Spot them in the park tethering great danes and adding a flash of colour around a Westie’s neck or see the brand’s jewellery dangling from owners’ ears. Naomi Bikis meets Amy Fleuriot and Bee Friedmann, the women behind Hiro + Wolf
It took five hours bumping along by coach for Amy to reach Preston. She’d hunted for months for a Shiba and had finally found a litter up north. She’d never even been much of a dog lover – in fact she was scared silly of them. A neighbour in Derbyshire had seen to that early, letting their feral pets chase kids. But seeing the smiling breed years later had helped ease her fear. She ran a cycling accessories company and worked from home where 12 to 14 hour days would stretch out before realising she’d not left her desk. A fluffy companion to get her out of the house was who she’d travelled 200 miles to collect.
Meanwhile, in a waiting room saying goodbye to a family cat, the vet tried to soften the blow. Why didn’t Bee consider taking a six month old, un-housed puppy? Growing up in South Africa Bee’s mother had had dogs – six of them together with fifteen cats – though she’d never had one of her own. She cut a deal with her son, “if he’s a little black dog, we’ll have him”, she couldn’t possibly predict accurately. He was little. And he was black.
But it was in a park in London where their paths crossed and so began a venture led by their four-legged masters, by then a year and a half old. In 2011 on a walk through London Fields, Amy met Bee, and Hiro met Wolf.
Hiro (likes prawn tails, takes long naps) and Wolf (fellow prawn tail fan, has a grumpy streak) are the inspiration behind the brand named after the dogs – a mix of pet products, jewellery and homewares sold from their shop, called One Four Six. It’s every bit as vibrant as the flowers and two-for-a-fiver palms from the famous market that they share Columbia Road with.
“Pet products was always our initial idea,” says Amy. “We felt there wasn't anything cool looking, inspired by people around East London, the colourful prints and design that go on around here and that people wear. Dog accessories are either very traditional or really bling and sparkly.” Amy decided to shelve her cycling accessories business when she met Bee. “I couldn't find the right production for it and I really wanted to do something that was ethical. So Bee said, 'well I know all these producers out in Kenya so why don't you come with me'.”
Bee had hopped from curating and events management before retail. She’d already been running a store specialising in African craft and fashion but had grown tired of managing it alone. Together they plotted a five week trip to Kenya to scout out artisans and fabric producers for their leads and collars hoping to add some fun to pet accessories. Though, says Bee, plans began to mushroom when “in the process of trying to do the dog stuff what we did find was all these wonderful people making jewellery and we thought well why not embellish people and their pets.”
They’d found Bombolulu Workshop in Mombasa, a fair trade organisation that employs people with disabilities. Close to 100 people produce a range of jewellery, textile and leather products. In return they make a steady income, have medical benefits and access to child care and HIV prevention. They wanted to get involved. Next came the homewares after a discovery of a warehouse filled with giant looms where workers were making carpets. They were added to the collection of kiondo baskets that Bee had always loved. The basket weavers, women in rural Kenya, like to track their work on social media these days to see where the bags and baskets finally end up.
In the rooms above the shop in London, Amy and Bee design the jewellery and textiles, heading out to Kenya four times a year armed with sketches and designs. “We get our own fabrics printed at Bombolulu and started out literally making the collars and leads all ourselves. It was a year ago that we managed to outsource to a lady named Jayne who makes them from a workshop in her garden in Staffordshire,” explains Amy.
Ethical production and being able to know the details of their supply chain means everything to the pair. “Because business is so much about people and we just wouldn’t want to feel like anything we did was exploiting anybody,” says Amy. Though keeping every element ethical says Bee is “tough to try and be 100 percent pure, you’d have to go and live off grid. You'd never be able to pick up an apple. When we first began were very idealistic and thought we'd get everything all made in Kenya.” But it’s not easy to do so in Africa. When the rains sweep in across the country rural roads can be waterlogged, production is stalled. Violence in the country has also gutted the tourist industry that supported the organisations the pair work with. But they’ve found a way to make it work.
“A lot of people think working in Africa and working with producers is very easy and a lot of fun but it's really challenging and a lot of things go wrong. So what we do we do because we love it.” And when they see how the the store supports the Kenyan artisans or spy that hipster in London Fields with the waddling sausage dog wearing Hiro and Wolf, it’s worth it.