Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Farewell Being Unchained

Farewell Being Unchained.

Hello Feeling the Fear and Dictionary of Specific Generalities.

We've been running this blog for about a year. And now that Unchained is up and running with a life force all of its own we've decided to wind it down.

If you're still interested in news about Unchained Dave and I will share all the ups, downs, ins and outs on our own blogs Feeling the Fear and Dictionary of Specific Generalities.

Thank you all for following and subscribing, it's been a great year.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

I've seen the future baby

Yesterday was conference and lecture central.

The great Greengaged came to a close yesterday afternoon and from there we wasted no time at all in skedaddling from the Design Council to the RSA where we spent the evening listening to a lecture about the future, given by Richard Watson, author of Future Files The 5 trends that will shape the next 50 years.

I'm not a big futurology fan. It's only fair that I say that up front. There is something incredibly passive about the predictions of futurists which I find unsettling. They don't use their findings to tell us about what our objectives should be for a nicer world and what routes we should take to achieve them. This bugs me. It also bugs me that the only use trendspotting has is for businesses that want to profit from identified patterns. To my mind, it could be argued the whole premise of futurology is flawed because it is based on an economic and political paradigm that is (as we live and breathe) deeming itself redundant.

Now, having said all that, it's always great to hear ideas and theories - and I'm a big fan of some decent diagram action. I also absolutely adore the way future-folk contract two words into one. I remember with fondness such phrases as glocal and and the like. All good brain fodder.

Moving on, let's talk about last night. There was a lot to take in - but don't worry, I'm not going to share it all here. Instead, I thought I'd share some soundbites. And here they are:

  • People are increasingly experiencing time and sleep starvation. The future will cater for this with hotels/hospitals that allow guests/patients to sleep and recover from their strenuous lives.
  • Japan is the home of robots. They already have robots looking after the elderly, because there are too few young people to do the job.
  • Retirement will retire. According to Richard's extinction timeline retirement will be extinct by around 2018. As you can see in the pic above, blogging will be extinct by about 2022, so I'd best write my face off while I can eh?
  • The future will see flexible working patterns within a 14 hour work window
  • Women have introduced empathy into the workplace
  • Business development patterns have changed from: create>research>send to market to: create>send to market> hone or kill
  • If you make something of high quality people will buy it
  • Forecasters forecast a greater appetite for forecasting
  • There is a natural human desire for connectedness
  • The future is more honest, because when you lie it's no secret
  • Communities are redefined and are no longer about geography but about interest
  • Voluntourism is going to get huge. As the name suggests, this is where people go on holiday by volunteering for a worthwhile cause or trying something new.
  • Travel will increasingly polarize - economy class will get shoddier and business class will get awesome(r).
  • GenY is not the audience with the most opportunity, the aged are. GenY= no time or money whereas retired folk have lots of time and money.
  • China challenges democracy as contingent for capitalism
  • Religion will flourish because it offers certainty

What do you think? Is it a case of "No shit Sherlock"? Or "Wish I'd thought of that"?

I've love to know your thoughts, so please share.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Greengaged at The Design Council

Picture stolen from Dan Lockton - thanks Dan.

On Tuesday I was delighted to be invited to speak at The Design Council as part of Greengaged. Joining me in our session were More Associates' Luke Nicholson, IDEO London’s Andrea Koerselman and Fiona Bennie from Forum for the Future

Greengaged is the sustainability hub of the London Design Festival, organised by fellow London United members Sophie Thomas and Juhi Shareef.

We were invited to talk about Behaviour Change and thought it would be nice to share the contents of my presentation with you all.

The title of my presentation was "Behaviour change is easy and I can prove it". My evidence was a film clip that my friend Sam posted to Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It's really fun, but makes a great point.

I wanted to share the three principles of behaviour change that we use every day with Unchained:

Behaviour change requires behaviour - social proof is the easiest and fastest way to get ideas and behaviour to spread. The behaviour of the people around us is far more convincing than advertising will ever be. Do you think the dude in the video would have changed his position if there was a poster inviting him to do so? Yeah, me neither.

Behaviour and motivation are two different things and one of them is easier to change - if you understand, respect and work with other people's motivations it'll be easier to change their behaviours. Getting people to do as you want is much easier than getting them to think what you want. Even if you're right.

Desire is all very good and well, but it's not enough - how many people do you know that want to be famous? Or thin? Are they? Well, same goes for other kinds of behaviour change. If you want the change you have to make it easy for them.

If you'd like to know more about the speech or the lovely people that spoke in the session with me then get in touch.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Mini-guide to Northcote Rd

Our third mini-guide has gone live on Londonist and this time we went to Battersea's Northcote Rd.

I spent an entire day there last week, talking to shopkeepers and meeting the characters of the neighbourhood.

I had a great time and as always, met some very interesting people.

Sadly though, everywhere I went I kept overhearing conversations about shops closing down. Apparently the charms of Northcote Rd have made it a victim of its own success, attracting big money from chains, which in turn make the landlords put the rent up. It's a story we've heard many times before at Unchained.

Hopefully our mini-guide will encourage more people to enjoy the road and the amazing selection of Unchained beauties it has to offer.

Happy shopping people.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

La Cave à Fromage

The before and after of my delicious cheese selection last night.

Last night Unchained enjoyed a delicious cheese tasting with a bunch of Qypers at La Cave à Fromage in South Ken. The shop has a really interesting approach to selling cheese - no counters or cashpoints, it's all clean, modern, personal and very chic. With literally thousands of cheese to choose from, the owner was delighted to inform us that we could try a different cheese every night for the next 75 years without running out of options.

We likey.

You can find out more about La Cave on Qype and of course on Unchained too.

