One of the great things about establishing a new business like Green Heart Collective is the wonderful people you meet along the way. Connecting with Adam and Natalie from Pearl's Emporium has been a real joy and their expertise has been invaluable. It was great to have the opportunity to put these questions to Natalie and learn more about what drives them to do the work that they do.
Firstly, tell us about your dog, who is the inspiration for your logo, is that right?
That’s right - we adopted Peggy last year from a local retired greyhound trust. Neither of us have had a sighthound before but she has totally converted us to them! She is very sweet and affectionate, with many endearing quirks. She’s so important to us, so it just seemed to make sense to base the logo around her. Our name actually comes from one of Adam’s family pugs though, so Peggy isn’t the only dog to have a starring role in the business!
What drew you to working with antiques, vintage, clothing & collectibles?
Neither of us are particularly into mainstream trends or fashions, so I think we both have a natural inclination towards things that are older and a bit more unusual. Quite a few years ago, we started helping my step-father with his antiques business. It gave us a good opportunity to learn about things, from researching them to restoring them. We both started to develop personal interests in different areas; Adam likes ceramics, I like clothing and fabrics. Over the years, we helped him with thousands of items, and it gave us a really strong foundation to start our own business in the North East.
Can you remember your first vintage/antique purchase and how your love of old treasures came about?
As a child, my mum took me to car boot sales and charity shops with her. I didn’t often have brand new toys, books or clothing. When I was young, I didn’t really understand the importance of buying second-hand; I just thought my mum needed to save money. As I got a bit older, I started to take more of an interest and went straight to the books section in charity shops. Over time, I started looking at clothing too. When I left home to go to university, it was a great way to pick up kitchen equipment and homewares whilst preserving my student loan.
I bought a yellow and black fruit bowl at a car boot sale when I was about 17. I paid £1 for it. A few years ago, I picked it up with fresh eyes and noted the backstamp. It’s a piece of Cetem Ware (early Maling), made c. 1910-20. I thought it was really striking when I first saw it, and I love it even more now I know what it is! I think it’s pretty cool that I unknowingly bought a piece of early 20th century pottery as a teenager - and at a bargain price, too!
What’s your favourite item of vintage clothing that has passed through your hands?
We recently had an unbranded women’s leather coat from the 1980’s which was really cool. The leather was two-tone and stitched in a chevron pattern in alternating colours. It had puffy shoulders but was quite slim fitting at the waist, so it was very trendy and quintessentially 80’s. It was in excellent condition too, so it must’ve been looked after by its previous owner and worn only on special occasions!
How did you and Adam decide to set up Pearl’s Emporium? What do you and Adam each bring to the business?
I think the main thing was that we realised that our interest in antiques and vintage could evolve from a hobby into a viable source of income. Both of us finished our Master’s degrees and decided that a career in academic research wasn’t really for us, and neither of us wanted to be in a ‘9 to 5’ type job.
'We’re both very conscious of over-consumption and the globalisation of the modern world, so our work aligns with our environmental and ethical values. It’s nice to have forged a career out of something that we’re passionate about in our personal lives.'
We both bring different skills and traits to the business, and I think we complement each other very well. Overall, I’d say that our contributions are pretty equal. I would say that I take more of a lead in customer service and organisational tasks, whereas Adam is more involved with research. He’s more into antiques, I’m more into vintage. We work well as a pair.
Which came first – your love of antiques or your concerns around over-consumption and unnecessary waste? How does your business reflect these concerns?
I think my interest in buying and using second-hand came about at a similar time to my concerns about the environment. Over the last few years, it’s become more apparent to me that over-consumption is destroying the planet; there is far too much ‘stuff’ being produced and pumped out into the world, way beyond what humans could ever need. When I was a teenager, I didn’t think about where my clothes came from or how much people were being paid to make them - I just bought them from big chain stores because that’s what everybody else did. It’s just so ingrained in our societal norms that if you want something (never mind need something), you just go and buy it from the shop. And then when you’ve worn it or used it a few times, you go out and buy something new. It’s so unnecessary and damaging, to the planet and to people.
'In our work, we aim to extend the life of (older) things that have already been made, which are usually of a higher quality than things made today. It also gives people the opportunity to buy more unique and unusual pieces which are not mass-produced or carrying a large carbon footprint.'
We sometimes sell things that have been ear-marked for landfill, even though they’re perfectly usable. We try to use as much recycled packaging material as possible, too.
What personal lifestyle choices have you made that align with your concern for the planet?
Adam and I are both vegan and have been for a number of years. Veganism is pivotal to our ethical and environmental values. We try not to buy brand new things where possible; we’ve sourced most things in our house second-hand, including all of our furniture and soft furnishings. We try to minimise our plastic consumption and shop at our local greengrocers. I’m involved in menstrual activism, and advocate for the use of reusable period products to save money and reduce waste. We’re both Green Party members and are keen activists for environmental and social justice.
What have been the challenges of the last year for your business and what are you looking forward to as we emerge from this pandemic?
It’s been a difficult year to try to grow the business, that’s for sure! There’s been less opportunities for us to buy stock and our sales were down quite significantly at points during the last year. We’d planned to do some antiques fairs but they all got cancelled, so we’re hoping that we’ll be able to book in for those again soon. We’re looking forward to getting out and meeting people again, as we enjoy talking to people about what we do.
What advice would you give to someone looking to buy something vintage or antique for the first time?
There are lots of things that people think about when buying antiques. Often the attractiveness of the piece is as - if not more - important than the name on the bottom. We always choose a stylish piece by a lesser-known maker over an ugly or mundane piece by a famous producer. Also, look for signs that the piece was well-made by someone with talent. A quality piece will stand the test of time and still look good today.
What’s the best way of seeing your range and buying from Pearl’s Emporium?
For the time being, the best place to see the items we currently have for sale is our eBay shop. Once things have returned a bit more to normal, you will also find us at some antiques and vintage fairs across the region.
Here at Green Heart Collective, we're looking forward to inviting Natalie and Adam to do an Antiques Roadshow here in Gateshead, so you can all have the opportunity to meet them and learn from them.