community, the business focuses on in-store visuals and decals, conversations, uniform, receipt information and the Planet Mark certificate to keep the conversation clear and transparent.  

“We use social media to convey our sustainability message, as well as online videos too and I’m always up for a chat in store when I’m around. I am so passionate about this whole journey and I love to encourage and share that passion too. I support my local community with ideas as well as offering support to other indie retailers and businesses in terms of workshops and mind mapping sessions.” she said.  

Support for other SMEs

Hellen has now stepped back from the day-to-day running of Small Stuff to focus on supporting SMEs with their sustainability journey. She continues to raise awareness of sustainability issues by championing others, her own business, and informing and communicating in an incredibly down-to-earth manner. Her drive for knowledge and continued learning is shared through social media platforms and public talks as well as local and national media. She has been approached to become a key member of the Board for the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA) with sustainability as her main focus, and is Business Carbon Reduction Advisor for the Sheffield and Greater Sheffield area.  

“Sustainability is such a passion of mine, and I wouldn’t have ever been near the opportunities I have had without running Small Stuff and being an SME owner, so being able to support as someone who has lived and breathed a sustainable business model – I know what support, communication and detail is needed for SMEs.” She commented.  

Over the last 12 months, Hellen has been involved with key government research, influencing processes and messaging around sustainability within SME’s. 

Promoting the ethos ‘buy well, buy less’ Hellen’s connection and passion for sustainability, simple changes and effective messaging have been hugely influential.  Spreading the message that we need less mass consumption, more careful purchasing – buying things that will last and that do not arrive wrapped in plastic or made a million miles away. Textiles that are locally or fair trade sourced and do not pollute the planet. She demonstrates that a more thoughtful, responsible and planet-friendly business approach is achievable and realistic with support and determination, and she is now in a position to share her expertise and experience to inspire others. 

“We have an incredible opportunity right now on the back of COP26 to keep that messaging clear and tangible and make some radical changes, and as SME’s and micro businesses make up for 50% emissions collectively within the UK, it’s absolutely imperative our voices, ideas, barriers and challenges are heard and taken seriously.” Hellen said.  

For Earth Day, the team at Small Stuff have planned a full weekend to celebrate, including a beautiful window display, mural in the store, guest speakers and insights, as well as charity fundraising. Stay updated on all their activities on their LinkedIn here.