Big, big thanks to Qype and La Cave à Fromage for a brilliant night.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Qype's first birthday

Our team, The Sake Six, anti-clockwise from Dave's foot we have AnnieMole, LJRich, James, Me and Pedro.

We were very pleased to be sharing the fun at Qype's first birthday bash at Offside last week Thursday.

Qype celebrated with a pub quiz. As you can see, I brought the teeth.

Big thanks to the guys at Qype for yet another smiffy evening.

And a big thanks to AnnieMole who organised our team and got us all fired up. Though we didn't win, we did name the last British Prime Minister without a wife. And (my personal favourite) which underground station is an apostle's erection.

(That's Margaret Thatcher and St John's Wood in case you're wondering.)

Happy Birthday Qype, may the force be with you.

Cupcake action - we love Chris

In amongst all the craziness of last week came the sweetest, most awesome(est) email ever.

The subject line was: Free cupcakes. My flat. Friday morning.

Ahhh. Yes please!

The lovely cupcake people at Faircake sent Chris a whole bunch of their delish samples for him to err, sample. And we were invited to feel the love. Boy did we.

You can read Chris' write-up here. Or visit to do some sampling of your own - I had the lemon cupcake with a big blob of curd in the centre. Needless to say it comes highly recommended.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hurdle, Challenge or Dead-end?

I've had a bit of a crazy week. Unreasonable deadlines, too much work (all created and delegated by me I might add).

Anyhoo. I arrived early at work yesterday, eager to crack on and get stuff done.

I wasn't in for long when Cyndi arrived and (I don't think she'd mind me saying) she looked like sh*t.

For those of you who don't know, Unchained works with Cyndi who runs Worn Again, Anti-Apathy and The Nag (yes, all three). To say she's busy or productive would be the understatement of the century.

Cyndi looked like sh*t because she'd been burning her lifetime supply of midnight oil. Her incredible label Word Again must be seen. Cyndi upcycles stuff that would usually be thrown away into beautiful arm candy, shoes and other stuff. It's a pretty awesome story. Cyndi had this idea five years ago. She stuck with it, worked like a demon and now has a great business. And she just landed the deal of a lifetime.

Yesterday morning, she'd worked through the night to fix someone else's mistake. Arrived first thing in the morning to continue fixing it. She totally inspired me. Many other weaker, mere mortals would have surrendered, given up, or passed the buck. But Cyndi has cojonas, big time. And that's what makes her an amazing businesswoman.

I should also add that this wasn't the only obstacle Cyndi faced this week. This week was full of things that could have felt thankless, exhausting or like personal insult. The way Cyndi chose to see it, there were a couple of glitches in an awesome plan and she wants everything to be absolutely perfect - and that's means never taking the easy, lazy or defeated route.

And watching her work, work, work it was obvious that it was one of many times she had to truly work to turn her dead-end into a little hiccup.

She makes it look easy. But easy it ain't. Here's to you Cyndi - an example to entrepreneurs everywhere.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The orange envelopes have left the building

Forty special orange envelopes left Unchained HQ today.

And they're headed for forty very special shops.

So if you know a totally smiffy, highly impressive shop tell them to be on the lookout -they might be one of them.

If they get one, they're very lucky indeed.

More news on the dazzling power of the orange envelope soon.
Watch this space.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Guardian Commercial Partnership - signed and sealed

Last week was an exciting one for Unchained. We've been chatting to the lovely people at the Guardian newspaper for a few weeks now and we're pleased to say that last week we signed a contract to become one of their Commercial Partners.


The Guardian Commercial Partners Network is a service that joins up the publishers of independent websites with the readers and advertisers of Guardian Unlimited.

The new version of the Unchained site will have ad space on some of the pages. The way this ad space is sold is hugely important to us. We don't want a Starbucks ad on our site (and in all honesty, we doubt they want to be there). So as part of the partnership, the Guardian sales team take care of ad sales for us. Together, we can make sure that only the right people and brands find their way onto our site.

There are other great collaborative things too, like being included on their website (with over 22 million impressions a month that means a lot of exposure for our lovely shops) and other bits and bobs that are really exciting, which we'll share with you as they happen. So watch this space.

Naturally, we wouldn't climb into bed with just any old newspaper. The Guardian's dedication to sustainability and ethical living make them the perfect fit for us and our users.

A big thanks to Carrina and Guy for helping make it all happen and for being pretty good company in the Guardian canteen to boot.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Hugel live twitter wine tasting London

Last night I was delighted to be part of a Live Twitter Wine Tasting.

Here's the scoop. A group of people gathered round to taste amazing Hugel & Fils
white wines from the Alsace region. As we ate and drank we tweeted our taste sensations, sharing them with an American group who were doing the same thing - albeit later, because of the time difference.

When the fabulous Annie Mole
first told me about the evening I was utterly intrigued. Not just because it involved two of my favourite things in the universe (i.e. food and wine), but because it was a social evening not just arranged through social media (inviting friends to an event on Facebook is so last year) but this was actually arranged around social media, where social media was going to play an active part in the real life activity.

It did feel as if there was a paralell event taking place around the table. @anniemole poked fun at @
jamescridland and his love/hate relationship with his "steaming pile of fail" iPhone... We read a tweet from our wonderful host Robert McIntosh about what course was next. That kind of thing.

Interestingly, the innate social-media-ness of it all compeltely re-wrote the rule-book on etiquette. Anyone peering in on the scene would be forgiven for confusing us with a bunch of socially inept barbarians. Our phones were out and very well used, laptops were on, wine was criticised (though mostly praised) and pictures were taken non-stop - now I know how Britney feels.

