Image for The ‘Queen of small business’ whose mission is to restore the joy in Christmas – and the humanness in retail

The ‘Queen of small business’ whose mission is to restore the joy in Christmas – and the humanness in retail

Holly Tucker on the ‘magic’ of supporting small businesses – and why nothing of real value gets made and shipped within 24 hours

Holly Tucker on the ‘magic’ of supporting small businesses – and why nothing of real value gets made and shipped within 24 hours

Founder of shopping website Notonthehighstreet.com, and now the ‘curated marketplace’ Holly & Co, Holly Tucker is at least as busy as Father Christmas right now – most likely much busier.

As well as overseeing her B Corp retail platform, she’s spearheading a more colourful, ethical alternative to Black Friday. Plus she’s sharing (genuinely useful) tips on how to make the festive season more joyful and restorative and less of a frazzling mental drain. 

Positive News sat down among the boxes and wrapping paper to ask Tucker how she reconciles her environmental beliefs with running a retail platform, why Christmas is a feminist issue – and why the festive season is the perfect time to reconsider your news consumption habits.

What do you think about Black Friday? And what are you focusing on instead this Friday?

Well, where do I start when it comes to Black Friday? For me, it represents the very worst in consumerism. Vacuous, excessive and driving a ‘discount culture’, all of which benefits the retail giants and perpetuates an unsustainable retail model for many small businesses.

So we launched Colour Friday three years ago to shine a light on the colour that independent businesses bring to the UK, and to encourage the nation to ‘vote with their money for the kind of world we all want to live in’ by supporting small businesses instead on this day. 

Throughout the campaign, we share with our community many ways to help showcase their talents, from giving out a free Colour Friday content kit, which all small businesses, be it on the high street or in their studio, can use to spread the word, to creating adverts to share on their social channels. We also do lots of colourful promotions ourselves to really drum up support. 

Finally, every year, we commission new campaign artwork by an exciting artist. This year, we’re absolutely thrilled to be working with the incredible Adam Bridgland. Hopefully, in the coming week, you should see his artwork far and wide – across social media and up in shop windows across the UK. We’ll only be happy when everyone buys at least one Christmas gift from a small business! 

small business holly tucker

Via artwork by Adam Bridgland this year, Colour Friday aims to 'shine a light on the colour that independent businesses bring to the UK'

What do people need to know about small businesses when it comes to Christmas?

I say if you want to ‘shop small’, you have to ‘shop early’. The sooner, the better when it comes to supporting small businesses. We, as consumers, need to rewire the way we buy, and recognise that nothing of true value gets made and shipped within 24 hours. We should not expect quality and craftsmanship to fall into Amazon timeframes. There’s a cost to the planet and a cost to our culture. We know far better by now – surely?

Shopping early and planning ahead not only allows you to spread the cost of Christmas and reduce the stress of this already frantic season, but you are also far more likely to buy thoughtfully, sustainably and ethically. That’s our power this season. 

For so many of us, Christmas has been something to ‘get through’; an endless list of to-dos. I want to help reclaim the joy

How is the relationship different when people shop with small or independent businesses, compared to when they buy from big retailers?

There genuinely is a feeling of magic when you shop with a small business – whether it’s online or with an independent on the high street. Their products are thoughtful and created with passion, care and skill. They are the output of a brave soul who has decided to take the leap, be brave and create a business doing what they love.

The customer service is always extra special – beautiful wrapping, a handwritten note or a warm smile, going above and beyond when you walk through the door or order from them. ‘Feeling’ something in this digital age has become rare, and I love what some call an ‘old fashioned’ experience. This is the future if we want to reclaim the ‘human-ness’ of retail. 

I also genuinely believe small businesses bring colour to our world. They aren’t churning out the latest homogenised ‘trends’ but instead bringing genuinely creative and innovative ideas and products into our lives – usually made to last.

small business holly tucker

'Think big, shop small this Christmas' goes the campaign's message

Tell us about your campaign to ‘bring the joy back’ this Christmas? What’s been lost that you’re hoping to help people recapture?

For so many of us, Christmas has been something to ‘get through’; an endless list of to-dos, as well as huge expectations put on a single day. I want to help reclaim the joy – the joy that’s often lost for women who take on the lion’s share of the work at this time of year. 

That’s why I’ve tried curating many festive ideas (from less ordinary gift collections to inspiration on ways to rethink our approach to the whole thing) – to try to take the hard work out of it so we can all get back to enjoying it again. 

Joy is found differently for different people, so it’s about doing it your way. How much do we do simply because we think we’re supposed to? Who says it has to be an angel on top of the Christmas tree? What else might be fun? Rather than opening gifts on the day itself in a rush, what about adopting the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, where you exchange books on Christmas Eve to sit and read together? As mouth painter Henry Fraser said on my Conversations of Inspiration podcast, it’s the small things that are big. 

I’m all for swapping Christmas dinner for pizza if you actually get time to spend with those you love

You’ve said that ‘Christmas is a feminist issue’. What do you mean by that? Why are you urging people to take care of their mental health at Christmas? What tips would you give on this front?

Christmas is when stereotypical gender roles tend to manifest themselves the most. At least, they do in my household. And I’m not alone: women take on most Christmas chores and emotional labour. From writing cards or organising all the gifts, for example, to attending the school play, sorting the Christmas drinks or being the one who remembers that such-and-such’s partner doesn’t eat turkey or worrying if the wrapping paper is recyclable. It can lead to both mental and physical exhaustion. So, how can we be proactive about making it better? 

Maybe we must stop thinking: ‘It’s easier if I do it myself’. It might be easier, but how will anything change as a result? I think we need to have honest conversations about the invisible labour so that those around us can help as often as they want to! Hold on to the jobs you really want to do and delegate the rest. Letting go of perfectionism helps, too, of course. I’m all for swapping Christmas dinner for pizza if you actually get time to spend with those you love.

small business holly tucker

Cheese will feature prominently on Christmas Day this year for Holly Tucker, pictured front

You obviously care about the planet, but much of your career has been about trying to get people to buy things. How do you rationalise those two things? 

I always talk about ‘voting with your money for the kind of world you want to live in’. Some retail giants have taught consumers that everything can be cheap and fast. I certainly look at Holly & Co as a way to reprogramme how we spend our money as consumers.

Supporting small businesses, championing handmade, slowly made and sustainable products, and reminding customers that you have to wait if you want something beautifully embroidered with something that means something – that’s what’s at the heart of Holly & Co. We are humans. We often show our love through thoughtful gifts. I want to shine a light on the incredible founders and how, by shopping with them, you are celebrating craftsmanship, passion and saying no to plastic tat!

How will you be spending Christmas Day? 

With my mum, dad, husband Frank, son Harry and my sister Carrie, her husband and my niece Olive. We are having a slight change this year and will be spending it in Holt, Norfolk – one of my favourite places in the world.

We will overeat, have a walk, play card games and then eat all the cheese!

Will you do anything over the holidays to be mindful about your media intake?

Christmas is a moment where I try to switch off. I find it’s really the only point in the year when the rest of the outside world goes quiet, too, so it’s the perfect time to step away from social and the media generally. With such a shakeup to the usual routine, I find it far easier to decrease my media intake because I’m not in the default mode of the day-to-day (like most people, I sometimes can’t quite remember which day of the week it is, in that glorious Twixtmas period between Christmas and the New Year.)

Breaking out of the routine helps me to form new habits – ones that I hope I will take into the New Year with me … Reading more (and watching less!).

Images: Jake Baggaley

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