Nine ethical London businesses worth your time and money

After haranguing a friend who considers herself a staunch Remainer for still frequenting Wetherspoons, it occurred to me how difficult it is to go about everyday modern life without accidentally lining the pockets of some utter bastard. 

Because it really is rare that people become successful businesswomen and men without being – not to put too fine a point on it – arseholes. With a few notable exceptions, being an awful person is pretty much a requisite to success these days, and these awful people are both everywhere and seemingly indestructible. Like cockroaches. Cockroaches riding around in tiny roach-sized Bentleys, rolling in their teensy millions and basically mugging us regular-sized povvos off. It’s bollocks.

For example, if I need to take a train to, say, Milton Keynes (god help me), there’s a choice between handing over some ludicrous sum to Richard Branson and travelling in relative speed and comfort, or paying a bit less and going up in an electrified sardine can via the hinterland of rural Hertfordshire. (Has anyone ever actually MET anyone who lives in Bushey? No, they have not. Nobody lives there. It serves only to add another three mind-numbing minutes onto what is already the longest journey ever.)

And there’s more. I for one am appalled on a more-or-less daily basis that I own a cordless Dyson vacuum cleaner. James Dyson is not somebody I want to be encouraging, even if I do get what is quite frankly a bastion against domestic drudgery in exchange. Who’s the bigger sucker? I have four pairs of admittedly now-threadbare Topshop Joni jeans, even though Philip Green is a man I’d cheerfully risk a short prison sentence for if the opportunity arose to egg him in the street. Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in the world and the cruelty and disregard Amazon shows to its employees is well-documented, but I still order everything on Prime. Basically, I am a hypocrite.

Modern life is fraught with micro-guilt, and sadly nobody has the time or money to police everything they buy. (That said, there is no excuse for wearing Canada Goose. I am sorry but if you have spent £800 odd on a dog fur coat you are a despicable monster. I hope you fall into a ravine and BBC’s camera crew refuses to dig you out, and then I hope a polar bear ravages you and wears your tacky ass as a battle helmet.)

BUT there are some companies I really like, most of whom are in London, who are doing great things in terms of social enterprise, sustainability and all that other good stuff. Check them out, they deserve your appreciation (and pennies!)

HIVER (BEER)

Potentially a bit of a controversial one, because vegans argue that honey is never ethical, but it seems that these days bees need all the help they can get. Hiver makes its two varieties of honey beer from beekeepers in and around London, and also does beekeeping and beer tasting sessions in the summer, which make fabulous gifts or even a very high-brow stag/hen activity. The beer is actually delicious (I prefer the Honey Beer to the Honey Ale); they use the honey as an ingredient rather than an addictive, which means the sugar is mostly fermented away, so you get the taste of honey without the sweetness. You can try it on Bermondsey’s Beer Mile – incidentally a really top afternoon out if you’re into your craft beer.

Plus, all their suppliers are British, and 10% of all profits are donated to pollinator charities.

GUNG HO (CLOTHING)

Speaking of bees, how amazing is this sweatshirt from Gung Ho? All their gear is organic and fairly traded with embroidery done by small businesses in Oxford, and they give a portion of their profits to charity, too. (For instance, £5 from this jumper goes to supporting endangered bees.)

THE SOAP CO (BODY CARE)

I haven’t actually bought anything from The Soap Co yet because I only just found out about it, but I have used it in the bathrooms of the wonderful Brigade London Bridge (see below). It’s going on my list for next time I need to buy a soapy gift because it’s a bit posh to get for yourself unless you are feeling EXTREMELY fancy (think Cowshed in terms of $$$). Not only is it all handmade and very nice on the nose (try the Geranium & Rhubarb one!), but 80% of its 100-strong team across London and the Lake District is blind, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged.

BRIGADE, LONDON BRIDGE (RESTAURANT)

Brigade is a restaurant that takes on homeless people to help teach them employable skills and get them into full-time work. Also, all the food is sustainably and ethically sourced and the meat is some of the best I’ve tried in London! Read more about it here.

NEST, HACKNEY (RESTAURANT)

Nest in Hackney is unique in that it focuses on only one meat at a time, which allows it to support some of the best small-scale producers in the country. At the moment it’s Goosenaugh Duck from North Lancashire, but there’s something different every six weeks or so. (Next is rabbit!) There’s no a la carte, but its seven-course tasting menu is just £38pp. (And there are insane roasts on Sundays – £24pp.)

BATOKO (SWIMWEAR)

It’s not in London but who cares when Batoko has worked out how to make swimming cossies out of recycled ocean plastic, and especially when they look like this!? They’re reasonably priced too, at £40 each.

NUDIE JEANS (DENIM)

My aforementioned crap Topshop jeans are falling apart and now I’m not 24 and have more than £7.50 to my name I’ve been on the hunt for a more ethical jean. A pal put me onto Nudie Jeans, a Swedish company with a Soho store, which are pretty expensive but have an amazing, completely transparent supply chain that tells you all about the little factories churning everything out. They also do free repairs for life, so although a pair will set you back about £120, you could theoretically be wearing them forever. And the people making them are being paid fairly, too, unlike Topshop, who don’t pay anyone a living wage at any stage in manufacture.

UPCIRCLE (BODY CARE)

My sister bought me a few bits from UpCircle back when it was called OPTIAT and made only body scrubs from used grounds from London’s coffee shops. It’s black and gritty and does make a bit of a mess in the shower but in terms of sloughing off dry flaky skin it is hands down the best scrub I’ve ever used. (The peppermint one in particular is DELICIOUS. Sorts your hangover right out.) They’ve recently expanded to include coffee face scrubs, hemp face masks made from leftover husks from a farm in Oxford, and soap from second-hand chai tea spices.

LIMPET STORE (CLOTHING)

Limpet Store is an indie clothing brand that specialises in kooky embroidered tees and sweatshirts with a feminist slant. Everything is small-batch, handmade to order, animal friendly and adorably weird. Illustrator Emily’s designs are available in her online store and also in the pop-up stores of the amazing Tits London, a platform that promotes female artists and designers.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.