Anyway, enough of the sociology, here is last night's menu, with my accompanying tweets. The hungry and thirsty should look away now:

1. Hugel Tradition Gentil (aka Les Fleurs d'Alsace) 2006
Match: Scallops pan fried with white wine, ginger, garlic and chilli

I said: dry, full, smooooooth and dry, but I can certainly drink it.

2. Hugel Tradition Pinot Blanc 2006
Match: Red Onion or Asparagus Tarts with baby leaf salad

I said: Hmmm. I've never liked white wine. And I still don't. Ahem. I have always loved asparagus tart though. Yum, yum.

3. Hugel Tradition Gewürztraminer 2006
Match: Fois Gras Mi Cuit with toast and fig chutney

I said: enjoyed with a hefty slice of fois gras. Smelled of marshmallow. Made the flavours ignite like fireworks - New Year's Eve in my mouth.

4. Hugel Riesling Jubilee 2004
Match: Pork Medallions with Mustard Mash, Apples and Cider Reduction

I said: I drank it, yet it felt like the inside of my mouth never moistened from it. Icky.

5. Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001
Match: Coconut Maccaroons

I said:
looks and smelled like honey.

But I highly, highly recommend you completely ignore my incompetent appraisals and read the expert's blog instead.

Lovely to share a meal with such interesting bods:

Annie Mole, Sandrine, Jeremy, Kai, Niamh, James. Big thanks to Andrew & Robert for a brilliant evening.

Here are Kai's thumbnails from his Flickr stream of the night:

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Unchained goes west

This month's Unchained Mini-Guide is for the beautiful Devonshire Road in Chiswick. And it's just gone live on Londonist.

We needed to do some proper research for the article, so we went along to Chiswick on Sunday to check it all out and talk to the shopkeepers. It's such a beautiful and friendly little street with a great variety of top notch shops. But there's no point in me talking about it any more here when you can just go to Londonist and read the post.

If you've got any suggestions for next month's mini-guide, drop us a line. We've done east and west now - so north, south or central would be good.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Everything(ish) you've every wanted to know about... Dave

Unchained has existed for over a year now. Of course, a year ago it wasn't an actual thing yet. Back in those days it was just an idea between three people eager to make it happen.

A lot has happened between then and now. And today we reached one of my most favouritest milestones ever. For the first time I wasn't the only one of those three people putting in a solid, formal day of work at Unchained. That's right sweet, sentimental reader, Dave was sitting right across from me - deeming the many phone calls and emails we share on a regular day redundant.

For those of you wondering how Dave feels on his first day at his new job, here's a little interview with him at our headquarters here in Rich Mix:

Does this feel like a new job?

Not at all. A year of doing Unchained in evenings, weekends and holidays has seen to that. It feels like an exciting release though. I'm just so happy to be able to put in proper working hours and concentrate on meatier tasks. It's always interesting starting in a new office, though, and trying to fit in with the other people who's space you're invading.

This morning was your first Monday morning meeting with the rest of the Unchained team. Do you have any requests for next time? Some pastries perhaps?

Absolutely. We need to find some independent delis or bakers in the area. I just wish there was some site that could make it easier for us to find them.

Can people expect to see a difference in Unchained now that you're here?

There definitely will be a big difference. But not really because of my presence. It's just that there are so many exciting things happening like a web refresh, big PR campaign, launches in other cities and - oh, hold on, am I allowed to talk about any of this? Sorry. It's just the excitement of my first day at work.

Do you have any questions for Dave? Send them over.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Welcome Dave

Today is almost as exciting as Monday is going to be.

You see today is Dave's last day at Poke. And that means that Monday, is his first official day working with Unchained.

Dave has been fitting his contributions to Unchained around his full time job as Creative Director, but in a few hours that's all going to change. You can read all about it in his farewell post.

Welcome Dave, it's about time.

Happy days!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Unchained down under? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

We were never too sure about Oz.

As a destination, it's awesome (obviously) but we didn't think it was right for Unchained. We just thought that perhaps mall culture would deem Unchained redundant before it even began.

Recent news about Starbucks however has led me to think otherwise.

If you know Australia well I'd love to know what you think. Unchained Sydney? Is it a goer?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Our first mini-guide goes live

Ahh, yes. Today our first Unchained mini-guide on Londonist hit the interweb. And people everywhere were talking about it. Well, a few people anyway.

We love Londonist.

Read our little piece here.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Remembering Dave Gorman

Reading this headline in the Guardian today reminded me of Dave Gorman's America Unchained.

If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend a viewing, it's a really powerful (and funny) piece of work - bravo him. Anyway, the basic thrust of it is that Dave tries to travel from one American coast to the other without going into a chain. That means no Holiday Inn, no Burger King and no big brand fuel. Needless to say, he struggles like hell to only refuel on Unchained stuff - often finding himself running on fumes.

Todays news makes me think that Unchained fuel is going to become increasingly difficult to find in the UK too as the Guardian reported that "three of Britain's biggest chains announced they would cut fuel prices, with Asda saying it would shave 3p a litre off the cost of unleaded and diesel and Morrisons cutting 4p".

My first instinct when I saw this headline - and it is just instinct, not the truth necessarily - is that the supermarkets will treat the fuel as a loss leader and end up making a fortune out of pre-packed sandwiches.

I have a few theories about loss leaders:

1. They shouldn't be legal
2. Until they're illegal I'd like to have a swarm of people who go in, buy the loss leaders only and then leave.

What do you think? When you fill up do you think about where your fuel is coming from? Or is price your main concern? Love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Shout out for Paul

With the weekend upon us and a great week behind us, we'd like to end by asking you (for the love of great chocolate) to vote for Paul A Young in the UKTV Food Heroes competition.

Anyone who's ever done the salty caramels in his boutique chocolate shop know he deserves every accolade in the world. Yum yum.

Go vote.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Celebrating the credit crunch

For those of you who think the title of this post is a typo, you're wrong.

I really do think that it's possible to celebrate the credit crunch.

Call me crazy, but I reckon that when bad stuff happens, opportunities are created.

Environmental problems are a great example of this. The bad news is tempered by a world of opportunities for those who are creative and ballsy enough to innovate and make the most of a changing world. Think of the dude who invents a new engine powered by good, clean fuel.

Surely it's all about thinking laterally and having a good attitude.

So today I'd like to celebrate two things that have shone and sparled in amongst the news of doom and gloom. These two things have really made the most of the poor economy:

1. Electric scooters. According to The Huffington Post, these beauties are having a glorious time because of rising oil costs.

2. Luxury foodstuffs (I love the word foodstuffs, it just sounds so made up). Apparently people are indulging themselves when it comes to buying provisions for their own homes because going out's way too expensive.

And I'm looking for more. Please share the things you come across that have innovated and inspired in the wake of seemingly bad news.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008 is my homepage

We are seriously excited to be working with the lovely people at

Today an Unchained interview went live. And starting next month, we'll be creating content just for Londonist. Our regular contribution will introduce readers to shops, shopowners, Unchained areas and other delicious bits and bobs - so watch this space for updates.

Also, it has to be said, Londonist is a great resource for everyone in this city - even on days when we're not in it.

So big love to them and a big hello to their readers. You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Enter the editors

Those of you who've read his book (which I haven't, yet) will know that John Naish has said Enough, quite literally, in his book of that title. John was one of the opening speakers at 2gether last week and I thought he shared some brilliant insights with us. John described the overwhelming ocean of digital information the internet has made accessible to us. He calls it infobesity. And ironically, I wanted to know more.

I dug around in the aforementioned ocean and found an article about him (and it) in The Times earlier this year, in which he explained, "Over the past decade, two facts have become increasingly obvious – that our ever-increasing consumption is wrecking the planet, and that continually chasing more stuff, more food and more entertainment no longer makes us any happier. Instead, levels of stress, obesity and dissatisfaction are spiralling."It's true. Most of the people I know are chronicly disatisfied, no matter what they achieve, it's never enough.

John's point is really compelling, and he asks a really provocative question of us all: "Why is our culture still chasing, consuming, striving ever harder, even though we know in our sophisticated minds that it’s an unrewarding route to eco-geddon?"

He's unravelled the mystery and come to the conclusion that it's our primitive brains. John Naish is seriously into evolutionary psychology - which has got to be cool, right?

"These marvellous machines got us down from the trees and around the world, through ice ages, famines, plagues and disasters, into our unprecedented era of abundance. But they never had to evolve an instinct that said, “enough”."

I see it a little differently. My reasons for this different point of view is - wait for it - evolutionary psychology.

I don't think that people go online to get more and more information. This may have been the case in the early years, but now, I think we go online to get less information. I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me.

There was probably a time when the internet was a new, shiny toy that we'd explore and go on neverending digital voyages through. Now, our relationships with the internet and its information has evolved. I think (drumroll please) the editors have entered.

I don't go online to get all the news in every part of the world every day. I could. But I don't. Instead I go to news sources that I trust (i.e. not Fox) and hear what they have to say.

The editor theory isn't mine, it's Pedro's - the third - and most inconspicious - partner in Unchained. He spouted his editor wisdom to me a couple of months ago. "People," he said, in his lazy, Brazillian twang "like DJs, because DJs listen to all the new music that's out there and only play the best."

He sees Unchained as an editor. And I think he's right. You see, I reckon we said enough a little while ago and developed a loyalty to the people and industries that apply the perfect filters for our lives.

What do you think? Are we infobese? Who are your editors?

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Friday, 4 July 2008

Our Elevator Pitch

Jemima Kiss at The Guardian interviewed me recently, you can read the interview here.

And of course, her first paragraph of her story explains the radio silence - Dave and I have been at 2gether08 conducting social experiments with our friends at Qype.

I'll be posting more info over the weekend about the experiment and how it worked.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Welcome to the first Unchained Podcast

Oooh look at us getting all multimedia! First Lea posts a video of her being interviewed together with Rob from Qype and now I post our first podcast. You can listen to it right here using the player above. Or if you've got an iPod (or anything that plays enhanced MP4s) you can get the fancier version with pictures and stuff here.

So let me tell you a bit about the audio extravaganza we have for you. On Saturday I headed off to Crystal Palace with my daughter to go to a ‘love our shops’ day that had been organised by Annette from Vintage Hart. The day was absolutely fantastic with a lovely atmosphere and lots of activity. So, with the help of my eight year old sound engineer, I strolled around the area talking to shopowners and punters to see what they thought of it. And you can hear some of these amazing people on the podcast.

Here's a quick name check for the shopowners kind enough to talk to us:
Liz at Smash Bang Wallop
Jonathan at The Bookseller Crow on the Hill
Colin at Planta Health Foods
Annette at Vintage Hart
Andy at Bambinos

We're planning to do some more podcasts in the next few weeks. So please tell us what you think of this one and tell us if there's anything you think we should be featuring.

2gether08 here we come

Supporting small, local and excellent from David Wilcox on Vimeo.

Monday, 16 June 2008

I am really, really sorry (that we got caught)

The Guardian today reported that Primark has dumped its unethical suppliers in Asia. The clothing retailer said it "felt very let down" by the discovery that the clothing were sub-contracting embroidery work on dresses to child home workers.

You can read the full story here.

Now I hate to bring my cynicism our to play, but hey, we are talking child labour, £1 t-shirts and some of the gravest wrongs of this capitalist century. So, on that note, here goes:

Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that the suppliers had been audited by the chain three times in the past year and half - clearly their audits aren't as thorough as the BBC's journalism. With these ills uncovered in such a public way, I guess Primark felt their usual way of dealing with such issues (i.e. "working with manufacturers to fix practices they don't like") would be a little inappropriate. Hear, hear.

Remember being a kid and doing something you'd been warned not to do? And then being caught red handed? Were you really sorry, or just sorry you were caught?

What do you think? And what of the other High St mammoths who - according to the article - are buying the same stuff and charging way more? Comments dear readers, send me your comments.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Thank you Qype and Tsuru

Our lovely friends at Qype invited us for a night of sushi and sake tasting on Wednesday night. Qype are great at taking all their site's virtual good vibes into the real world. Dave and I were chuffed to be part of it all and in such good company with Annie Mole, Mex, Chris & Hazel from Londonist, Niamh, Tim and of course, Rob and Sabrina from Qype.

Our destination was a little corner of Southwark, tucked behind the Tate. We arrived and found ourselves in a new development of offices and retail units. Now (if you allow me to jump on my soap box for just a moment), if there's one thing we hate at Unchained it's the property developers who think housing decent independent places in their granite, steel and glass creations is too risky. Bah to them. It seems that every new place being developed in this city brings with it a newfangled cocktail of homogenised dullness.

So imagine my relief when we found Tsuru nestled in amongst it all. For anyone thinking Japanese food consists of sushi and soba think again. Our hosts Tsuru restaurant with Akashi-Tai Sake Brewery created an evening of Japanese joy that would make the hardest amongst you melt. We enjoyed a 5 course feast with sake pairing. Take a look at the menu (with the paired sake in brackets):

Eadamame and cocktails (Kappa Saketini)
Carpaccio of Seabass (Daiginjo)
Roasted Aubergine (Honjozo)
Free-range chicken yakitori (Genmai Aged Sake)
Sushi platter (Honjozo Genshu)

Learning about sake was really interesting. My favourite story of the night is that of the Genmai Aged Sake. Apparently their first attempt at creating the sake wasn't very good. In fact, they completely forgot about their creation for a couple of years - allowing it to age in its cask. When they tasted their aged brew they realised they were on to a winner. I have to agree, it is definitely one of my new tipples of choice. If you'd like to sample some of this good stuff, visit

To read the reviews on Qype click here.

Big love to Qype for the invite.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Heritage vs. Hangover. You tell me.

I love Savile Row.

The poise and innate elegance of the street. The unconscious pomposity of it. The refined, understated, good taste that reeks of equally good breeding. The very British-ness of it. I love, love, love Savile Row. And if I was a man -forgetting for a moment that I'd probably be a casually dressed man, just as I am a casually dressed woman - I would invest in Harris Tweed, made-to-measure, bespoke suits that flatter and flaunt like no other.

Savile Row has a heritage that spans hundreds of years, a privilege customer base, an infamous name, a desirable brand and more. Why then, dear reader, do you think they'd give two hoots that Abercrombie & Fitch were to become their neighbour?

Surely the jeans and T-shirt brigade were no threat to the quality craftsmen who have inhabited the row for centuries? Alas, 'tis not the case.

You see, independent tailors on Savile Row face the same issues all the other independent stores in London face. On a cultural level, there is a danger of lost heritage. A danger that Savile Row may be the next Fleet Street or Spitalfields, homogenised by big, multi-national business (as pointed out in the show). But also, on a more fundamental, tangible level, there is a direct correlation between big business moving in and rent moving up. And when you're in the business of luxury materials, hand-made to suit every single customer, profit margins are nothing like the massive American chain that now sits at the top of their road.

So I watched the show last night, gripped and passionate about all the wrongs in the world and prophesising about who should and shouldn't be given planning permission. When suddenly, I began to feel huge amounts of utter annoyance at the tailors.

Instead of being incredibly proud of their heritage and doing everything they can to keep Savile Row alive and relevant for new generations of British men, I found these men to be stuck in the rut of their own legacy, too proud to move with the times. One tailor boasted, "we employed a salesperson once... to keep people out of the shop".

"We never advertise", said another, as the horror music played and the camera panned the A&F billboards of naked young things. While another tailor never advertised in the UK, but was happy to exploit Savile Row's good name during visits to NYC to meet customers he'd attracted through advertising over there.

Here's the thing, if you're a tailor on Savile Row, it is your priveledge and responsibility to keep this most noble tradition alive. Patrick Grant of Norton and Sons seemed to have a more business-savvy approach to his A&F neighbours. Not only does he create bespoke pieces for the owner of the company, but he understood that all the kids shopping for jeans and t-shirts today may one day be in the market for his superior product. I had the pleasure of meeting Mister Grant a couple of months ago and knowing a bit about his story, I'm not surprised he's seeing the opportunity in the A&F arrival.

Savile Row is lucky. The street is already famed as the best place in the whole, wide world for a bespoke suit. I suspect though, that people know it as the place old, stuffy guys go to get suits made. Savile Row, the brand, needs to be re-positioned as the status item of this new century - though not through advertising (because that really wouldn't be right). The truly independent Savile Row tailors should come together and work to uniquely capitalise on all movements towards sustainable, responsible, luxurious products. But I guess, in order to do any of that they'd need to figure out which parts of their amazing legacy is heritage, and which is just hangover.

I'd love to know what you think. Did you see the show? Am I giving the tailors too much of a hard time? Should they keep schtum about themselves and only allow those who know, to know?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Crystal Palace - feeling the love

Everyone I meet these days - or so it seems - raves about SE19.

They tell stories of what great community spirit is, about how they've avoided gentrification and of course, they all talk about the dinosaurs.

Needless to say when Annette at Vintagehart offered to give me a guided tour of Crystal Palace's much-famed 'traingle' I was delighted. Finally, I got to see what all the fuss was about.

Having been on my tour and chatted to Annette about the joys of SE19, I'm pleased to say that I get it.

There's nothing obvious about Crystal Palace. It's not an obvious shopping destination (though it should be) and the shops themselves don't present themselves in an obvious way. The atmosphere is unique to the area and created by the residents and shopkeepers who all seem pleased to see each other.

There is a high concentration of lovely, unique independent shops, run by people like Annette who love what they sell and the people they sell to. The shops are great, funky and very stylish, and they're also very real and incredibly affordable (scarlily so when compared with what one might pay for the same products on Upper Street or Brick Lane).

It's no wonder designers, photographers, fashionistas and young families are all moving there. The only unfortunate by-product of its well earned popularity is the density of estate agents on the triangle. With their glossy sign-writing, carefully choreographed window-displays and faux charm, they're nothing at all like the wonderful shops they're lucky to be surrounded by.

As a real testament to the community spirit in Crystal Palace, the shopkeepers have arranged a day of all the best the area has to offer and more. I can't make it unfortunately, but Dave and Pedro will be there - be sure to say hello if you see them.

Of course, Annette's shop Vintagehart is now listed on the guide, as is Bookseller Crow on the Hill with Glitter and Twisted (a fab vintage home accessories store) to follow soon. Let me know which shops you love in Crystal Palace, I'd love to give them all the chance to shine.

Cavass your MP

Ahh democracy, the much-discussed, rarely exercised political utopia of the modern world.

Democracy often translates into electing someone into power who then decides things on your behalf. I think very few of us continue to use our rights as citizens in a democratic land to influence the decision making process on the other side of our vote.

The next installation of the story that started in Westminster last Monday is here and it's very democratic. Exactly one week after our Black Swan Event, our site went live and the canvassing commenced. Turning around strategy, website, admin, design and various other things in 7 days is no mean feat. It has taken buckets of effort and hard work from a passionate group of people.

Over the weekend, no fewer than a dozen emails were sent between the group as the team at Make Hay worked their faces off to get the site up and running and the rest of us collated all the info needed to allow people to:

1. Find their local MP
2. Find out how to get in touch and when the next surgery is
3. Report back on whether their MP was going yay or nay

The result is brilliant. A testament to democracy, environmentalism and citizenship.

I encourgae you to pay your local MP a visit, exercise your right to be fairly represented by them. If you need reasons for why we need an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 visit WWF who have also been campaigning for the amendment.

If you want to hear more about the story and get other points of view, be sure to visit my fellow bloggers' sites:

Beth Eats Local
People Against Dirty

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Black Swan Event in Westminster?

A former colleague of mine, David Zolkwer, shared the theory of Black Swan Events with me a few weeks ago. For those of you who aren't lucky enough to have worked with such brilliant people as Mister Zolkwer, and therefore have no idea what a Black Swan Event is, here's are the three characteristics that define it:

1. It is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
2. It carries an extreme impact.
3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
[Taken from the New York Times]

The notion of it is incredibly fascinating. I find the third characteristic especially intriguing. In fact, it's made me question things in life that seem to have an obvious cause - could the cause actually be a Black Swan?

All of this thinking accompanied me to Westminster on Monday night.

A group of bloggers (you can see the lovely group in the picture - links to blogs at the bottom of this post) were invited to join an MP to discuss the vote on CO2 emissions taking place later this year. The vote will decide whether to replace the 60% targetted cut in CO2 emissions by 2050 with a tougher 80% target, which is supported by environmental groups and leading scientists.

There are umpteen reasons for MPs to vote for this tougher target. But according to our host, Steve Webb, these reasons are not enough. In fact, he told us that apart from those who were going to vote against the amendement, there were others who are still unsure of how to vote and there are a few who wouldn't vote at all. Together, we worked on how best to target MPs by using the one thing that really influences them (i.e. their voting block) to make them do the right thing.

We haven't reached a final conclusion yet (and I will continue to post updates as we solidify our thinking) but we know that it will include some of the things that we were surprised to learn. Like the fact that anyone can make an appointment to see their local MPs. And how voting on things like this really works: which is more about fitting in than standing out for those MPs trying to climb the "bureaucratic ladder".

Of course, I was delighted to be involved in such a democratic conversation and would like to thank Steve Webb and Mark Hanson for making it all happen.

As I left I couldn't help but think we could have all just attended a Black Swan Event. You see, if we do work together - and what we do actually works - 2050 will be a very different world to the one we're aiming for at the moment.

And I guess, in 2050 people might talk about the bill and remember how people 'voted to do the right thing', when in fact a large part of what happened started when a group of citizens/bloggers got together in Westminster to talk about how they could influence the vote of the people who represent them.

Here's the list of fellow bloggers - do pay them a visit:

John Grant
Chris Anderson
Beth Tilston
Tom Fishburne
Judit Jakab
Dave Birss
Asi Sharabi
Leonora Oppenheim

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Are you a citizen or a consumer?

Over the past ten years the growth of charities and business have both remained static. The growth of social enterprise - the businesses with a foot in both camps - has shot through the roof. I reckon this is a telling sign of the times.

In fact, I can't help but wonder if we're all just a bit over it. Over the whole capitalist, American Dream thing that is. Perhaps we're after a life with a bit more substance? Is such a thing possible? Could it be that we're after a greater reward than simply financial remuneration? I think there is a growing trend in this direction.

For me, it raises a question that I seem to be encountering a lot these days: can we be citizens AND consumers?

As someone a few days ago quite eloquently pointed out, we live in a world where we have stronger connections with brands than we have with our neighbours. How much of your behaviour is that of a consumer vs. citizen? It's a very intersting aspect of modern life. Even more so when we consider the great sway towards greater citizenship within society today.

The combination of our shift in desire and the shift in business patterns is a fascinating cocktail.

Because if there is a social back-to-basics desire in society for us to feel less like a consumers, more like a citizens. And there's a general trend towards people doing work they believe in and find personally fulfilling and then trying to make money out of it. Then surely there is an interesting segue between these new businesses and the citizens they communicate and engage with. Yes?

This thinking really starts to get juicy when we think about what this could mean for government - especially in times of financial (ahem) uneasiness. Where government fails us or simply has its hands tied, perhaps ethical business can step in?

If this all sounds like a hippy pipe-dream then think again.

I listened to the radio for about an hour yesterday and heard two stories which fit this mould.

First there was a debate discussing the possibility of licensed premises in areas with a high rate of alcohol-related crimes being made to contribute to the policing of these areas. If a business is going to make money from selling alcohol to people in an area known for alcohol-related crimes, perhaps these businesses should use part of their profit to counteract these crimes? This could be a great example of businesses selling to consumers and caring for citizens.

Second there was discussion around the climate change bill, where one member of parliament suggested that instead of penalising people for not being green, he would rather work with business to reward people for being green. Again, the example here would be rewarding consumers for being good citizens.

Either way, business is changing and people are changing too. And it looks like the businesses of the future will be built around citizenship will be tantamount to creating business success.

Imagine, using the first example, a pub opening in your neighbourhood that chose to use a percentage of its profits to ensure its patrons were safe as they arrived and left their premises. I bet the citizen in you wants to buy a pint there next time you're out.

I'd love to hear your thoughts - especially if you disagree.

Congratulations to our winners

This month Time Out announced the winners of their shopping awards.

Of course, no list of the best shops in London would be complete without a liberal sprinking of Unchained stores.

We'd like to say a big congratuations to all the Unchained stores who were nominated for the awards. You make us very proud.

For the full list visit

Don't forget to add recommend your favourite Unchained stores to us if they're not already in the guide.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

A right pig's ear

Following on from Lea's last post, this is how bad things have got for pig farmers. I don't know if you've seen the above poster recently, or even been compelled to visit their site, but the situation these guys are in is awful. Many of the farmers have been struggling on because the farm is their inheritance. Their great grandfather started pig farming over a century ago and if they quit they will be letting several generations down. But how can they continue when they're losing money on every pig they sell?

The farmers are in this situation because the price of grain has more than doubled in the past year. And yet the supermarkets are keeping the pressure on the farmers to keep prices down while they still make a healthy margin.

I don't see how this situation can continue. Are we going to lose our agricultural industry in the same way as we lost manufacturing? And what can we do about it? Is this our government's responsibility or do we need a different approach?

Monday, 12 May 2008

What shape is your food chain?

I remember learning about the food chain when I was a kid.

I grew up in JHB so my education may differ slightly from the British way, but I'm quite certain the principles that underpinned the food chain were the same: all creatures enjoy the abundance of the land and then become part of this land for creatures that are bigger, stronger and wiser.

In the year 2008, in the first part of what looks set to be an enduring recession, I see a food chain that's very different. And big business is perched right at the very top.

Most of us (certainly every person I know) rely on business for their most basic human right to food. In fairness, I am yet to meet a self-sufficient allotment-owner, (and if you are one do drop me a line). As for everyone I have met, we rely on the businesses around us to stock (or over-stock as the case may be) our fridges and feed our children.

For as long as I can remember this has been part of life's natural course. No big deal. But now, in this bizarre climate (both literal and economic) this little fact is making me feel more about more vulnerable.

Without these businesses, I would literally have no food. Other people I talk to are feeling the same. The lack of self-sufficience is scary enough. It's even more scary when viewed in the context of our current international economic meltdown.

Yesterday The Observer reported the huge and petrifying thrust of it:

Butter - up 60% since 2007
Beef - last year farmers lost £150 on every animal they sold
And bread - 7p in 1990 but you'll pay £1.15 for the same loaf today

If there's one lasting thing that I've remembered about the food chain it's the shape.

Not a graph with ups and downs, nor is it a big fat arrow pointing out of the local community.

The food chain was always represented as a circle. Human beings have seemed to have forgotten that they are part of a dynamic eco-system. What we put out there comes back to us - so it only stands to reason that by putting money in big business that takes our money away from us and towards shareholders in another country will reveal a shorfall sooner or later.

What do you think? Have you noticed things getting unreasonably more expensive? Where do you buy food and why? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Not my words

The Truman Brewery area on Brick Lane is a haven for independent shops and market traders. I noticed at the weekend that UniQlo opened a shop there. And I wasn't surprised to see that a budding street artists had something to say about it.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Tipping the scales of injustice?

The news today is awash with talk of an independent ombudsman that has been appointed to resolve disputes between the big supermarkets and their suppliers.

My personal opinion is that their approach to planning permission and the 'competition test' leaves a lot to be desired. Many parties (including Friends of the Earth) felt this was a missed opportunity to do someting for local shops.

I think it's a missed opportunity to use the planning system to achieve greater diversity and vibrancy on our High Streets.

But when it comes to protecting suppliers, this appointment seems to have already taken great strides in the right direction:

  • The ombudsman will investigate any complaints made by suppliers
  • It will levy financial penalties on those who don't comply
  • And most importantly, it will receive information confidentially from suppliers, so there's no concern about ruining business relations by speaking up.

Of course, ASDA's not pleased. Andy Bond, their CEO said, "The commission's proposals on the new code and an ombudsman could cost the industry hundreds of millions, leading to higher prices for customers which will hit families hard at a time when they are already feeling the pinch."

Yes, Andy, instead we should definitely keep prices down at the expense of the planet and the nation's producers. Man, doing the right thing really sucks. Read more on the BBC website.

Friday, 25 April 2008

This week saw this adition of our lovely little delicious and Facebook buttons on the site. You can find it on the bottom of every shop page as shown in the picture below.

Now when you see something you like you can immediately bookmark it or add it to your Facebook news stream.

While we're on the subject of Facebook, if you haven't joined our group yet you're missing out on competitions, news and other delightful things. Take yourself to Unchained - for the love of great independent shops and become a member.

Let us know what you think of the feature and if there's anything else you'd like to see us include on the site.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The trouble with man-flu

There's a lot of trouble with the man-flu, especially if you're me.

Not only does it put you out-of-action for a week, but that means that a lot of emails, blogs and things just never get written. Not good.

It also means that when one attends meetings that absolutely cannot, under any circumstances (sans death) be missed, one may take too many Sudafeds thereby making it impossible to swallow anything dry for days.

Yes, dear reader, it has been a tough week for my head, nose, throat and I.

And in case you were wondering, the man-flu is the very reason why the blogging has been rather thin.

I thought the least I could do was drag my germs to the laptop to share a great piece of coverage we enjoyed in London Lite this week - thank you chaps. Click on the image to read what they had to say.

Stay tuned for lots of exciting gossip next week - there is much to make up for.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ethical Entrepreneur. An oxymoron?

My first business (apart from freelancing which doesn't really count) was with my best friend Lora years ago. I remember a frosty Scottish morning so early, that for most people our age it was still the night before. We were on a ferry, traveling to Ireland. We were dirty, grouchy and laughing at things in that hysterical way you do when you're well and truly shattered. Lora looked at me and said: "You know when people say if it's so easy why isn't everyone doing it?"

"Yes," I said, laughing for no reason.

"This is why."

She was right.

Anyone who's ever started their own business knows that one day (probably early on) they'll be asked the same question.

If something hasn't been done before there's a skepticism about whether it will work because, well, it's never been done before.

If something has been done before, there's skepticism because, well, it's already been done.

As a social entrepreneur the questioning quadruples - easily.

Traditional business people just don't seem to get it. They keep looking at the numbers and asking why we don't want to do things like list a gazillion shops, send troops of people out into the streets to sell things for us, sell loads and loads of advertising space on our site and so the list goes on.

They look at Unchained and break it down into a series of revenue streams that we're choosing not to tap into. And, quite frankly, they think we're f*&cking insane. If this was a real business, you'd be doing what it takes to make as much money as possible, surely.

I'm sure this is an issue that most social entrepreneurs face. With a foot in both camps, I walk away form conversations like these with traditional businesspeople and question myself: Is is possible to be ethical and entrepreneurial?

After one such conversation quite recently I went in search of wisdom to the virtual land of brillaince that is TED. I wanted to hear from social entrepreneurs who'd been laughed at and gone on to enjoy success in social and traditional terms. And boy did I find one.

When Jeff Skoll arrived in Hollywood to set up a social film production company he was the source of much amusement. My favourite line of his amazing talk was advice he was given from a film exec: "The fastest way to become a millionaire in Hollywood is to arrive as a billionaire and go into the movie business".

Of course, Jeff was a billionaire thanks to the business he'd co-founded. It's called ebay, you may have heard of it.

Enjoy the talk and let me know your thoughts on ethics in businesses and if the two are oil and water or cheese and wine.

Aren't daisies delicious?

I'm a wise woman of this fabulous world, but until yesterday I'd never really met a Daisy.

Of course when I say daisy I'm not speaking of the lovely, happy looking floral things. No. I mean actual females called Daisy. Never met one.

But for two days in a row, we've had shop nominations come in from people called Daisy.

And we like them. We like them, the shops they nominate and their lovely, perfect-for-springtime names.

Now, calling all Roses.
Rose? Anyone? Anyone?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A plug for another Unchained

A few months ago, when Unchained was pretty young and we hadn’t started to get our names into the newspapers, I was telling one of my colleagues about it. And when I mentioned the name ‘Unchained’ they said “Oh. Do you mean that Dave Gorman thing?”

“What Dave Gorman thing?”, I asked, slightly baffled.

“The thing where he travelled across the States trying not to spend any money in chainstores”, they replied. “It was on Channel 4 last night.”

“Ehm. No. Dave Gorman has nothing to do with it. But that sounds interesting. Please tell me more.”

So that was when I found out all about his fantastic ‘America Unchained’ film/book/pyjamas/lunchbox project. If you don’t know anything about it, you can find out more here, here, here and here.

Obviously we at Unchained think he’s come up with a wonderful name for his project. We loved the film and I’m currently enjoying the book. So Lea and I went along to a reading he was doing at Borders on Oxford Street yesterday (yes, even Dave Gorman commented on the irony of that one). I must admit that I’m not a great fan of readings. I’ve been to a couple in the past where I’ve just sat in the audience thinking how much I’d rather be reading it in the corner of a quiet pub with a pint of nice ale beside me. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those. It was more of a question and answer session where he shared more funny anecdotes as well as a lot of the personal pain he went through on his cross-continent adventure. And – best of all – it wasn’t remotely preachy, flagwaving or militant.

He’s doing some more talks around the country this week – so if you get the chance to go and see him, I’d highly recommend it.

And, if you don’t, go out and buy the book anyway, From an independent bookshop, if you can.